Coronavirus Threat Causes Area Muslims to Cancel Pilgrimage Plans

If things had gone as planned, Arjumand Khan would be in Saudi Arabia with her family right now, on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

“The significance for Muslims is that we believe this is an invitation from Allah, it’s an invitation from God,” Khan said. “When the opportunity arises to go you start looking at it through a spiritual lens.”

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Instead, she spent Tuesday at the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove.

Khan and her family canceled her trip, after the threat of the coronavirus led Saudi Arabia to restrict travel to its holy sites.

“We just decided as a family that it would be best to cancel and go at a later time –  just  when we knew that our safety wasn’t in danger as well as being able to perform the ritual,” she said. “You’re going all this way and then we were just hearing so many different reports that we might not be able to do all of the rites that are part of this ritual. That in itself would defeat the purpose of the trip.”

Khan said it has been surreal to see images of the Grand Mosque in Mecca virtually vacant. It appears to no longer be completely closed to worshipers, but barricades surround the Kaaba, a black brick structure in the center of the mosque. Muslims typically hope to kiss it; now touching it is off limits.

All Muslims who can afford it and who are physically able are expected to take part once in their lifetimes in the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj; the trip Khan was planning for spring break would have been a sort-of mini version, known as Umrah.

Dr. Baseer Qazi was likewise booked to go on Umrah with his wife and four children later this month, but decided to scrap those plans. He said he listened to the advice of a scholar when making that choice.

“It’s not if we could go. The question is: Should we be going? As citizens of the world should we be going in an area where the virus is already there, being in an area where the spread of disease can be more dangerous,” he said. “Being conscientious of others is part of our faith. And that I think is important. And that’s what I try and teach the kids. We’re doing this for others, right? We’re doing this because we don’t want to promote the spread of disease.”

Qazi and Khan both attend prayer services at the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove, where Imam Ibrahim Khader had organized a spring break trip to Mecca that’s also been called off. Khader had previously lived in Saudi Arabia, and was hoping to not only lead the pilgrimage, but to also help worshipers “establish a connection with the Holy Land” and its history.

He’s hopeful that the trip isn’t canceled – rather, that it’s postponed.

“It’s mostly about how do we make sense of this? It’s a test. Life is a test,” he said. “How do we come to terms with what we believe to be destiny? So we make sure to stay calm, not get into a frenzy, not get into a frantic state of mind,” he said.

But there’s no telling what path the novel coronavirus might take, or when Saudi Arabia will ease travel restrictions – causing some to fear that it could jeopardize the annual hajj in late July.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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