Government Funding of Hajj

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After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has reopened the Hajj pilgrimage for the rest of the world with certain conditions in the current year. Muslims around the world look forward to the annual pilgrimage, which they will make to the holy mosque of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and nearby Mount Arafah in Saudi Arabia. Many Islamic scholars have explained the Hajj as the “annual parade” of Muslims around the Kabah, the “annual global moot in Arafah and Muzdalifah” and the “annual camping and social dinners on the Mina plateau” to demonstrate and maintain alive the spirit of unity of the Ummah.

Hajj takes place during the month of Dhul Hijjah, the twelfth or last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This year, the formal Hajj rituals will take place from July 7 to July 12, subject to the appearance of the moon. A total of one million pilgrims will be allowed to perform Hajj this year provided they are fully vaccinated and not over 65 years old. Quotas for Hajj pilgrims in different countries have also been assigned based on the size of Muslim populations. Indonesia gets the highest allocation with 100,051, followed by Pakistan (81,132), India (79,237) and Bangladesh (57,585).

As less than half of the total number of pilgrims in 2019 were allowed to perform Hajj this year, quotas per county were also drastically reduced. Before the pandemic, it was in 2019 that 1.85 million pilgrims from the rest of the world performed Hajj. The number of local pilgrims was 0.64 million, including 0.42 million non-Saudi or other nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia. Thus, the gross number of pilgrims was recorded at 2.48 million (2,489,406, to be precise) in 2019 of which 126,923 were from Bangladesh.

Out of a total of 57,585 pilgrims from Bangladesh, 53,585 are going to perform Hajj under private management. The rest will be under government management. A debate has, however, erupted in some media circles, including social media, over government-sponsored Hajj pilgrims. A total of 279 people are going for the Hajj under the banner of the Hajj Assistance Team which includes government officials and employees, doctors and nurses and others. The government bears the total expense which is estimated at around 200 million taka.

Some have raised the question whether this type of financing to perform Hajj is compatible with the Islamic principle of Hajj. Being one of the Five Sacred Pillars of Islam, Hajj is obligatory once in a lifetime for every adult Muslim provided they are physically and psychologically fit to perform the Hajj rituals and also have the resources to do so. bear the expenses. Lack of one of the three prerequisites generally renders Hajj non-compulsory. Moreover, the resource, money to be precise, must be earned and accumulated legally by a Muslim himself following Islamic guidelines.

In light of the basics, some have argued that the government is under no obligation to sponsor or fund a pilgrim to perform Hajj if they are not financially solvent to do so. There are also counter-arguments. Any solvent Muslim, who has already performed the Hajj, can finance another Muslim who does not have the financial capacity to perform the pilgrimage. Thus, it is not quite beyond the accepted norm to obtain government sponsorship to perform Hajj.

It should be noted that the money spent by the government from the treasury for some pilgrims is not government money per se. The money deposited in the public treasury is a combination of taxes collected and loans taken from citizens as well as foreign loans and aid. It is therefore public money, or tax money, actually held by the citizens of the country. Now the government, as the elected or selected representative of the citizens, is empowered to collect and spend the money transparently.

In this regard, sending government personnel to assist Bangladeshi pilgrims and enable them to perform Hajj is probably not a mistake, provided the whole exercise has been done in a transparent and accountable manner. Although the government has released the names and identities of the selected members of the Hajj assistance team, the selection criteria are unclear.

Critics also said that every year some pilgrims file a series of complaints against certain Hajj agencies due to irregularities and mismanagement in Saudi Arabia. There is also an allegation against the Hajj assistance team as many pilgrims did not receive any help when needed. Instead, a number of team members were busy serving VIP protocols. Thus, the effectiveness of the team was called into question.

Nevertheless, no one can deny the need for an official government-selected assistance team to carry out certain works during the Hajj. Their scope of work is also defined and they are responsible for doing so.

Muslims believe that those who are able to travel and perform Hajj have ultimately received divine blessings to do so. This is why pilgrims are called “guests of Allah”. Thus, some argue that it is better not to criticize those who are going to perform the pilgrimage, whether they are financed by themselves or by others.

To avoid any controversy over the performance of the official team members sent to deal with the pilgrims, it is important to prepare a detailed report on the team’s activities and disclose it at the end of the Hajj. Pilgrims’ comments should also be taken into account. This type of reporting will bring greater transparency and help establish accountability of the state-funded Hajj team.

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