On Thursday, Saudi Arabia canceled entry visas to pilgrims hoping to arrive at Mecca, Islam’s holiest site over concerns about the coronavirus. The Saudi government also suspended travel permits to Medina, the second holiest site in Islam.
“Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus and urges its citizens to exercise caution before traveling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the decision. “We ask Allah (the Muslim word for God) to spare all humanity from all harm.”
Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Indonesia’s foreign minister, reacted by urging Saudi Arabia to allow its citizens to continue their pilgrimage. Hundreds of Indonesians were stranded at Jakarta airport when the closure was announced. The Indonesians were on their way to perform Umrah, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Ḥajj, which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar. Umrah attracts tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe each month. This year, Hajj will be in late June.
The epicenter of coronavirus infections outside of China is Qom, Iran, also a Muslim holy site and goal for many pilgrims.