More may get to go on haj: Yaacob

More may get to go on haj: Yaacob
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (second from right), Minister for Information and Communication, and Minister in-charge of Muslim Affairs, welcoming the arrival of Singapore's Haj pilgrims returning from Mecca, Saudi Arabia at Changi Airport on 26 October 2014.

SINGAPORE - More than 100 extra pilgrims from Singapore may be able to go on the haj to Mecca this September and beyond, as Singapore looks for a permanent increase to its annual quota.

Muslims already on the waiting list, which has soared from 9,200 two years ago to about 17,000 now, already face an average wait of 12 years. Those who plan to sign up will have to be more patient - for their waiting time is around 25 years, according to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

To meet this demand for haj places, the Singapore Government has asked its Saudi counterpart to permanently increase the annual quota from 680 to 800, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

"From 680 to 800, I am confident," he told The Sunday Times yesterday, just hours after returning from Saudi Arabia on a three-day trip where he met Haj Minister Bandar Bin Mohamed Al-Hajjar to discuss arrangements for the upcoming pilgrimage.

The quota, set by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and is based on 0.1 per cent of a country's Muslim population, has been in place since 1987. It was imposed after clashes between police and protesting Iranian pilgrims left 402 dead. The Saudi authorities started applying the quota to Singapore only in 2003. The 680 figure has not been revised since.

Dr Yaacob said that since 2013, Singapore has been asking the Saudi authorities to increase the figure to 800 as the Muslim population here has increased.

"We got the information from the United Nations and we submitted it (to Saudi Arabia)," he said.

He expects the Saudi authorities to decide on Singapore's quota in a few months' time. But he said that the ongoing construction in Mecca may limit the number of pilgrims. He posted photos of the construction in Facebook last Thursday.

During his trip, he also performed the umrah or small pilgrimage, which is optional for a Muslim and can be performed any time in the year.

The haj was performed by around two million pilgrims last year, and all Muslims hope to undertake it at least once in a lifetime if they have the means.

A haj trip from Singapore costs more than $10,000.

Dr Yaacob spoke about his haj meeting at the Sultan Mosque, where he was attending funeral prayers for Ustaz Syed Hamid Alkaff, a prominent religious teacher who died on Friday at age 82.

Yesterday evening, he also attended the 75th anniversary celebration of the Singapore Tenkasi Muslim Welfare Society, formed by Muslim migrants from the village of Tenkasi in southern Tamil Nadu in 1940. He praised the society for running programmes not just for its community but also for the rest of the nation.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Cheryl Faith Wee


This article was first published on February 8, 2015.
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