KAMPALA- At least 500 Muslim pilgrims who had planned to perform this year’s annual hajj (pilgrimage) rituals in the holy cities of Mecca and Madina are likely to miss out if they do not clear their travel expenses by end of this month.
Sheikh Abdulnoor Busuulwa, the chairperson Uganda Bureau of Hijja Affairs said on Sunday Saudi authorities have issued fresh strict guidelines which would only favour about 500 pilgrims who would have registered by June 30.
This year , Uganda was allocated 1,000 slots for hajj, up from 700 who were cleared to participate in the annual rituals last year. But according to Sheikh Busuulwa , only 300 people have so far fully paid for the trip .
“These days, the Saudi authorities issue visas basing on the number of people we have registered using their online registration system and if we fail to beat the deadline, there is no provisional window for a manual process,” he said.
Sheikh Busuulwa said Muslims in the past used to pay clear their hajj travel fares upfront, but due to the current economic challenges in the country, many are paying in instalments.
“These days some people make the final decision to perform hajj at the eleventh hour which affects our planning,” he said
The UBHA is the local agency that secures visas for Ugandan pilgrims.
Each year, every country gets a hajj quota depending on its Muslim population. Countries such as Indonesia and Nigeria which have bigger Muslim populations usually enjoy the lion’s share.
This year, each pilgrim is expected to part with $4,500 ( about Shs16.1m) as travel fares ,compared to Shs15 million that was charged.
However, the fares may increase this year basing on changes in dollar exchange rates , according to Sheikh Busuulwa .The fares include a return ticket, accommodation ,medication ,meals ,Saudi tax and other expenses .
A Muslim believer is required to make the pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime, but only after all their worldly financial demands have been settled.
Hajj activities include; going around the Kaa’bah and between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. The first batch of the pilgrims is expected to fly to the holy sites on August 17 . Unlike in the previous years where pilgrims from Burundi and Congo could register and travel with Ugandans, Sheikh Busuulwa said such an arrangement will not apply this year.
“We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Hajji in Saudi Arabia which bars us from registering foreigners .Even if one has a resident identity card issued by village councils , but lacks a national ID , they will not be registered,” he said.
Sheikh Yahaya Kyewalyanga, the UBHA secretary general warned Muslims against unscrupulous individuals who are bent on fleecing them under the guise of registering them to perform Hajj.
“Some unscrupulous people are moving around various villages and towns deceiving people that President Museveni is going take them to Mecca .They ask for some money for registration, but all those people are crooks ,” he said.
The annual hajj begins in the 12th month of the Islamic year and climaxes with the celebration of Idd el-Adhuha that characterised by the slaughtering of animals. This year’s Idd-el Adhuha is expected to fall on September 1.
• In 2013 Ugandan pilgrims were blocked from traveling to Mecca following an outbreak of Ebola and Marburg in the country.
In 2010, a total of 200 Muslim pilgrims missed the annual Hajj rituals over late registration.
•This year’s annual hajj will begin in the last two weeks of August and will climax with the celebration of Idd -el-Adhuha.
• About a decade ago, Saudi Arabia authorities imposed a hajj quota to avoid overcrowding ,which causes stampedes during hajj rituals