Samia Ahmed saved up for 16 years to make the hajj pilgrimage. But like many older Muslims, the 68-year old Egyptian is concerned that spike in virus infections could prevent her from undertaking the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.
With her advancing age and declining health foremost in her mind, Ahmed, said she cried for days when restrictions were announced last year, months after the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“I had paid the travel agency (last year) and they confirmed that I will be going to hajj. They even asked me to prepare myself and my bags, which I did, but then Covid-19 started spreading and flights got cancelled. I started getting emotionally tired”, Ahmed said.
Amina Gaafar, a 58-year-old retired Egyptian social worker, has been saving for 30 years to “go to meet God”. But with knee replacement surgery looming, she’s also concerned that her travelling days may be over.
“There were (alternatives instead of cancelling hajj) like vaccinating us or doing check-ups, anything to allow at least 5 to 10% of worshippers to perform hajj. I can’t guarantee my existence, today I am alive but tomorrow I might not be”, Gaafer said.
Pilgrams commit nearly $6,400 to participate in the Hajj pilgramage. Mohamed Essam, owner of a Cairo travel agency owner said the fees do not include tickets. Essam also said that two-thirds of those he books on hajj are over 60.
“Hajj prices in Egypt start between 70,000 – 75,000 pounds (about 4,500 US dollars) for the cheapest pilgrimage package, while the highest can cost 120,000 pounds (about 7,740 US dollars) and these prices do not include airline tickets, these are just the prices of the service provided by the company”, Essam said.
For the second consecutive year, Saudi Arabia has restricted hajj to a limited number of residents. That excludes millions of foreigners like Samia and Amina, who usually flock to Mecca for the rite.