Muis commends Muslim travel grouping for discouraging pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia amid Covid-19 pandemic

Worshippers pray around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in Mecca on Nov 1, 2020.
Worshippers pray around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in Mecca on Nov 1, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) on Thursday (Dec 31) commended the Association of Muslim Travel Agents of Singapore (Amtas) for its stance on discouraging Muslims here to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the umrah, or minor pilgrimage.

The association, which represents over 50 tour agencies here, had earlier called on Muslims here to be patient and put off plans for the pilgrimage to protect themselves and the wider community from Covid-19.

The Straits Times understands that Amtas gave a briefing to reporters from the Malay media on Wednesday on its position regarding the umrah.

In its briefing presentation which was seen by ST, Amtas said that in the short-term, it is not advisable for the umrah pilgrimage to go ahead in 2021. "We ask the Muslim community here to be patient for now," it said.

Millions of Muslims from across the world travel to Saudi Arabia for the umrah pilgrimages throughout the year, which involves making the journey to Islam's two holiest sites of Mecca and Medina to perform the rites.

The Gulf state drew 19 million visitors last year, but the number has drastically plummeted after it imposed travel restrictions in February and stopped foreign pilgrims from coming in to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The authorities had earlier announced that it would start receiving foreign visitors from Nov 1, but later announced that it will close its borders once more, following reports of a new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 earlier in December.

Muis said on Thursday that Amtas has taken a responsible approach to discouraging the umrah pilgrimage for the time being.

It said in a media release: "Muis shares Amtas' commitment to protect prospective pilgrims and the wider community from the risk of infection. Amtas' approach is also in line with the prevailing national guidelines on overseas travel."

The council noted that the pandemic has introduced many risks and uncertainties for overseas travel. These include the need for mandatory testing and quarantine requirements, which will apply upon entry of the travellers' destinations, as well as on their return to Singapore.

There will also be significant costs incurred should the travellers get infected and are hospitalised, said Muis, adding that they may face the possibility of flight cancellations and changes too. It cited these as factors against travelling to Saudi Arabia for the umrah.

Muis added that it will continue working with Amtas and relevant government authorities to monitor the situation and assess when it would be safe and appropriate for umrah travel to resume. This will be decided in line with overall national guidelines for overseas travel.

"Our utmost priority remains the safety and well-being of our pilgrims and our wider community," said Muis.

Administrative assistant Rosni, 54, had planned to go for the pilgrimage in March this year but aborted the trip due to Covid-19. She was earlier told that she could postpone it to next year, but she is not so hopeful any more.

"Of course it is disappointing, but I understand that it is no one's fault and everyone is trying their best. If I'm meant to go one day, then I will get to go eventually," she said.