Who gets to do Hajj in Saudi Arabia?
The Hajj takes place every year in a prescribed way over six days during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.
CHENNAI: The Hajj, a religious pilgrimage for Muslims and one of the largest gatherings of humans on Earth, begins in Saudi Arabia on June 26 and ends July 1. The number of people attending the pilgrimage to visit Kaaba, or God’s House, in Mecca, was reduced drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, it will be back to normal again, with around 2.6 million Muslim pilgrims expected to make the journey.
Performing the Hajj is an important part of the Islamic faith. Just as an observant, able-bodied Muslim should pray regularly, give alms and fast during the month of Ramadan, going on pilgrimage — that is, performing the Hajj — is considered one of the five pillars of the belief system. The Hajj takes place every year in a prescribed way over six days during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.
However, there are around 2 billion Muslims around the world and given the numbers involved, it would be impossible for Saudi Arabia to host all those who want to perform Hajj at one specific time. For this reason, the Saudi government designates different countries a quota that says how many people from that nation may come to Mecca in any year.
The rule is around one pilgrim per every 1,000 Muslims in Muslim-majority countries. This is something that was agreed upon at the 1987 Organization of the Islamic Conference. For example, in Indonesia, an estimated 88% of the around 276 million-strong population are Muslim. This year, Indonesia’s quota for the Hajj was just over 230,000.
While the Saudis specify quotas, the actual travel is usually facilitated inside the country. Many countries have their own internal lottery or quota and qualification systems to work out how to distribute the Saudi Hajj visas. Some, like Indonesia, ask applicants to pay a fee to be put into a lottery or, if they don’t get drawn, to be put onto a waitlist. The quota systems in Indonesia and elsewhere mean that many Muslims around the world would have to wait years, sometimes decades, to perform the Hajj.
Other countries, like Jordan, might ask for pilgrims’ date of birth via a registration website. They may also check that the individual has not been on Hajj before. This is so that older Muslims can perform Hajj before they die, and those who’ve never been get a chance to go. In the past, the internal national systems have led to all kinds of controversy as well as accusations of corruption, mismanagement and favouritism.
For example, senior officials in India have been accused of giving out more of the Saudi quota to certain local tour operators in exchange for bribes. In Pakistan in 2014, politicians were implicated in a corruption investigation related to the mismanagement of a fund that would-be pilgrims pay into to guarantee their spot on a waiting list. Potential pilgrims have also speculated that Saudi Embassy staff make money by selling Hajj visas.
It’s a different situation in countries where Muslims make up a religious minority. Up until recently, Muslims living in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and in the European Union didn’t have to deal with a quota system and tended to be able to go on pilgrimage more or less as they wished.
In June 2022, the Saudi government launched its own online platform called Motawif. Unexpectedly, it told would-be pilgrims in 57 countries, mostly in the so-called West, to cancel all pre-existing bookings and to register their interest in the Hajj individually on the website. In effect, this also cut out the specialized travel operators who had previously acted as middlemen.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle