'Be ready to leave at last minute for the haj'

Muslims Singaporeans who apply for haj visas should be prepared to leave at the last minute, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim on Wednesday.

He pointed this out after seeing off 365 pilgrims at Changi Airport's Terminal 3, where at least 150 family members and friends gathered for an emotional farewell to loved ones.

A few on the flight - the last group to depart for the annual pilgrimage from Singapore - were among those who received their visas just two weeks ago.

That was when Saudi Arabia reinstated the 136 visas it had cut from Singapore's official quota of 680 due to expansion works near Mecca's Grand Mosque - a key part of the haj ritual.

"Because of what is happening at the holy land, we need to take a few different strategies. And that could include the quota numbers being restored at the last minute," said Mr Yaacob.

"Make your plan in such a way that you can activate it at the last minute, because you never know when it might happen."

He added that Singapore would continue to appeal for a higher quota from the Saudi authorities.

Each country is allowed to send 0.1 per cent of its Muslim population. Saudi Arabia previously gave out additional visas on top of the official quotas.

But this stopped last year when works near the mosque began.

One of those leaving on Wednesday for the haj was Madam Ratu Jamilah Mohd Sateli, 31, who put in her application in 2010. But she found out that she and her husband got their visas only on Sept 27, following the reinstatement.

"I did not panic because I had helped my in-laws prepare for the haj two years ago, so I knew what to do. I also had a lot of support from our travel agent, family and friends so I'm very thankful," said the mother of three, who will be there for 30 days.

Singapore's Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, who was invited to perform the pilgrimage by the Saudi Ministry of Haj, was also among those who left Wednesday evening.


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