Many South African Muslims eager to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) this year should brace themselves for disappointment, because almost 9 000 have applied to go, three times the number allowed to travel to Mecca last year.
Last year, 7 500 people applied to travel, but local Hajj body SA Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) was forced to accept that only 3 000 be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Hajj Ministry had initially set a quota of 2 500 South Africans, but increased it by 500 after Sahuc had appealed.
The 3 000 had been the lowest number in years. The high demand, combined with a lower quota, caused a scandal in which some Hajj operators allegedly obtained Saudi visas in an irregular manner. When the Saudi authorities got wind of it, the visas were stopped, leaving hundreds stranded.
Sahuc indicated recently it had already received 8 795 applications for this year’s Hajj. The council meets the Saudi Hajj Ministry this week to discuss the 2012 quota.
In recent years, the Saudi authorities implemented Hajj quotas – for every million Muslims in a country, 1 000 may visit Saudi Arabia.
SA has about a million Muslims, so only 1 000 should be allowed. Muslims who are financially and physically able are required to perform Hajj once.
Before the quota was implemented, between 7 000 and 10 000 South Africans could go.