By Omar Bah
The Gambia National Hajj Commission is waiting for confirmation from Saudi authorities about the 2020 pilgrimage.
In an exclusive with The Standard last Friday, the head of National Hajj Commission, Dr Ousman Jah, said: “The commission has been asked to be on standby by Saudi authorities for the 2020 Hajj. They informed us that they are making assessment to see whether the 2020 Hajj could go ahead despite the Covid-19 pandemic or would be cancelled entirely until next year.”
In March, Saudi government suspended the year-round mini hajj, the umrah, over fears of the coronavirus spreading to Islam’s holiest cities.
“If we receive the green light from Saudi and confirm with our government that we can go ahead with the hajj, we will ask our travel agencies to carry on with their preparations. But if they cancelled it, or the Gambia government feels that the country cannot make it, then we will withdraw,” he said.
“Hajj preparations cannot be done under the lockdown. This is why we are holding on, waiting on Saudi Arabia to give us the green light, after which, we will see whether it would be feasible or not.
“We are calling on Gambians who intend to go to Mecca this year to exercise patience and listen to the commission and The Gambia government,” he said.
Saudi authorities had asked Muslims planning to take part in the Hajj to delay booking amid uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.
But Dr Jah said Gambians who intend to travel to the Holy City can go ahead and make their travel bookings with the respective accredited travel agencies.
“Whosoever intends to pay, can go ahead and pay. If the hajj is cancelled, you can either decide to recollect your money or leave it there until next year,” he said.
Some two million people were expected to travel to Mecca and Medina this July and August for the annual gathering.
People are also being prevented from entering Mecca and Medina, as well as the capital Riyadh, as the Saudi authorities attempt to contain an outbreak of Covid-19 that has infected at least 1,563 people and claimed 10 lives in the country.