World Bulletin/News Desk
Indonesia is leading calls for an increase in the allocation of places for the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lives.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, wants extra places to cut the waiting list for pilgrims, who currently face a 20-year wait to visit Islam’s holy sites.
The country’s Minister of Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim has proposed a solution whereby countries trade allocations, similar to the way nations trade greenhouse gas emission quotas under the Kyoto agreement.
As the recipient of the largest quota, Indonesia, with a population of 253 million, sends around 200,000 pilgrims to Mecca and Medina every year for the largest annual gathering of people in the world.
Each pilgrim must pay a deposit of around $2,500 and there are currently more than 2 million Indonesians on the waiting list. Last year, Indonesian banks held $914 million in Hajj deposits.
Hakim said a larger quota would alleviate many of the problems Hajj pilgrims face due to their age and the relatively gruelling nature of the trip for the infirm.
“We have given priority to applicants of over 70 years during the recent Hajj as they have been waiting longer to perform Hajj,” Hakim told Arab News last week.
This month 126 Indonesians died during the pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam. Among the 59,200 Turks who made the journey this month, 37 died.
The call for a quota raise was backed in Turkey, which has a waiting list of 1.25 million.
Professor Mehmet Soysaldi, a theologist at Firat University in Elazig, eastern Turkey, said: “These quotas are very limited due to Saudi Arabia’s restraints. However, this country [Saudi Arabia] should do its part to provide a good service to more pilgrims.”
He called for the Kingdom to plan for the next century and make infrastructure changes around holy sites by, for example, moving hotels in Mecca further out of the city and investing in a transport system that would reduce the risk of stampedes.
“If the Saudi government were to assume such projects as a solution, I think people from all Islamic countries could make their pilgrimage much more easily,” he added.
Soysaldi also approved of quota trading as something that “should be done.”
Turkey has faced a reduction in its quota over the last two years, down from 74,000 pilgrims in 2012. Pilgrims, who have an average age of 56, pay at least 8,000 Turkish liras ($3,500) to visit but can pay double that figure for a more comfortable trip.
A system of picking people by lot - managed by Diyanet, the state agency for religious affairs - means there is no set waiting time.
In Indonesia, Lasdi, 47, has been told he will wait 13 years before visiting Mecca. He and his wife registered in 2012, paying a $4,000 deposit.
“I’ve had to pay half of it and I am sure I can pay off the rest before leaving," he said.
To collect the necessary funds to pay the deposit the farmer, who earns the equivalent of $3 a day, had to sell of part of his oak plantation and two cows. Lasdi, who like many Indonesians only has one name, hopes his health will hold out as he will be nearly 60 by the time his turn comes.
Mother-of-two Kiswatun Nida, 34, will have to wait until 2027 before she is able to visit the sites in Saudi Arabia.
She explained that some Muslims decide to visit out of the week-long Hajj period. This pilgrimage, known as a lesser pilgrimage, or Umrah, does not annul the requirement to perform the Hajj if physically and financially able.
"A lot of friends choose to go on Umrah rather than Hajj because the length of the waiting list," she told The Anadolu Agency.
The Hajj sees pilgrims from around the world gather to perform a series of rituals, such as walking anti-clockwise seven times around the Ka'aba and symbolically stoning the devil at the Jamaraat Bridge, before celebrating the festival of Eid al-Adha.
In a meeting with Saudi Hajj Minister Bandar bin Mohammed Hajjar last week, Hakim proposed additional facilities for pilgrims at Mina, where hundreds of thousands of air-conditioned tents provide temporary accommodation, and at Mount Arafat, the hill east of Mecca where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon.
With more than 2 million visitors every year – in 2012, 3.1 million pilgrims visited – problems of overcrowding are common.
Muhtadi, who made the Hajj earlier this month with his 72-year-old mother, complained that services in Mecca were not suitable for the elderly. "We had to take two buses,” he said. “It is not good for old people because they have to jostle with the crowds."
As well as asking for further allocation, Indonesia has taken domestic measures to shorten the waiting list. Last month Hakim called on the Indonesian Ulema Council to ban repeat Hajj visits.
"There is currently no legal basis to prevent people who have already made the Hajj not to make the Hajj again,” he was quoted as saying in Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper. “Therefore, there needs to be a legal basis so that the queue is not too long."
The proposed policy would give precedence to people who have yet to make the Hajj.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Ekim 2014, 11:55