CAIRO: The Islamic Research Center (IRC) said that because of the H1N1 flu pandemic it might consider canceling this year’s Umrah pilgrimage but not the Hajj, which falls in November, said an IRC official.
Mohamed Al-Shahat Al-Guindy, the secretary general and chairman of the jurisprudence committee at the IRC’s statement came after the center’s meeting last week.
Al-Guindy added that Umrah pilgrimage, whose high season is in the coming three months before and through Ramadan (starting late August) could be canceled this year because it is a sunnah – a non-obligatory but preferred ritual – after the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the disease alert stage to the maximum declaring it a global pandemic.
On the other hand, “the Hajj is an obligation [and it has to happen at a specific time] so we cannot postpone it and have to investigate the situation very carefully before deciding to cancel this year’s Umrah trips, Al-Guindy added.
“However, we are calling on the IRC to issue a final unified official fatwa everyone must abide by, Al-Guindy said.
Last week, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa agreed with Health Minister Hatem El-Gabaly’s request to cancel or postpone any plans for Umrah this summer after the spread of swine flu.
However, Gomaa said that other health ministries and the WHO should be involved in this decision.
However, Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh, Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, refused to give his opinion on the matter, offering to convene an urgent meeting with members of the IRC if El-Gabaly asked for the council’s fatwa.
Religious authorities in Kuwait and Dubai agreed that it is acceptable to cancel Umrah and Hajj trips this year because of the H1N1 virus.
Tunisia has suspended all Umrah trips after it reported its third case on Thursday.
Until print time, the WHO reported round 56,000 infections of H1N1 flu worldwide with 238 deaths.