A growing number of Maldivians are showing interest in taking part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage that kicked off yesterday, meaning both big business and a few logistical headaches for the private groups selected to oversee the holy visit to Saudi Arabia, says the Islamic Ministry.
Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Didi, told Minivan News that the 1402 pilgrims travelling from the Maldives to Mecca in Saudi Arabia represents a year-on-year growth of local people present during the fifth pillar of Islam – a key requirement of the national faith.
A total of 1142 pilgrims travelled from the Maldives last year for the Hajj, with Saudi officials estimating that about 2.5 million participants were in attendance overall during the 2009 pilgrimage.
Didi says that after originally obtaining a quota for 1000 Maldivians to travel out to Mecca this year, the Islamic Ministry has since been granted an additional 500 places at the last minute after requests to Saudi Arabian authorities to help meet what he says has been increasingly strong interest in attending the event.
However, the last minute nature of this extension has caused some challenges for organisers, according to the ministry. Considering the need for the eight private groups entrusted with arranging pilgrimages from the Maldives to secure transport, accommodation and other travel services, the Permanent Secretary claims that not all this quota has been filled this year due to insufficient planning time.
“Normally a group will rent an apartment [for the pilgrimage] two to three months ahead of Hajj,” added Didi. “This creates an extra burden [for organisers]”.
Alongside the private groups and business that are selected to organise and oversee the Hajj pilgrimage, the government is itself allocated 10 spaces to select participants from across the civil and public service sector to travel to Mecca. Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari is leading the Maldives’ delegation at present.
The Hajj, as one of the five pillars of Islam, is viewed as key a religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out by all able-bodied followers at least once in their lifetime, should they be able to afford the trip. According to Didi, the cost per person for taking part in this year’s pilgrimage is thought to be about Rf 65,000 (US $5000).
For those not able to make their way to Mecca this year though, Didi says that the country will be spending the day fasting and praying ahead of Eid Al Adha beginning tomorrow, an event that will see a number of roads around the capital being closed to accommodate worshippers.
Half of the ground floor of the Islamic Centre by Republic Square in Male’ will also be set aside exclusively for women during prayers, the Ministry added.