Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesian public interest to meet one of Muslim`s duties in the five pillars of Islam by going on Hajj pilgrimage at least once during their lifetime is increasing every year.

The ever increasing number of Indonesian Muslims to perform Hajj pilgrimage is a demonstration of their solidarity and submission to God, and an indication that the level of their income have improved.

Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Agung Laksono said during a visit to Palgenep Mathlaul Anwar Islamic boarding school in Bandung district, West Java on Thursday said the level of public income has improved significantly and therefore they have a high interest to go on Hajj pilgrimage.

Agung said that no longer did the people sell their rice fields like they did in the past, but now they relied on their savings to perform their Hajj pilgrimage.

"Indonesia makes the biggest number of Hajj pilgrims in the world every year and therefore those who register this year will only be able to go on Hajj in 2019," Agung said.

Therefore he said the central government was making every effort to give the best possible service to the prospective hajj pilgrims, among others by lowering Hajj travel expenses from previously Rp31 million to Rp30 million.

Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said recently that the government was committed to setting the 2011 hajj pilgrimage cost (ONH) at the lowest possible level.

In his introduction before chairing a plenary cabinet session to discuss the organization of the hajj pilgrimage this year, President Yudhoyono said that in the ONH, some cost components could not be decided by the government only.

But he added that the government remains committed to setting the ONH at the lowest possible level.

"Hajj expenses must be precise and as affordable as possible because there are other factors beyond the government`s control," the president said.

The president noted that the implementation of the hajj in the past seven years had a lot of shortcomings which were complained by prospective hajj pilgrims.

Therefore the head of state instructed Religious Affairs Ministry to improve and refine its service in the organization of hajj pilgrimage.

President Yudhoyono called for improvement of coordination at all stages in the organization of the hajj pilgrimage and adequate service and information for all prospective hajj pilgrims.

Meanwhile, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali predicted that hajj expenses this year could be lower the cost of several components could be lowered.

Suryadharma said that based on a consultation meeting with the House of Representatives, the government has proposed that the airplane ticket for the holy land be lowered by US$150 for US$1,754 which was decided by Transportation Ministry.

Besides, the government also proposed that the profit gained by airline companies which have a cooperation with the government so far be reduced from 10 percent to 4 percent.

However, the religious affairs minister ensured the ONH reduction would not affect the service quality for the prospective hajj pilgrims.

Following the ever increasing number of Indonesian public interest to go on Hajj, the Indonesian government has asked Saudi Arabia for an additional 27,000 hajj quota in 2011.

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said here on Tuesday that his office was still waiting for an approval from Saudi Arabian government of the additional hajj quota.

"Our request for the additional hajj quota has yet to be responded by Saudi Arabian government and we are still waiting," the religious affairs minister said after attending Regional Representatives Council and House of Representatives joint session where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono delivered his state address on the occasion of the 66th anniversary of Indonesian independence.

On the occasion the minister said he was not sure when the Saudi Arabian government would probably respond to the Indonesian request of additional hajj quota.

Asked about the preparation for hajj pilgrimage this year, the religious affairs minister said that to date 160,000 passports had been completed while the visas applications were still underway.

"Visas application is still underway, and the paying off of the hajj pilgrim cost is still being made," Suryadharma said.

He expressed hope that early of October the prospective hajj pilgrims would start to leave for the holy land.

Suryadharma said the hajj quota for Indonesia this year was set at 211,000 pilgrims but a long queue for the hajj pilgrimage has happened until several years into the future.

He said increasing demand for hajj pilgrimage for years from Indonesian people has exceeded the number of quota.

Therefore Suryadharma said the government was seeking an increase in the quota of hajj pilgrims for 2011 from 211,000 in 2010 to 238,000 to meet demand.

"We are still striving to get an increase of 27,000 from the Saudi government but so far there has not been any decision about it," the minister said recently.

He said the request was made based upon the latest census data on the country`s population which now reaches 237 millions.

Suryadharma said that if the request was met, it would be divided among the provinces, based on a population increase.

Reporter: by Otniel Tamindael
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2011