Suspending Hajj and `Umrah Because of Swine Flu
One distinguishing feature of the Islamic Sharia is that it pays much attention to human well-being and aims at protecting humans from what is evil and directing them toward what is good for them in this life and in the hereafter. In this context, we find clear Prophetic hadiths on the protection against infection and search for cures of diseases.
Thus, fear of infection can be a legitimate reason behind the suspension of some activities and even congregational acts of worship. However, it is important to note that Muslims’ decisions should not be based on unsubstantiated panic. Before a conclusion can be reached, facts and scientific information should be weighed and advantages and disadvantages should be considered.
In this regard, the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) has issued the following resolution:
The European Council for Fatwa and Research received an inquiry about travelling to perform the rituals of Hajj and `Umrah this year in light of the spread of swine flu disease (H1N1) in many countries, which raised the pandemic alert to the sixth grade. The council thus contacted officials from the World Health Organization who said that the grades referred to denote geographic spread and that this grade has nothing to do with the extent of peril at all.
Besides, they indicated that the sixth grade was declared because some cases of the disease showed up in all the world continents. However, the director-general of World Health Organization, the sole authority entrusted by the world countries to apply and interpret international health regulations, indicated that the severity of the disease is within the average limits and that it does not reach the severity of the conventional seasonal flu.
Moreover, it has never happened before that the pandemics of seasonal flu resulted in the prevention or limitation of Hajj and `Umrah, and it should be noted that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has vowed, in a statement issued by the Council of Ministers in its last session held on Jumada Thani 22, AH 1430 (July 15, 2009), to implement a integrated plan aimed at combating the pandemic and preparing for the prevention of increase in cases of infection.
In addition, the Saudi Ministry of Health announced sanitary conditions for people who intend to perform Hajj and `Umrah this year, and reserved its right to take any additional precautionary measures.
According to what has been stated above, the council finds no justification for any fatwa implying discouraging people who intend to perform Hajj or `Umrah in the present year. However, it is by all means necessary to adopt safety measures that can prevent this disease, as well as other pandemics. Such measures can first and foremost be summarized in the following points:
1. Avoiding close contact with people (including hugging and kissing), lessening handshakes as much as possible, washing hands each time following contact with a sick person or when the hands get contaminated, and covering the nose and mouth with a soft tissue when coughing or sneezing.
2. Using mouth and nose masks in case of presence in gatherings, with emphasis on frequent replacement of these masks and disposal of them in a safe way.
3. Complying with the recommendations issued by the health authorities in Saudi Arabia or in the countries to which those intending to perform Hajj and `Umrah belong, regarding vaccination and use of necessary medications, knowing that such recommendations may be strict or lenient in a way that suits the prevalent health conditions.
The council also recommends the postponement of such rituals for aged people, people inflicted with devitalizing diseases, and those who take drugs that diminish immunity. Moreover, those who had performed Hajj or `Umrah before are advised to adopt the preceding instruction as a means of decreasing crowding.