More S'poreans may go on haj

Singapore's request to raise this year's official haj quota from 680 to 800 Muslims "has not met with any resistance" from the Saudi authorities.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who is the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, shared this with reporters yesterday on the sidelines of the launch of Mendaki's flagship tuition programme for the year.

He left for Saudi Arabia yesterday to attend the annual Haj Ministerial Meeting, but said that he is hopeful about Singapore's request, in view of its population growth.

The Saudi government temporarily reduced the quota of all pilgrims from abroad by 20 per cent last year due to development and upgrading works near the Holy Mosque in Mecca.

However, the visas were later reinstated for countries with 1,000 pilgrims and below.

"I am hopeful because I think the signs are that the work is on track to be completed," said Dr Yaacob.

Officially, Singapore can send 680 pilgrims each year, or 0.1 per cent of its Muslim population.

Prior to 2012, when development and upgrading works in Mecca began, extra visas were also given out.

In 2011, Singapore had 1,500 visas in addition to its quota.

Dr Yaacob said "it may be a stretch" to expect the additional 1,500 visas this year because construction work there is still ongoing.

At the Mendaki event, the Malay- Muslim self-help group announced that its social enterprise arm Social Enterprise Network Singapore (Sense) will run three more school-based student care centres.

Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information, said that more of such centres are needed for children who do not have home supervision.

"As much as Mendaki is concerned, we will continue to focus on education because that is our priority... and through greater specialisation we can help the community move forward in one go," he added.

The Mendaki Tuition Scheme aims to provide quality tuition at affordable rates to help weaker primary and secondary students attain better results in their school and national examinations.

This year, 8,183 students have enrolled in the scheme.

It has taken in more than 180,000 students to date, since its inception in 1982.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.