COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/08 July) — The Health department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has advised all Muslims to consider postponing plans of going on a pilgrimage in Mecca due to the continuing spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus or MERS-CoV.
In a statement, DOH- ARMM Secretary Kadil Sinolinding said the advisory came out Monday after Health Secretary Enrique Ona suggested it would be better to avoid exposing Filipino Muslims to the risk of contracting the disease.
Ona told Sinolinding that he was in Brunei weeks ago and learned that the government there had also advised its citizens against going to Mecca for the same reason.
“That’s our advisory that if possible we should defer or postpone our hajj this year, until the MERS-CoV situation in Saudi Arabia normalizes,” Sinolinding said.
He added the virus is easily transmitted among Muslims because of “close contact” like when they hug or kiss one another as a gesture of full acceptance and show of love.
“But of course we cannot stop anyone from going there. It is a mandate according to Muslim faith to accomplish one major pillar of Islam which is going to a hajj in Mecca. All we can do now if they don’t heed our advice is to help our pilgrims to avoid being contaminated,” he clarified.
The virus, which was first discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012, has claimed the lives of several people.
Philippine health officials said the country has remained free of the virus.
The DOH, together with National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), has deployed at least six doctors and a team of nurses to assist the Philippine pilgrims.
They have suggested using mask once they arrived in Saudi Arabia, as well as improving hygiene and strengthening their immune system to prevent being easily contaminated with the airborne disease.
NCMF Commissioner Ustadz Esmael Ebrahim said at least 6,700 pilgrims, or 300 more than the quota of 6,400, were set to leave this year.
He said they could not stop the pilgrims despite the advisory, and all they could do is provide vaccinations and other preventive means.
For first-time pilgrim and Madaris educator Ustads Alzad Sattar, the hajj to Mecca is “unstoppable”. He said the advisory has made it a choice between faith and fate.
“We will just pray nothing comes bad in our journey related to that disease. Going to hajj is one of our important obligatory actions as Muslims. What if we die tomorrow?” Sattar said.
He added the hajj only requires a Muslim to be physically and spiritually prepared aside from being financially capable.
But the DOH-ARMM still appealed to returning pilgrims to observe self-quarantine to prevent contaminating others.
In April this year, the region was alarmed over the reported contamination of three individuals who were among the United Arab Emirates passenger that landed in Manila. One of the passengers died from suspected contamination with MERS-CoV.
Police and health officials made a nationwide search for passengers of that UAE flight.
“Our concern now, how much more if there are hundreds of them reported to be suspected or confirmed to be with Corona virus? We admit we are not ready for that”, Sinolinding said. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera/MindaNews)