Millions of worshippers may have to put plans for a once in a lifetime visit to Mecca for the hajj religious pilgrimage on hold for a year.
The hajj is the biggest event in the Islamic religious calendar and involves up to 2.5 million Muslims visiting the Saudi city.
This year, the hajj is due to take place between July 28 and August 2.
The pilgrimage is an obligation for Muslims and must be carried out at least once in a lifetime.
But fears the coronavirus crisis will still grip the world have forced the Saudi authorities to reconsider if so many visitors can make the trip with art closed and flights grounded.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is prepared to secure the safety of all Muslims and nationals,” the Saudi hajj and umrah minister, Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Banten, said.
End of days prophecy
“That’s why we have requested from all Muslims around the world to hold onto signing any agreements until we have a clear vision.”
Scholars believe the hajj was last cancelled n 1798, even though the festival failed to go ahead due to disease or war on about 40 occasions.
Conspiracy theorists have indicated that cancelling the hajj may fulfil and ancient prophecy foretelling the end of days.
“Saudi authorities appear to be psychologically preparing people for the possibility that the hajj might have to be cancelled,” said Shiraz Maher, a lecturer in war studies at King’s College London, in The Guardian.
“They’ve started pointing out historical instances from the past where the hajj had to be suspended for various reasons, including calamity and war. I think this is part of a broader attempt to reassure people that if it happens, it’s not entirely unprecedented.
Expo 2020 under threat
“There are prophecies that say one of the signs of the day of judgment is the abandonment of the hajj. Some are saying a cancellation due to coronavirus is a marker that the end of days is drawing nearer.
Saudi Arabia has already seen a major fall off of pilgrims visiting Mecca for umrah.
The umrah is a holy pilgrimage for Muslims which can take place at any time, unlike the hajj, with a date set according to the lunar calendar.
Meanwhile, fears of risking a coronavirus resurgence in September have led to the authorities in Dubai seeking to postpone the Expo 2020 festival for a year.
The city was expecting hundreds of thousands of visitors for the event.