June 16, 2024

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Hajj: High prices make the Hajj more difficult

Hajj: High prices make the Hajj more difficult
  • by Sally Nabil
  • BBC Arabic, Cairo

photo caption,

The pilgrimage reached its climax on Tuesday, when pilgrims gathered on Mount Arafat to pray and recite the Quran

About 1.8 million Muslims from around the world arrived at Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to celebrate the most important day of the Hajj. But due to rising world prices, the pilgrimage became increasingly unaffordable.

“The number of bookings has dropped dramatically this year. It’s very expensive for a lot of people,” said an employee of a private Egyptian tourism company in charge of organizing hajj tours, who asked not to be identified for fear of a backlash over their criticism of hajj tours. the economic situation of their country.

In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, the cheapest government-sponsored pilgrimage currently costs around $6,000 (£4,720) – double what it was last year.

The price hike was caused by the sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound, which has lost more than 50% of its value against the US dollar since March 2022. As a result, the cost of living has also risen, with the annual core inflation rate rising. 40% in May.

About 30% of the population lived below the government poverty line before the Covid-19 pandemic, and the World Bank says the number is likely to have risen since then.

‘My dream’

Farida, a retired Egyptian civil servant, has kept performing Hajj for five years.

Farida – a pseudonym – is a widow and mother of five. She also requested anonymity because she does not want to publicly criticize the Egyptian authorities over the high cost of living.

Farida says that performing Hajj is “my dream,” adding, “Hajj purifies the soul.”

Her children are all married, she says, so “social and financial responsibilities have been lifted off my shoulders.” “It’s time for Hajj.”

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Hajj is among the largest religious gatherings in the world

Farida has already been to Mecca four times before to perform the slimmer Umrah, which includes some of the rituals of the Hajj and can be performed at any time of the year.

This time, she used a loophole in the system so she could perform Hajj.

“Instead of a Hajj visa, I got a three-month tourist visa and arrived in Mecca a month before the start of the Hajj season,” she told me from Saudi Arabia while waiting for the pilgrimage to begin. “This is the only option I have.”

Farida’s complete trip to Mecca is 80% cheaper than the government-sponsored Hajj package.

Subsidy cuts

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are required to make the journey to Mecca at least once in their lives, if they are physically and financially able to do so.

Hajj begins on the eighth day of the Islamic lunar month Dhu al-Hijjah, which this year falls on June 26 according to the Gregorian calendar, and lasts from five to six days.

explain video,

(August 2018) Hajj: Seven things you didn’t know about the Islamic Hajj

Saudi Arabia assigns each country an annual quota based on the number of Muslims living there.

The biggest goes to Indonesia – the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, with a population of 270 million. It was awarded 221,000 places this year.

This year, the Indonesian authorities decided to cut pilgrimage subsidies to 50% from 60%, which means that each Indonesian pilgrim had to pay $3,320. In 2022, the package will cost $2,660.

political barriers

While the financial cost can be a hurdle for many Muslims around the world, for those in Yemen – Saudi Arabia’s war-torn and impoverished southern neighbor – the situation is far more complex.

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Hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims have been able to fly to Saudi Arabia from Sanaa for the first time since 2016

The country was devastated by conflict that escalated in 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened after the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group seized control of large parts of the country. The fighting has reportedly killed more than 150,000 people and caused one of the largest humanitarian disasters in the world.

This month, Yemeni pilgrims traveled directly from the rebel-held capital, Sana’a, to Saudi Arabia for the hajj – the first such commercial trip in nearly seven years.

Those who traveled had to pay around $3,000 — a lot of money in a country where more than 21 million of the 30 million people need some kind of humanitarian assistance and 17 million don’t know where their next meal will come from.

“In 2016, I went to Hajj for less than half that price,” says a Yemeni journalist. “It’s too expensive for me now.”