In the era of Covid-19, Saudi Arabia’s dilemma over the Hajj mirrors that of religious leaders around the world.
Ramadan is a month-long festival of fasting, eating and worship. Large crowds gather daily to eat together at the beginning and end of the daily fast, and to offer extra prayers together in mosques. Attendance at the five-times-daily and Friday prayers rockets throughout Ramadan. There is also a special practice of spiritual seclusion or retreat in mosques (i’tikaf), when millions of men, and occasionally women, remain confined to the mosque in close company with others during its last 10 days.
This carries many public health risks during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in developing countries where many poor people rely on the Ramadan charitable practice of feeding people to eat two meals per day. Governments of countries with large Muslim populations face a crisis of decision-making and social acceptance around Covid-19 policy.