Thursday, October 16, 2014


   Jakarta, Oct 16, 2014 (Antara) -- A Muslim in Indonesia has to wait for up to 20 years for his turn to go to Mecca for Hajj due to the limited quota allotted to pilgrims from the country by Saudi Arabia.
         This is despite the fact that Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population of some 245 million.
         Earlier, when the ratio set by the Saudi government stood at one person per one thousand Muslims, Indonesia's quota for Hajj pilgrims was 211 thousand people, which was the largest among all countries.
         However, the quota was reduced to 168.8 thousand people in 2013 due to the expansion works being undertaken at Masjidil Haram in Mecca.

         Due to the Masjidil Haram expansion project, Saudi Arabia cut down the quota of international pilgrims by 20 percent and that of domestic pilgrims by 50 percent to ensure that pilgrims are able to perform their rituals at ease.
         The expansion project is expected to be completed by 2020.
         Due to the high difference between the number of Indonesian Muslims interested in the pilgrimage and the limited quota, at least 2.2 million Indonesian Muslims were in the waiting list in April 2013.
         Furthermore, the Indonesian government has given priority to senior citizens who will perform Hajj pilgrimage for the first time, and has requested the Saudi government for additional quota.  
    Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin conveyed the request for an increase in quota for Indonesian Hajj pilgrims during a meeting with the Saudi Arabian Hajj Affairs, Minister Bandar bin Muhammad Hajjar.
         "In order to provide better services to Hajj pilgrims from a nation as big as Indonesia, the religious affairs minister put forward several proposals, including one on increased quota for Indonesian Hajj pilgrims," the ministry's Hajj Pilgrimage Director General, Abdul Djamil, said after the meeting between the Indonesian and Saudi ministers in Jidda recently.
         Saifuddin told the Saudi Arabian minister that on an average, an Indonesian has to wait for 20 years for his or her turn, and that an increase in quota of seats for Indonesia could shorten their wait.
         Moreover, he hoped that seats that were not fully utilized by other countries could be given to Hajj pilgrims in Indonesia.
         "Although there has been no response in this regard yet, the Hajj minister has made note of our requests," the director general said.
         In the meeting, the Indonesian minister also suggested that Saudi authorities increase the number of public facilities provided to pilgrims, including toilets, air conditioners and sleeping mats in Arafah and Mina.
         He also suggested that Indonesian Hajj pilgrims be given accommodation near Jamarat in Mina because most of them were senior citizens.
         If Saudi Arabian authorities are unable to meet these demands, Indonesia hopes that the locations of camps for Hajj pilgrims from the world over in Mina are decided through a draw.
         In response to the suggestions, the Saudi minister asked the Indonesian public to understand the restrictions in Mina because they cannot expand the area, in line with Prophet Muhammad's rulings.
         The Hajj Affairs Minister further hoped that the Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister explains to Indonesians the difficulties that the government in Saudi Arabia faces.
         He also affirmed that the Saudi government has provided various facilities for the comfort and safety of every Hajj pilgrim.       
    Last year, a request for an increase in quota was mentioned by the then religious affairs minister Ali during a meeting with the then Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, in Jidda.
         He had urged the OIC to support the country's request for an increase in hajj quota. Indonesia hoped that the Saudi government would increase their quota from 211 thousand pilgrims to 240 thousand.
         "In the meeting, he (the OIC secretary general) promised to help bring a change in the quota," Ali, who was the Amirul Hajj (Haj Leader) of Indonesian pilgrims in 2013, noted.
         This year, Indonesia sent nearly 170 thousand Muslims for Hajj pilgrimage amidst the Ebola outbreak that hit several African countries.
         In keeping with this, Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Abdurrahman Muhammad Fachir reminded fellow citizens in Mecca on September 13 to take care of their health while on the pilgrimage.
         "Pilgrims should strike a balance between worship and rest," Fachir stated.
         Furthermore, when Indonesian Hajj pilgrims began to return home from October 10, the government said they would not be tested for Ebola. 
    "People in Saudi Arabia have not been infected with the Ebola virus. So Indonesian pilgrims have not been subjected to any medical examination," Indonesian Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said on October 9.
         Mboi further noted that as the Indonesian pilgrims had only been to Saudi Arabia and not anywhere in Africa, the risk of infection from the deadly disease was minimal.
         "But, thank God, we have not had any reports of pilgrims who have been infected by Ebola so far," she remarked.
         The minister, however, affirmed that if any pilgrims arriving in Indonesia were diagnosed with high fever, they would have to undergo intensive medical examinations.
         "None of the people who have been tested have displayed any such symptoms," she emphasized.
         The last batch of Indonesian pilgrims will be sent home on November 6.    
    The World Health Organization estimates that more than 3,400 people have succumbed to the Ebola virus.
         This year, more than two million Muslims from 170 countries went on the Hajj pilgrimage. The Saudi Arabian authorities claimed that this year's hajj was free of Ebola and other contagious diseases because of measures that were taken to protect the pilgrims.
         Acting Health Minister Adel Faqih told reporters that the government had deployed thousands of health workers during the hajj and screened the pilgrims upon their arrival to the country as a precaution.
         "I am pleased to announce that the hajj...was free of diseases. May God accept the prayers of our guests and ensure that they enjoy good health and wellness," Faqih was quoted as saying by The Associated Press recently.
         The minister further stated that their ban on issuing visas to people from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea---the countries that have been hit the hardest by the virus---would remain in place for the foreseeable future. This measure prevented some 7,400 Muslims from the West African countries from going on the pilgrimage.
         Moreover, as many as 70,000 Nigerians were allowed to perform Hajj, but not before going through stringent health checkups, the transnational media reported.

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