Uncertainty over Ramadan Umrah 2021 refuses to budge

About 7 to 8 million Muslims perform Umrah during the 30 days of Ramadan every year

Makkah/Hyderabad: With the number of positive coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia on the rising streak once again, pilgrims planning to perform Umarh during the month of Ramadan are worried because of the uncertainty looming over the once in a year opportunity.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all across the world were left disappointed last year when they could not perform Umrah during the holy month of Ramadan because of the travel restrictions imposed following the Covid-19 outbreak last February.

Their hopes got revived only after it was told that the pandemic in Saudi Arabia is under control, the mosques in the Kingdom have been thrown open for worshippers, and the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry has allowed local as well as international pilgrims to perform Umrah.

As per the last update, Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on Umrah for local pilgrims on October 4, 2020. A further easing of the restrictions was announced when the ban on international flights was lifted and pilgrims from abroad were allowed in phased manner from November 5, 2020.

Also Read | Saudi Arabia bans travellers from India, 19 other countries

Nonetheless pilgrims from India, Pakistan, US and some other countries were still not allowed because of the grave pandemic situation in these countries. These pilgrims therefore were waiting for the situation to improve further. They were very much hopeful that before Ramadan – less than two months from now, visa restrictions will be eased further and Muslims from India, Pakistan, US and other countries too will perform Umrah along with Muslims from other parts of the world.

About 7-8 million Muslims perform Umrah during the 30 days of Ramadan every year. They prepare travel plans for Ramadan Umrah months in advance. Some book their seats with Tours and Travels, some travel in their personal capacities using international visa facility whereas some others prefer Umrah Package.

Also Read | Saudi Ministry allows 16% increase in Umrah visas for Ramadan

Amidst these worries came the news that Saudi Arabia has suspended all lectures and public gatherings in mosques, and has also ordered to cut the duration of Friday sermon. Some media outlets are also reporting that the Kingdom is also considering re-imposing restrictions on prayers in congregation.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah meanwhile is maintaining a guarded silence and has so far not said anything about when actually the international flights will resume and what is its plan and directives for the Umrah in Ramadan expected to coincide with April/May 2021 of the Georgian Calendar.

The holy month of Ramadan is considered the holiest and most sacred month of the Islamic Hijri (lunar) calendar. Muslims firmly believe that it was during this exalted month that the archangel Gabriel descended from the heavens and revealed the Message to the Prophet Muhammad.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to elevate their level of spiritual and physical submission to God by way of fasting; that is to say, Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and also husband-wife intimacy from the breaking of dawn until the setting of the sun.

As we prepare to welcome the holiest of months, here are the dates, calendar and guide to spending Ramadan 2021 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Ramadan dates and calendar 2021

The arrival of Ramadan has always been associated with a certain amount of mystique and contemplation. The exact date of the month’s beginning is traditionally determined by religious scholars/authorities under the cover of night as they seek to observe certain sightings related to the appearance and cycle of the moon.

This year, Ramadan is expected to be upon us starting from 12 April and will last until 12 May 2021, followed by the Islamic festivities of Eid al Fitr.

Ramadan in Saudi Arabia

The common thread that runs through all predominantly Muslim countries in Ramadan is that life generally slows down as the hours for working and schooling are reduced by two to three hours. Many opt to embrace a nocturnal lifestyle in the sense that they shift their schedule to allow them to sleep through the day and work through the night. 

Unlike in places like Dubai, most supermarkets, malls, shops, restaurants, cafes and nearly all other eateries close down during the daylight hours. Hotels remain open and may still offer food to their non-fasting guests, albeit in screened and partitioned areas. 

Close to sunset, numerous mosques are filled with lines of people sitting in lines facing spreads of food. As the call to prayer is heard signifying the arrival of Iftar (breaking of the fast), numerous people can be heard chanting their prayers before helping themselves to the available sustenance.

It’s also common to observe people, both local residents and visitors, handing out dates and bottles of water to passersby while shouting ‘halal‘ at busy intersections close to Iftar time. The month of Ramadan indeed encourages Muslims to further practice benevolence and charity.

Most businesses resume operations after Iftar and continue to do so until 1 or 2 in the morning. This naturally makes the Ramadan nights alive and wonderful as opposed to its slow and somber days. Friends and family gather at midnight at malls, restaurants and cafes to shop and indulge in Ramadan snacks, before retiring to their homes and prepare the pre-dawn meal.

Some rules to observe

The month of Ramadan is strictly observed in Saudi Arabia. Although non-Muslims are not expected to fast during the month, they are strictly forbidden to eat, drink and smoke publicly during the day, as it’s punishable by law. The word ‘public’ extends to not just open-air places like streets or parks, but also to offices, factories and other types of workplaces.