Wait for Hajj could take 6 years
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Cape Town - South African Muslims who want to go on pilgrimage to Mecca for the first time face a wait of six years because of a backlog of about 15 000.
Saudi Arabia has cut this year’s global Hajj quota by 20 percent because of a space constraint. Renovations to increase the capacity of the Grand Mosque in Mecca will not be completed when the Hajj starts in October. South Africa’s quota was trimmed from 2 500 to 2 000.
Shaheen Essop, secretary of the SA Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc), the agency that interacts with the Saudis on behalf of local pilgrims, said 500 people affected by the reduced quota were first in line next year. In addition to the 500, Sahuc still has on its registry 12 305 applicants, of whom 9 359 were first-time applicants, for this year.
“In addition, our system reflects 5 369 applications for 2014, with 4 752 being first-timers. Applications for 2015 total 829 - of whom 734 are first-time applications. Applications for 2016 total 203 and 186 are first-timers. If we divide this by the normal quota of 2 500, it will take about six years to clear. But it is not near as bad as in countries like Malaysia, where the waiting list is up to 33 years.”
Essop said it was unclear when the renovations and other construction work in Mecca would finish or if South Africa’s 2 500 quota would be restored next year. “Construction work has been going on for two years now and only Allah knows best how long it will take,” Essop said.
The Saudi authorities have also reduced by two weeks the time umrah pilgrims (pilgrims performing a mini Hajj during the year) can spend in Mecca. Umrah pilgrims usually spend about a month in Saudi Arabia.
SA Muslim Travel Association chairman Nazir Malek said that annually, 25 000 to 30 000 South Africans performed umrah.
The two-week limit has rocked the local Hajj industry, as travel and accommodation arrangements had to be changed. “The financial losses are enormous as a result of cancellations of hotel bookings and flights of people who go for umrah. Our agents have paid upfront for accommodation because the demand for accommodation in Mecca is so great, but we can’t get people there as planned because of the changes,” Malek said.
He said it was difficult to get refunds from hotels in Mecca as they, too, suffered financially.