Coronavirus, oil war and a Hajj in doubt: Saudia Arabia’s triple whammy

In March, Saudi Arabia told Muslims all over the world not to be in a rush to buy airplane tickets for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The closure of the holiest sites of Islam, along with the banning of Muslim public prayer and the shuttering of mosques has made it clear just how powerful the religious blow inflicted by the coronavirus has been on Muslims.

It’s still too early to know whether this year’s hajj, which is scheduled for the end of July, will be canceled or whether in a post-coronavirus period, Saudi Arabia might permit all or some of the 2 million pilgrims to come and fulfill one of the fundamental obligations of Islam.

It’s not just an epidemiological dilemma. Its financial implications are also enormous. The pilgrimage during the hajj season and the other periodic occasions during the year have generated annual average revenues of about $16 billion in recent years – about 5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product. Thousands of Saudis, including staffers, hotel owners, business owners, guides, drivers, supervisors and maintenance people rely on the hajj season as a critical source of income – and tens of thousands of people living elsewhere in the Islamic world also make a living in connection with the pilgrimage.