Saudi Arabia looking into appeal for more haj places

Saudi Arabia looking into appeal for more haj places
Housewife Dayang Rama Mustaffa, 53, getting an emotional farewell from family and friends at Changi Airport yesterday before leaving on her first haj pilgrimage.

SINGAPORE - Singapore's bid to increase its haj quota for next year is now under consideration by Saudi Arabia, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said on Sunday.

The tightening of the annual quota, due to development and upgrading works near the Holy Mosque in Mecca, meant that only 544 Muslims here will get to make their pilgrimage this year. This was a 20 per cent cut from the previous figure of 680.

"We have made an appeal to increase our official quota from 680 to 800, as a result of an increase in our Singapore population," said Dr Yaacob. "We hope that one day the numbers will come back and, if they come back, we'll be ready for it."

The result of Singapore's appeal will hopefully be known in time for the haj season next year, added the minister, who was at Changi Airport on Sunday to see off a group of 24 pilgrims.

It was an emotional farewell for the lucky ones, who shed tears of joy as they exchanged hugs with relatives and friends. One of them, Ms Intan Salwah Badiuzzaman, 40, is making the journey for the first time.

Said the teacher: "I was one of those who couldn't go previously, so I can relate to those wanting to go. We surely welcome (an increased quota) with open arms."

Additional visas are typically given out to countries on top of their official quota, but the practice was stopped this year due to the situation in Mecca. From 2008 to 2011, Singapore was awarded 1,500 additional visas.

Eight nurses, instead of the usual six, will also travel to Saudi Arabia in batches, to look after the health of the Singapore pilgrims. This is because of the outbreak of the Mers coronavirus in the Middle East.

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