Wed, 17 Dec 2003

Nearly 30,000 haj pilgrims denied entry to Mecca

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Almost 30,000 Indonesians have to delay until 2005 their trip to Mecca to perform their haj pilgrimage after the Saudi Arabian government canceled the additional quota for Indonesian haj pilgrims for 2004.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agiel Munawar said on Tuesday that the Saudi government policy also applied to the other 17 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

"In November the Saudi government decided to retract the decision saying they had to comply with the agreement among OIC member countries that the quota for each country could not exceed one spot for every 1,000 Muslims," Said explained during a news conference as quoted by Antara.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, had been granted 205,000 seats for the 2004 pilgrimage. But as the waiting list reached 50,000, Jakarta requested an additional quota of 30,000 seats, which was approved by the Saudi government.

The minister said those on the waiting list this year would be given priority to go in 2005.

Those who have to delay the trip will not have to pay additional fees for their trip even if the government raises the haj fee for next year, he added.

The government has set the haj fee for 2004 season at US$2,100.

Said apologized for the delay, but claimed that the Indonesian government had objected to Riyadh's decision and sent a letter which was signed by Vice President Hamzah Haz.

The government also allows those who want to cancel their trip and take their money back, without any cancellation fee, the minister said.

The haj pilgrimage is obligatory for Muslims and many Indonesians have to sell their belongings to pay the haj fee.

Said stated that the first batch of Indonesian haj pilgrims would leave for Mecca on Dec. 30 from Jakarta. The pilgrimage peaks on the Islamic Day of Sacrifice, which in 2004 will fall on Feb. 1.