Muslim Scholars Back Hajj Restrictions
"I support this decision by the Arab health ministers," said Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi, imam of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, reported Al-Masry Al-Youm on Friday, July 24.
"They are the specialists who can take the right decision in this respect."
Following an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, Arab health ministers recommended to ban the elderly and young children from going on hajj and `Umrah this year.
The decision to keep the vulnerable groups away from hajj is yet to be ratified by the Arab governments.
"People should abide by this decision," Egypt's Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa said.
"Whoever violates these precautions will be committing a grave sin."
The Muslim scholar stressed that the Arab ministers' decision goes in line with the Islamic teachings.
"Shari`ah says warding off evils is a more priority than achieving benefits."
The swine flu (H1N1), a mixture of various swine, bird and human viruses, first emerged in Mexico in April.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the virus is moving around the globe at "unprecedented speed," with more than 700 people killed since the outbreak began.
More than two million Muslims perform hajj, an obligation for all able-bodied, financially capable Muslims at least once in a lifetime, every year.
"Islam is more protective for people than these insufficient decisions," Sheikh Abdel-Moati Al-Bayumi, a member of the Cairo-based prestigious Islamic Research Academy, told Al-Shrouk daily.
He said Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) ordered Muslims not to enter any plagued areas.
Professor Soad Saleh, a former dean of the Islamic and Arabic Studies Faculty, agrees.
"We should postpone or cancel hajj this year," she said.
Several Muslim countries have already warned vulnerable people against going on `Umrah and hajj this year.
Tunisia has suspended `Umrah because of the H1N1 virus, while reserving judgment on whether hajj should be undertaken.
Egypt also this week advised vulnerable people against going to the holy sites in Makkah, after an Egyptian woman back from Saudi Arabia became the first swine flu death in the Middle East and Africa.
Iran has also repeated calls for elderly Iranians and children to avoid going on hajj this year.
Saudi Arabia itself in June warned elderly Muslims and pregnant women against undertaking hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, because of the threat of swine flu.