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The Express Tribune Editorial 24 June 2020

Limited Hajj

Saudi Arabia has finally decided that Hajj this year will be performed only symbolically, and a “very limited number” of believers from among those already residing in the kingdom will be allowed to perform Hajj. So this is going to be the first time in the known history that no foreigners will be able to travel to the holy land to attend the annual religious pilgrimage.
The decision has, of course, been taken in view of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to threaten human lives across the globe. Saudi Arabia itself has one of the highest rates of the coronavirus infections in the Middle East and ranks at 15 across the world, with more than 161,000 total confirmed cases and deaths in excess of 1,300. Thus, allowing a large number of people from almost all parts of the world to converge on the holy sites and then fan out across the world after performing the religious obligation would be akin to endangering human lives and countering the global efforts being made to contain the spread of the lethal virus.
The decision to restrict the Hajj pilgrimage to locals and foreign residents of Saudi Arabia goes in line with the saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; and if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.” This sacred saying of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) preaches the importance of travel bans and quarantine in areas affected by an epidemic as a way to mitigate its spread, and shows that protecting one’s life and those of others is far loftier a consideration than fulfilling a religious obligation.
Last year, around two million believers had travelled to Makkah and Madina to perform Hajj and visit revered sites. How many will be allowed this year is yet to be decided by the Saudi authorities. However, even with only locals allowed, the numbers are going to be a challenge for the authorities to deal with, as ensuring social distancing, in particular, will not be easy. The authorities will have to put in a great effort to arrange for and ensure a safe Hajj.


Legislative mockery


Kudos to the PTI! It is not often that you hear a politician call the residents of an entire city stupid. It is even less common for a politician to call the whole country ignorant, but here we are. The raised eyebrows had barely settled after Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid referred to Lahoris as jahil, when, not to be one-upped, MNA and parliamentary secretary Andleeb Abbas used the same term for the entire country. Abbas then accused the opposition of destroying the country while their families go abroad. She then, straight-faced, touted the government’s achievements in the health sector, despite the government’s failure to address a literal pandemic in a timely fashion. But there was more to come, as the IBA graduate actually managed to say the economy was stable without spontaneously combusting. There were more claims based on alternative facts throughout her speech, but we lack the space to go through them all.
Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar called out Abbas by repeating the government claims about Covid-19, such as calling it just a flu, discouraging the use of masks, and claiming the disease cannot survive Pakistan’s temperature. Surprisingly, she spared Climate Change Minister Zartaj Gul and her bizarre etymology of Covid-19. Khar also noted Pakistan’s struggles to maintain democratic rule and called on parliamentarians to treat the house seriously instead of damaging the credibility of every member of the house with “ridiculous” comments. She then justly called out the PTI’s economic management skills and foreign policy, before starting a tirade of her own, albeit a slightly less ridiculous one, about the Premier.
Most of the rest of the session was also littered service to the public. But maybe the Senate would be the saving grace? After all, the upper house seats indirectly elected members so they can hold a higher level of debate than the lower house because they got there based on expertise rather than electability. There, we saw members were standing on the benches and yelling at each other.
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