Haj quota may increase once Masjidil Haram expansion is done

National 1 minute, 44 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE Saudi government may increase the Haj quota for Bruneian pilgrims once the expansion of the Masjidil Haram (Sacred Mosque) is complete next year, said the country’s envoy to Brunei.

Saudi Ambassador Hisham Abdul Wahab said the US$10 billion expansion project will increase the capacity of the mosque – the focal point of the Haj pilgrimage – to over two million worshippers.

In 2012, the Saudi Arabian government reduced Brunei’s quota of pilgrims from 1,000 to 400, due to the ongoing upgrades of the Masjidil Haram in Mekah and Masjid Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque) in Madinah.

“We are eager (to restore the quota). All these projects will serve the comfort of every single pilgrim performing Haj or Umrah, in a convenient and safe way. When the project is finished the quota will maybe increase,” Hisham said on the sidelines of a recent reception for Saudi Arabia’s national day.

According to Brunei’s Haj Management Department, there are currently around 1,000 people on the waiting list to perform Haj.

The Saudi government has imposed a quota of 1,000 pilgrims per million inhabitants for each country.

Leaders of Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, have repeatedly lobbied the Saudi government to increase the quota for their countries.

The reduction in quota, previously set at 1,000 for Brunei, has also driven up the cost of performing Haj, with the cheapest Haj package priced around $8,000, and the most expensive around $15,000.

The government does provide a subsidy for civil servants, ranging from $3,500 to $4,500, to cover the airfare.

The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which all able-bodied Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.

Last year’s Haj was marred by two major accidents — a crane collapse and a stampede — which claimed the lives of 1,100 people, the highest number of fatalities since 1990. In recent years, the government of Saudi Arabia invested billions of dollars to modernise the ancient city of Mekah and improve safety standards for the millions of pilgrims who flock to Mekah each year.

The Brunei Times