Indonesia urged to lobby Saudi Arabia over hajj quota

Indonesia urged to lobby Saudi Arabia over hajj quota

Aerial photographs document the construction of the Grand Mosque area surrounding the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (timesofummah.com)

If necessary, the President can meet the Saudi king."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Amid the Saudi government`s policy to cut hajj pilgrims` numbers due to expansion work at Mecca`s Grand Mosque, some quarters in Indonesia urged the government to lobby its Saudi counterpart to increase Indonesia`s hajj quota.

Former chairman of the People`s Consultative Assembly (MPR) who is also a member of Commission VIII of the House of Representatives (DPR) Hidayat Nurwahid said the government needed to renegotiate Indonesia`s hajj quota with the Saudi government.

"We hope that the religious affairs ministry will be able to voice at the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Indonesia`s need for increased quota. The quota should no longer be based on the number of population of a country but on its capability and need," Hidayat said in a meeting between House Commission VIII, regional government and provincial religious affairs offices in Central Sulawesi, on Wednesday.

The current hajj quota of Indonesia, the world`s largest Muslim country with a population of about 240 million, is about 211,000 pilgrims.

Hidayat expressed his expectation for increased hajj quota even amid the Saudi government`s appeal to Muslim countries to reduce the number of their hajj pilgrims this year as expansion work at Mecca`s Grand Mosque had not been completed.

Xinhua, quoting Arab News, reported from Riyadh on Sunday that Saudi Arabia has called upon foreign pilgrims to postpone their Hajj plans this year.

This was highlighted through a series of announcements through the Holy Qur`an television channel from Mecca, the government advised pilgrims intending to perform Hajj and Umrah (minor hajj) this year to postpone their plans to the Grand Mosque.

The call came after the government`s decision to reduce the number of foreign pilgrims by 20 percent and domestic pilgrims by 50 percent this year. According to official figure, 3.161 million pilgrims preformed hajj last year; if counting illegal hajj performers, the number could be around 4 million.

According to Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Suryadarma Ali, the Saudi government has cut Indonesia`s hajj quota by 20 percent. The policy to cut the hajj quota was contained in the Saudi religious minister`s letter on June 6, 2013 which said that the quota was cut because there was a delay in the completion of the rehabilitation of the Haram (Grand) Mosque. It was cut to ensure the safety of hajj pilgrims.

The minister said that the Saudi government cut not only the quota of Indonesia but also of all countries which sent hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. The quota of respective countries was cut by 20 percent from the basic quota as agreed by member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

"The delay in the completion of the rehabilitation of the Haram Mosque reduced the mosque`s accommodating capacity for the tawaf (encircling the cubical shrine of Kabah) ritual. It could initially accommodate some 48,000 pilgrims for the tawaf ritual per hour. With the delay, the accommodating capacity dropped to 22,000 pilgrims only," he said.

The Saudi government cut Indonesia`s hajj pilgrimage quota this year by 20 percent or 42,200 pilgrims from 211,000 to 168,000 pilgrims.

"We call on the 180,000 would-be hajj pilgrims who have got their turn to go to the Holy Land this year to patiently wait for policies to be issued by the Religious Affairs Ministry after it holds a meeting with the Saudi Arabian government. We hope would-be pilgrims would give us time," the minister said last week.

Chief of the Muhammadiyah youths executive board Saleh Partaonan Daulay said Indonesia should lobby the Saudi government to review its decision to slash Indonesia`s hajj quota by 20 percent this year

"If necessary, the President can meet the Saudi king. I believe the meeting with the Saudi king will be more effective than writing a letter to him," he said.

Saleh who is also chief of the foreign commission at the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) said the meeting will also show that the Indonesian government is more serious about resolving its hajj quota problem.

With the existing quota, many would-be hajj pilgrims have been on the waiting list until the next few years. This means that if the quota is slashed the waiting list will grow even longer, he said.

Until last year, about 1.9 million people had been on the waiting list. This means that with the quota of 211,000, the country will wait for about nine years to finish sending the would-be hajj pilgrims in the waiting list.

Therefore, the Indonesian Hajj Solidarity Association (IPHI) urged the government to ask for dispensation from the Saudi government.

General Chairman of the IPHI Kurdi Mustafa said that Indonesia deserved dispensation in the hajj quota cut the Saudi government will impose this year.

"The Saudi government must give dispensation with priorities and the quota cut must be shared transparently," Kurdi Mustafa said during a thank-giving function held to observe the 23rd anniversary of IPHI on Sunday night.

He said that his side supported the Indonesian government`s efforts to obtain dispensation priority from Saudi Arabia which would cut hajj quota by 20 percent this year.

Kurdi said that Religious Affairs Minister Suryadarma Ali would soon hold diplomatic dialogs with the Saudi government over the dispensation.

"The Indonesian government is proposing it but we do not know the results yet. We hope we can get priority," the IPHI chairman said.

He also expressed hope that the Saudi government`s decision to cut the hajj quota would be understood by the public.

Minister Suryadarma Ali also hoped that the affected would-be pilgrims would be patient.

He said that the religious affairs ministry would assure the departure in 2014 of would-be hajj pilgrims who were affected by the Saudi policy and could not go to the Holy Land this year. If

next year, there is an increase in hajj pilgrimage cost, they would not be charged with the difference.

"The minister of religious affairs will make diplomatic efforts and discuss it with the Saudi government immediately, particularly with the Saudi minister for hajj affairs and with other relevant parties. We will also ask for dispensation," Suryadarma said.

Up to June 12, a total of 167,500 would-be hajj pilgrims for this year`s hajj season had paid off their hajj pilgrimage cost (BPIH), according to the computerized data of the Religious Affairs Ministry.
(T.A014/H-YH)

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