With just a few months until the start of the 1434 haj season, pilgrims have been urged to finalise their contracts with their operators of choice by Friday, so the arrangements in the Saudi Kingdom can be made well ahead of time by the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc). Speaking to Breakfast Beat on Tuesday, Sahuc secretary general, Shaheen Essop, said the contracts between the haj regulator, the affiliates and the haj ministry have been concluded.
However, with South Africa’s quota of 2,500 being filled this year, any chance of a boost to this number looked slim. “Unfortunately, given the continuous construction in Makkah and Madina, not only close to the haram, but also the hotels… it certainly does not bode well for any concessionary increases [to the quota] that we asked for. We are hopeful, but we become less confident as we see what had transpired around the holy cities,” he reported.
Essop said they were notified there would probably not be an increase in quota for South Africa this year, nor in 2014. All 42 countries who applied for an increase did not receive the requested amount. “The Saudi authorities are under the impression that there are 2.5 million Muslims in the country, which is why we only receive a quota of 2,500. But if we prove that there are 3 million or more Muslims in SA, our quota will be adjusted accordingly.”
Amongst the key agreements at the signing of the haj protocols are assurances that South African hujjaj are fully aware of the regulations in place in the Kingdom. Sahuc was confident this was achieved at its national haj awareness programmes that took place last month in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
“We notified the ministry about this and they were satisfied that all the necessary education for the hujjaj are in place, as well as making sure that the inoculations against yellow fever and meningitis are taken care of.” He said there are also deadlines put in place in the Kingdom for operators to ensure that they are able to trade efficiently in the holy cities. Travel agents need to ensure that pilgrims’ visas are issued via the embassy ahead of time.
While there were no significant logistical changes for hujjaj to adhere to, they should be aware that the first floor and the roof of the haram is currently under construction. The Haj Ministry was hopeful that this would be completed by Ramadan, but Essop was doubtful. “I do not foresee the first floor and the roof being ready around the haj period. This will add to the constraints which the hujjaj already experience as well as the wheelchairs making use of the ground floor for tawaf.”
Essop said the situation is further exacerbated by the large number of people coming back from Arafat and performing Tawaful Ifalda and Tawaful Ziyarat. “We have been asking our hujjaj to delay their Tawaful Ifalda until 11 Thul Hijja instead of the 10th. However it is going to be difficult and is something that the ulema need to give direction on. But I think that will be our only logistical issue at the moment.”
With the SA quota full, Sahuc was in the process of assisting the operators to upload their contracts on the regulator’s online accreditation system. “We are sifting through the stragglers for cancellations. The spot will then go to the next person in the queue who is ready to go for haj.” VOC (Aqeelah Bawa)