Grand Mosque renovations force Hajj quota cutbacks

The ongoing construction and expansion in Mecca's Grand Mosque has affected the number of Muslims across the world including Indonesia who are aspiring to perform Hajj this year. But Saudi officials insist the reductions are only temporary.

By Aditya Surya for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

June 29, 2013
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For a country like Indonesia, with its large Muslim population, the annual Hajj is extremely important. This year, many Indonesian pilgrims have been disappointed to learn that Saudi Arabia has temporarily reduced Hajj quotas by 20%.

  • Muslim pilgrims perform the noon prayer outside the Namera Mosque in the plain of Arafat on the outskirts of Mecca in October 2012, as part of the annual Hajj. [Fayez Nureldine/AFP].

    Muslim pilgrims perform the noon prayer outside the Namera Mosque in the plain of Arafat on the outskirts of Mecca in October 2012, as part of the annual Hajj. [Fayez Nureldine/AFP].

"We have prepared for this departure for more than two years. As you may know, it is not cheap to perform Hajj – the cost to buy the ticket, hotel, etc. And now we just learned that the Saudi government decided to reduce the quota," Emma Kartika, a 48 year-old woman, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Emma, who planned to perform Hajj this year with her 78-year-old mother, says the timing of the cutback is a huge disappointment.

"I know my mother wanted to perform Hajj since she was young. But we never had an opportunity due to our financial situation. And now when we are ready financially, the policy has been changed. For my mother, performing Hajj is a jihad," Emma said.

Anggito Abhimanyu, Indonesia's Director-General of Hajj, told Khabar that the government has no choice but to limit the number of pilgrims.

"We wish we could accommodate everyone to perform Hajj. However, the reduction of 20% will affect the number of people that we can accommodate."

Renovations at the Grand Mosque in Mecca are forcing the cutbacks, Anggito explained. Currently, the Mosque has only a capacity of 22,000 per hour, while usually it can accommodate 48,000 per hour.

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said that Indonesia normally has a Hajj quota of around 211,000 pilgrims. The 20% reduction, he said, will affect 42,200 people.

"We regret this decision. However, this decision is not only affecting Indonesia but all Muslim countries in the world," he told reporters on June 23rd.

The decrease has cost Hajj organisers in Indonesia at least Rp. 800 billion ($80.6 million), due to already-purchased housing, catering, and airfare, the minister said. He added that he expects the Saudi government to help compensate for the losses.

Do not be discouraged: cleric

Although the reductions are painful, they are also temporary. Once the work at the Grand Mosque is complete, the larger flow of pilgrims can resume.

"The reduction is temporary and it will soon be adjusted with the progress of the development and construction project, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Indonesia, Mustafa Bin Ibrahim Al Mubarak, said at a press conference on Thursday (June 27th).

In addition, the project is aimed at anticipating the growing number of Hajj pilgrims in the future," he told reporters. The works are expected to last until 2016.

Indonesian officials announced this week that Saudi Arabia has pledged to increase the quota by up to 200% after the renovations are done.

Although the quota reduction has sparked many disappointments, Ruslan Hadi Purwanto, a cleric in Depok, West Java, told Khabar it brings a good lesson for Muslims: further opportunity to learn patience.

"We need to appreciate our authorities' concerns. We want everyone to be safe while performing Hajj. If not this year, hopefully next year we will have more opportunity to do so. Hajj is sunnah under the hadith. It is good if you can perform it, but if you cannot, there will not be any punishment," he said.

Meanwhile, Emma and her mother may still have a chance to realise their long-cherished dream. The Religious Affairs Ministry has now announced that it has reversed its earlier decision to exclude pilgrims who are disabled or older than 75 years due to concerns about health and safety.

"We will prioritise all people who are at the top of the current waiting lists, regardless of their age or physical condition," local media quoted ministry spokesperson Zubaidi as saying. "We changed our policy after the Saudis committed to provide emergency assistance for elderly and disabled pilgrims during the tawaf segment of the pilgrimage rituals."

Reader Comments
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    • Sudarto
      September 17, 2013 @ 09:09:49AM
    • Allah makes decisions within the extent of human understanding, be patient.
    • Sahrilirfanpasti
      June 29, 2013 @ 09:06:08AM
    • Thank you for joining.

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