Dubai: There are growing fears that a swine flu outbreak could sweep through Makkah as Umrah and the Haj bring millions of pilgrims from around the world.

Egypt's health minister Hatem Al Jabali has warned that pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia could face quarantine.

Saudi Arabia is gearing up for a possible outbreak among pilgrims after the first case was detected in a Malaysian boy in Makkah, health ministry spokesman Khaled Marghlani said.

The Saudis are working with World Health Organisation experts to finalise a plan to deal with the threat, Marghlani said.


The concerns are heightened because nearly 16,000 Americans perform the Haj each year. The outbreak has been most severe in the US where more than 17,000 people have been affected, killing 44 people.

Saudi Arabia is determined to go ahead with plans for the Haj and have stockpiled medicines to deal with any outbreak.

Shaikh Abdul Mohsin Al Obaikan, an adviser to the Saudi royal family and a member of the Consultative Council appointed by the king, was quoted by the Okaz daily as saying Islam does not condone travel bans. "It is not proper to ban people from the Haj," he said.

Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, WHO spokesperson, told Gulf News by phone from Geneva: "The WHO does not recommend any travel restrictions with regard to the pandemic influenza H1N1, because this virus is causing a moderate pandemic. [In reference to the Haj], every year we monitor a number of other health concerns such as diarrhoea - it is an area where a lot of people gather."

The committee to combat swine flu will meet on Sunday to discuss Haj preparations.

The UAE authorities have stepped up their fight against the disease, asking students abroad to call emergency numbers and notify them of symptoms.

The UAE embassy in Washington said no UAE citizen has been infected and the embassy has a committee to follow up all UAE nationals who are visiting the US.

Statement from Grand Mufti

Dr. Ahmad Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, Grand Mufti at the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department told Gulf News: "Postponing (Umra) depends on the spreading of contagious disease in an actual manner, where one cannot ward it off by any other means, it is then that the holy Islamic Sharei'a (Islamic Law) makes it inevitable that a person does not subject himself to harms way. It is as the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: (“If you hear that there is plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it (plague) visits a land while you are therein, do not go out of it" as conveyed by Al Bukhari and others.

And as this flu is still limited in its affect and deaths, as indicated by the facts, there is still space to move.

Physicians in the World Health Organization or in different countries around the world have to monitor the situation at all times, and they have to advise religious scholars (Faqih) about the disease's spreading speed, and the affects it leaves behind and the possibility of curing it.

If it comes to the knowledge of these physicians that the issue is out of hand and has become uncontrollable, then Islamic law implies that people do not locate themselves in harms way, exactly as Caliph Omar and a number of the holy Prophet's (PBUH) companions did when accosted by the plague in Syria.

However, we have heard from international and world organizations that we should not worry because of this disease, despite the fact that it has been elevated to the sixth and final degree, but that is due to its spreading among people, and the fact that there is no anti vaccine. The affects of the disease are not alarming, that is why it is not a reason for Muslims to refrain from performing Umra and Haj.