CAIRO: Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa approved Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly’s request to cancel or postpone any plans for Umrah, the smaller pilgrimage, this summer after H1N1 was declared a global pandemic.
Muslims prefer to go on Umrah in the months before and through Ramadan, which begins mid-August this year.
In an official statement, Gomaa said that Umrah could be canceled this season because of the continuous spread of the H1N1 virus. The World Health Organization last week raised its H1N1 pandemic alert to six, the highest on its scale.
According to Gomaa’s statement, Sharia indicates that all Muslims should abide by health regulations. Gomaa cited a saying by Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) that advises people to avoid or evacuate any place where a epidemic erupts.
The Ministry of Health reported the 30th case of swine flu in Egypt late Thursday: a Sudanese relative of two people who tested positive for the virus earlier this week.
According to the Ministry of Health, 16 cases have recovered. The remaining 14 are still receiving treatment in hospitals, but are in a stable condition.
Gomaa’s statement did not mention the obligatory Hajj, to be held this December. More than half a million Egyptians perform the Hajj every year.
El-Gabaly had warned Egyptians last month that they could face quarantine upon their return from Hajj. He said he could “set up other measures to ensure pilgrims do not infect others in Egypt, where the population numbers about 80 million people.
The minister said the large number of people participating in the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia makes it a possibility that swine flu cases will be transmitted on a wide scale.
The Hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, draws about 3 million people every year to Saudi Arabia.
Influential cleric Sheikh Abdul-Mohsen Al-Obaikan, an adviser to the Saudi royal family and a member of the Consultative Council appointed by the king, voiced his opposition Thursday to any travel bans for the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage because of the scare over the swine flu pandemic.
“It is not proper to ban people from the Hajj, Al-Obaikan was quoted by the Okaz daily as saying. He also said travel to and from countries with reported cases of swine flu should not be impaired.
Al-Obakian’s remarks appear to be a reaction to El-Gabaly’s warning.
Number of H1N1 cases increased in the Middle East region over the past week. At press time, Israel recorded 180 cases, Jordan reported its first two cases and Qatar reported its first case.
In Bahrain total number of H1N1 confirmed cases jumped to 14 and in Saudi Arabia, it went up to 17; Lebanon 10 and Kuwait 21.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the total number of confirmed H1N1 cases reached around 40,000 in 88 countries. -Additional reporting by AP