"It was comfortable, not hot and quite spacious," Abdullah (52), a pilgrim originally from Padang, West Sumatra, said.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Tens of thousands of Indonesian pilgrims who have started returning home after performing Hajj pilgrimage this year, are grateful that the implementation of the spiritual journey was relatively smooth, safe and incident-free.

This year, nearly two million pilgrims from more than 150 countries have converged in Saudi to perform Hajj, which is quite successful compared to last years pilgrimage which was marred by a stampede that killed at least 769 pilgrims.

Some 155,200 Indonesian Muslims have taken part in the regular Hajj scheme organized by the Indonesian government in 2016. In addition to, several thousand others have performed Hajj through non-regular schemes, or through other countries.

Up to Oct. 1, a total of 87,902 Indonesians comprising 86,827 regular-scheme pilgrims and and 1,075 Hajj officers have returned homed in 215 flight groups. Besides, 9,479 non-regular Hajj pilgrims have also landed safely in Indonesia.

The process of the home return from Saudi to Indonesia will be carried out until October 15, Nurul Badruttamam from the Indonesian Hajj Organizing Committee, said.

The fifth pillar of Islam urges all Muslims to undertake a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, at least once in his/her lifetime. It is obligatory for every Muslim, regardless of gender, to make the pilgrimage if he/she is physically and financially capable of doing so.

Dhul-Hijjah is the final month in the Islamic calendar, when Muslims are urged to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, a spiritual journey to "answer the call of Prophet Ibrahim" as obliged by Allah.

The Day of Arafah is the day on which Muslim Hajj pilgrims gather on Mount Arafah, which is located some 20 kilometers southeast of Mecca, for Wuquf, which means standing before God, one of the most significant rites of Hajj. This year, Wuquf fell on Sept. 11.

At least 269 Indonesian hajj pilgrims passed away due to natural causes or diseases such as respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, during this years 49-day Hajj season.

The number was a sharp decrease from 393 deaths last year. Last years figure did not include those who died in stampede and crane accidents, Ramon Andrias, another officer of the Hajj Organizing Committee, said in Mecca.

"The pilgrims have had better understanding of maintaining their health properly during the pilgrimage," he said.

Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin have expressed his relief and grateful that the 2016 Hajj pilgrimage ended successfully.

The minister believed that the successful and smooth implementation of the pilgrimage this year was partly because the pilgrims were disciplined and followed the advises of Hajj officers coordinating and guiding them.

Lukman Saifuddin also lauded and expressed gratitude to the Hajj officers for their commitment and dedication to serve and help their fellow countrymen performing Hajj.

"I have personally witnessed how committed and dedicated they are. Their heartiness and patience have significantly contributed to the success of the Hajj implementation this year," the minister said.

The minister also conveyed his respect that the officers have done their best to serve the Indonesian pilgrims.

Many Indonesian pilgrims have also expressed their gratitude to the services arranged by the religious affairs ministry, particularly during the Wuquf in Arafah and spending the night in Muzdalifah.

"It was comfortable, not hot and quite spacious," Abdullah (52), a pilgrim originally from Padang, West Sumatra, said in Arafah having a temperature of above 40 degree Celsius, recently.

Most of them also had no complaints about the food provided by caterers hired by the Indonesian government during the Hajj season.

Earlier, when the ratio set by the Saudi government stood at one person per one thousand Muslims, Indonesias quota for Hajj pilgrims was 211 thousand, 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.

It was estimated that a total of 186,800 Indonesian Muslims have traveled to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage this year, through regular and non-regular schemes, as well as by using other countrys unused Hajj quotas.

Despite the smooth Hajj implementation, the 2016 pilgrimage was marred by a scandal when 177 Indonesians holding fake Philippine passports were detained by the Philippine immigration officers in Manila while they were about to leave for Saudi.

Most of them were repatriated to Indonesia after negotiations between the Indonesian and Philippine authorities who considered them as victims of an organized crime.

They had reportedly paid some US$6,000-$10,000 per person for the pilgrimage through Manila.

Earlier, between 500 and 700 Indonesians using fake Philippine passports had managed to depart for Saudi from Manila for the 2016 Hajj season.

In a bilateral meeting with President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) in Jakarta recently, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promised to immediately repatriate, without legal proceedings, all the Indonesian pilgrims who entered Saudi Arabia using fake Philippine passports.

Indonesia is the worlds largest Muslim majority nation, with nearly 90 percent of its total population of over 250 million, being Muslims.

Thousands of Indonesian Muslims are currently on a waiting list of up to 25 years for making the Hajj pilgrimage, owing to the quota restrictions set by the Saudi government.

The long waiting list had led several Indonesians, including those using fake Philippine passports, to seek a short cut.

To address the long waiting list problem, the Indonesian government has lobbied the Saudi authorities for an additional quota and for the possibility of using other countries unused quotas.(*)

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Heru Purwanto
Copyright © ANTARA 2016