Cleric says pilgrims’ safety is paramount as Indonesia bids for more hajj quota

Indonesia is seeking ways to have more hajj quota next year in a bid to shorten its aspiring pilgrims’ waiting list that extends for decades and to avoid further embarrassment after hundreds of its citizens were found to have performed the mandatory religious ritual illegally this year, including posing as pilgrims from another country.

But Yahya Cholil Staquf, a top cleric from Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama said there is more to the pilgrimage woes than getting more quota allocation.

“What is important is not to have more pilgrims but to ensure their security during the pilgrimage,” Yahya said, adding that the quota allocation is basically set to ensure a safe and comfortable pilgrimage.

He also urged the government to issue a regulation about senior citizens of 60 years old and above who have not had the chance to perform the hajj.

“We need to make their departure a priority so they can go on the pilgrimage as soon as possible with a management and services that cater to their needs,” Yahya said.

Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) secretary general, Muhammad Jafar Hafsah said in a statement that the government needs to improve its hajj management and impose stricter evaluation on the annual event.

“There is a high demand and people can afford to go but they can’t due to limited quota. Even if they could finally go, they would be too old or probably already die by then,” he said.

Religious Ministry inspector general, M. Jasin said the religious affairs ministry has been beefing up efforts to lobby the Saudi government since last year to have the quota for Indonesia reinstated to its normal 211,000.

“We are confident that in 2017 our quota will be back to normal,” Jasin said.

The quota is allocated based on one per 1,000 out of each country’s Muslim population. Indonesia has been dealing with quota woes for the past three years after the Saudi government lowered quota for hajj-sending countries to make room for the renovation of Grand Mosque in Mecca. This year, Indonesia had 168,000 quota, a further reduction from last year’s 178,000 and the quotas were from far enough to accommodate Muslims who aspire to perform the annual ritual.

Jasin added that he is optimistic Indonesia could have more quota of about 240,000 or one percent out of its total population, considering that the holy mosque would have bigger capacity to accommodate more pilgrims after the renovation is finished.

Religious affairs ministry data showed that aspiring pilgrims have to wait 10 years at best to go to Mecca while those in some regions in Sulawesi have to wait the longest extending to 2054 and 2055.

The Philippine authorities found earlier this month that up to 700 foreigners, most of them believed to Indonesians and Malaysians, had gone on the pilgrimage posing as Philippine citizens. Last month, immigration officials at Ninoy Aquino International Airport arrested 177 Indonesian pilgrims who were posing as Philippine citizens as they  were about to board their flights to Saudi Arabia, while another group of 229 Indonesians were detained by the Saudi authorities earlier this month for overstaying their visas and not having the proper hajj permits.

President Joko Widodo has also sought ways for Indonesia to use other countries’ unused hajj quota. Joko mentioned about this possibility to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during their meeting in Jakarta on Sep 9, as well as to Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, who is also the second deputy prime minister and defense minister, when they met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China earlier this month.

Joko said that both leaders agreed to Indonesia’s proposal but it would take further detailed calculation and procedure before the plan could actually work, while Duterte also agreed to amicably resolve the matter regarding the Indonesian pilgrims using Philippine passports.

“We would finalise this when King Salman visits Indonesia in October. Hopefully by that time we would know the additional figure for Indonesia’s quota and the possibility to use other countries’ unused quota,” Joko told journalists in Serang, Banten province on Sep 11.

Jasin said Saudi Arabia has to issue a new regulation about using other countries’ quota first before allowing Indonesia to bilaterally seek the countries’ approval to use their unused quotas.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is mandatory ritual for adult Muslims who are financially and physically able to do it for at least once in a lifetime. This year, hajj pilgrims in Indonesia had to pay Rp 34,641,000 per person to go on the pilgrimage.

Repeated hajj is also another cause to the lengthy waiting list. The Indonesian Council of Ulemma (MUI) issued a fatwa in 1984 that says once is enough to go on the pilgrimage but many have repeated the ritual multiple times. The fatwa was issued in consideration that others who have not had the chance to go could use the spots in the hajj quota.

In May 2015, the religious affairs ministry issued a ministerial regulation that impose a ten-year gap since the last hajj departure for those who want to do it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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