NEWS: H1N1 and the Hajj

800px-Kaaba_at_al-Haram_MosqueAt a meeting in Cairo earlier this week, Arab health ministers and the World Health Organization decided to ban certain groups of people from making the hajj this year because of fears the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as “swine flu,” would spread more quickly. The hajj – an annual pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia that generally attracts 2-3 million pilgrims – is one of the 5 pillars of Islam and is required of all Muslims who are physically and financially able. Though the ministers did not propose a total cancellation of the event (which, because of the Islamic lunar calendar, falls 11 days earlier each year and will be held November 25-29 in 2009), they will prohibit adults over the age of 65 and children under the age of 12, as well as those with chronic illnesses, from making the hajj. The Associated Press, citing the Middle East News Agency, reported that “Egypt’s highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, said Thursday that anyone who disregards the ministers’ decisions will be considered a ‘sinner.’” However, other religious leaders – especially in Saudi Arabia – call the move un-Islamic and oppose the ban. According to the World Health Organization, the individual governments of the health ministers must still ratify the proscription before it takes effect. To read more, click here and here.

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