The Hajj & Covid-19: Saudi Arabia, the Transnational Pilgrimage Industry & Muslim Religiosities in Diaspora

with Seán McLoughlin (University of Leeds, UK)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Zoom Virtual Event

Dr. Seán McLoughlin Due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic only 10,000 Saudi citizens and foreign nationals already resident in the Kingdom will perform Hajj in 2020. While there are historical precedents for the sacred journey being curtailed, Coronavirus represents the most significant ‘pause’ in its performance during an era when the global movement of pilgrims has largely been taken for granted. In the last decade between 1.9 and 3.2 million pilgrims annually have performed Hajj, generating around US$12 billion in revenue. In this presentation Dr. McLoughlin will assess the immediate impact of Coronavirus on Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah-Madinah in a global perspective. First, he will rehearse the importance of marketized religious tourism for diversifying the Saudi’s non-oil economy, showing why the pandemic frustrates the ambitions of ‘Vision 2030’ to double Hajj and Umrah numbers during the next decade. Second, he will track the fallout of the unprecedented late cancellation of millions of Hajj packages along the great transnational chains of buying and selling that convey pilgrims to the Holy Places. From the vantage point of the UK Muslim diaspora, he argues that Covid-19 is magnifying serious regulatory challenges that the industry was already confronting. Finally, even while the disappointed Hujjaj (pilgrims) of 2020 are rewarded for their intentions, and new fatawa articulate how obligations are mitigated by circumstances, Dr. McLoughlin will explore what the Covid-19 episode reveals about continuity and change in contemporary Muslims’ relationships with Islam’s fifth pillar and the mediation of Makkah-Madinah in the late modern religious imagination.

Seán McLoughlin is Professor of the Anthropology of Islam at the University of Leeds in the UK. He is the author of Mapping the UK’s Hajj Sector, an independent report launched at the British Parliament in 2019.

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