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Friday, May 15, 2009

Flu could reschedule Meccan Hajj

Fri, 15 May 2009 | pressTV

As if the wild-fire spread of swine flu had not caused enough misery, now it is making itself known in that most swine-free of places - Mecca, the destination for millions of Muslims from across the world.

For, no less than the persons of Egypt's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Jumua, and the Grand Imam of the country's al-Azhar Mosque, Muhammad Tantawi, have opined that Muslims might have to be called upon to postpone their annual Hajj pilgrimage due to the danger of the epidemic. The al-Azhar Mosque is the prime source of religious edicts among Sunni Muslims.

Speaking on BBC's Arabic-language radio on Friday, Dr. Ibrahim Negm, an advisor to the Grand Mufti, said that he (the Mufti) believed that a fatwa or religious edict might be called for to describe to Muslims how to postpone the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Dr. Negm said that, if the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic alert from five to the maximum six, then Muslim scholars should meet to consider calling for a possible postponement of the pilgrimage.

Every Muslim is required to carry out the pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime, subject to certain preconditions, and this year, the annual pilgrimage is set to start in November.

In addition to the main or tamattu' Hajj pilgrimage in the twelfth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, millions of Muslims visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia during other times of the year, in what is known as the 'lesser', or umra Hajj.

Separately, the Mufti of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdel Aziz Haddad, has called on Muslims to delay any pilgrimage to Mecca for the next two or three weeks because of the outbreak. He also recommended that Muslims pray in the open air to avoid contracting, or spreading the swine flu.

So far, there have been no reported cases of the flu in the Persian Gulf littoral states, which include Saudi Arabia, but there is a growing concern among the Muslim clerical and medical bodies that the gathering of millions of Muslims from around the globe could provide the ideal venue for the transmission of the virus.

According to WHO, there are 7,500 confirmed cases of the disease in 34 countries, 1,000 of which were reported in the past 24 hours. At least 65 cases of fatalities have been reported, mainly in Mexico, where the outbreak first started.

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