Saudi decision to suspend the performance of Umrah is understandable in view of the threat posed by the coronavirus.
It is, however, the manner in which the decision was made that once again raises questions about Saudi competence.
On February 27, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced that it was temporarily suspending entry into the kingdom for Umrah pilgrims.
This was followed on March 4 by an announcement that Saudi citizens were also barred entry into Makkah and Madinahfor Umrah until further notice.
Those already there to perform Umrah were asked to leave immediately.
Did the regime give any thought to what impact it would have on Muslims from outside the kingdom that had already made travel and hotel bookings and those on their way for Umrah?
What has transpired so far indicates that it was an impulsive decision. This is typical of decision-making in the medieval kingdom.
Most pilgrims will lose their ticket money since the cancellations are not caused by airlines, unless people have travel insurance.
Most pilgrims are from poor countries and travel insurance is unheard of. Even pilgrims from Western countries do not usually have travel insurance.
Besides, bookings are made months in advance.
Following the Saudi suspension of Umrah, people contacted their travel agents for a refund.
Travel agents in the West have told people they will get their money back only if the Saudi regime refunds them.
On March 2, the Saudi ministry of Hajj affairs announced that it would reimburse visa fees to pilgrims.
Applications for refund have to be made electronically (through e-system).
Given most pilgrims’ lack of familiarity with the e-system, they would not get even their visa fees unless their travel agents can recover money.
What appears to be the case so far is that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have lost ticket money as well as money for hotel bookings for which the regime takes no responsibility.
The most they are likely to get back is the fee they have paid for visa. That constitutes a small portion of the total costs.
What would have made more sense is to announce that Umrah would be suspended in a week and people that have purchased tickets should cancel them as well as other bookings and seek refund from airlines and hotels.
Second, the regime could have installed screening mechanisms at Jeddah airport to ensure incoming pilgrims are not infected.
Third, the new arrivals could have been kept separate from other pilgrims already in the kingdom that could have been asked to leave immediately.
The performance of Umrah does not take days; it is a matter of a few hours.
Such decisions, however, can only be made by people that have some sense and care for other people’s rights.
The Saudis have neither sense nor do they care for others.
It is quite likely that Hajj which falls in late July-early August this year may also be cancelled because of the coronavirus threats.
Our advice to all Muslims considering performing Hajj or Umrah this year is to postpone it until the situation clears up.
The Saudis have said Umrah ban will last until March 31. It is more than likely the ban will continue for much longer.
The threat from coronavirus is unlikely to dissipate in a few weeks.