Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Muslim leaders, legislators back move to restrict haj trips

Tiarma Siboro and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Muslim leaders and legislators have thrown their weight behind the government's plan to limit an individual's haj trips to one every five years. It is hoped that this would reduce potential problems, including the annual haj quota.

Muhammadiyah chairman Achmad Syafii Maarif supported the government's plan. He said on Thursday that it would reduce difficulties in monitoring the pilgrims.

"I think it is a good idea and we have to support it because it won't be easy to monitor the some 200,000 pilgrims, who are mostly poorly educated.

"Such a limitation must not be considered a violation of rights. We should ask whether the rights benefit us or not (in such cases)," he told The Jakarta Post by phone.

Ahmad Bagdja, deputy chairman of the country's biggest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), suggested that the government issue a regulation that prioritized first-time haj pilgrims.

NU and Muhammadiyah, the second biggest Muslim organization, have around 70 million members.

Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agiel Munawar said on Thursday that the policy would enable more people to perform a haj pilgrimage, once of the five Islamic obligations written in the Koran and Hadith, a collection of Prophet Muhammad's deeds and words.

The statement coincides with the House of Representatives (DPR)'s move to draft a revision of Law No.17/1999 on haj organization.

Arismunandar, spokesman of President Megawati Soekarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), also suggested that the government prioritize first-time haj pilgrims.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung hailed the government's plan, saying that it should be followed with better management.

"Principally, I agree with that idea. Technicalities should be discussed seriously," Akbar said.

The House's draft revision includes the proposal to set up an independent institution to end the Ministry of Religious Affairs's monopoly of the lucrative business.

Syafii further warned the government of possible problems concerning the enrollment of the pilgrims, considering that "certain individuals may use another address to enable them to perform another haj trip".

In addition, Bagdja suggested that the government should give priority to husbands who wanted to accompany their wives to Mecca.

"According to the Hadith, someone who is wealthy should perform the pilgrimage at least once. For those who can't afford it, it is considered sunnah (non-obligatory)," he explained.