Hajj 2010
Posted on December 25th, 2010

M. Azath S. Salley (Former Deputy Mayor Colombo) President, Azath Salley Foundation

We the members of the Committee appointed by His Excellency the President to oversee the activities involving the performance of Hajj for the year 2010, regret very much the efforts made by a few individuals who are bent on gaining political mileage over this issue by hurling insinuations at the committee without a proper understanding of the rigors involved in the performance of the holy pilgrimage.

The manner in which these insinuations are worded, it is clear that they are made with a lot of malice. Drawing comparison with the Hajj of the previous years is an attempt to infer that Senior Minister Hon.A.H.M.Fowzie is also behind this campaign. We members of the committee are confident that the Hon. Senior Minister will not be a party to these actions, having handled many pilgrimages previously and experiencing the uncertainties that involve the performance of Hajj.

Though we are duty bound to report only to His Excellency the President, we will address the so called serious concerns that have been highlighted ,so that the general public can judge for themselves the credibility of the persons making these insinuations;

1)    The Committee called for applications from prospective Tour operators. Each applicant was required to pay an application fee of Rs.25,000/=. This was introduced to ensure that only those genuinely interested would apply.137 applications were received from prospective operators.

Applicants were interviewed individually and after much deliberation 99 operators were chosen, among whom the quota 5,800 was distributed in keeping with the compliance to criteria set. In fact 05 applicants, who did not qualify requested and obtained a refund of their application fees.

Each chosen Operator was asked to pay a Registration fee of Rs.100,000/=.It is incorrect to say that in previous years Operators were required to pay  only Rs.50,000/= . In fact for Hajj 2009 Operators were required to pay amounts which were increased progressively in keeping with the number of pilgrims allocated to them.

  1. a minimum of Rs.30,000/= for quota of 01 -25 pilgrims
  2. Rs.50,000/= for quota of 26 “”…” 50 pilgrims
  3. Rs.100,000/= for quota of  51 -100 pilgrims
  4. Rs150,000/= fro quota over 100 pilgrims

Kara Travels Ltd paid the maximum of Rs.150,000/= for Hajj 2009.

The monies collected by this process have been duly deposited in the bank, under the control of the Director, Department of Muslim Religious Affairs. The relevant accounts will be duly presented to the authorities when finalized as done during the previous years.

2)    Contrary to previous years ,Mr.Azath Salley a member of the Committee was required to make two trips to Makkah at the request of the Committee, after the Chairman of the Operators’ Association reported to all the Members of the Committee that they were unable to find accommodation within the limits of Minna. They had only been able to find accommodation at a cost of SR650 for tents placed outside the limits of Minna. If the pilgrims were accommodated outside the limits of Minna, each pilgrim would have had to incur an additional expense of Saudi Riyal 350 -400 to sacrifice a goat to compensate for same. The total cost of both trips including airfare and hotel expenses, was Rs.682, 748.25 to be precise and not Rs.500, 000 per trip as stated .These expenses were met from the Hajj fund collected through the Registration fee.

3)    It is correct that in the previous years the Tour Operators chose their own Muallims and made the necessary arrangements for Hajj. This year too it would have been the same, had the Chairman of the Operators not complained of their inability to get accommodation within Minna limits.

Mr. Azath Salley was asked by the Committee to intervene and secure accommodation within the limits of Minna. As reported the Proprietor of Kara Travels Nizar Hadjiar was not deputed by the Committee to get involved in this process. Nizar Hadjiar and a few other operators happened to be on the same flight to Jeddah ,as Mr.Azath Salley.

On reaching Makkah ,Mr.Azath Salley  made a request for Nizar Hadjiar as a Senior Travel Operator to join him in the delegation ,to meet the Head of the Muassasa Adnan Katheeb along with the Consulate General for Sri Lanka in Jeddah Mr. Jaffrullah Khan and members of his staff, so that his view as an operator could also be expressed.

The negotiations to secure accommodation within Minna resulted in Adnaan Katheeb making a special concession by moving out pilgrims of Pakistan allocated to MuallimNo: 41 at the rate of Saudi Riyal 1,200 and assigning him to Sri Lanka at a concession of Saudi Riyal 1,000 per pilgrim. Unlike in the previous years the accommodation provided within very close proximity of the Jamrat, , made it very convenient for our pilgrims to carry out this ritual with the least inconvenience, which was the most positive feature of this arrangement.

It is incorrect to say that there was no transparency in the negotiation process as a senior representative of the Tour Operators Nizar Hadjiar, the Consulate  General Mr. Jaffrullah Khan and Sadiq Hadjiar  a Sri Lankan Saudi National who has involved himself to look after the interest of Sri Lankans performing hajj ,were also  present throughout the discussion. The said the agreement with head of the Muassasa was signed by the Consulate General and not by Mr.Azath Salley.

All payments to the Muallim were made directly by the Tour Operators themselves, who had even given letters to the Muallim, commending him for the services rendered. The committee did not involve itself in this process and only liaised with the muallim to ensure that he serviced the pilgrims as per the undertaking made by him.

On the return of Mr.Azath Salley, the Committee met with the Operators and briefed them of the situation. They were unanimous in their praise of the committee for achieving this feat of bringing all pilgrims under one roof and  for securing this accommodation at SR 1, 000, as some of them had to pay over SR 1,200 in 2009. During the previous years attempts were made to bring all Sri Lankans under one roof by the Late Minister Ashroff and even Senior Minister Hon.A.H.M.Fowzie as well.

Senior Minister Hon.A.H.M.Fowzie did express his reservations on this arrangement, citing the inadequacy of kitchen facilities for cooking within one camp.

This issue was discussed with the operators and arrangements were made to make amends by a fair number of operators cooking in Azeezia and transporting the food to the camps as they had been doing during the previous years. The cooking space of 09 burners made available , were distributed among the rest of the operators in groups by mutual agreement.

4)    The performance of hajj has its nuances, as experienced by the operators and pilgrims annually. Even the best of plans may not work out due to circumstances which are beyond the control of the most able and experienced operators, as experienced by Iqra Travels during Hajj 2009, where they found that they had no accommodation in Makkah on arrival, after having gone into an agreement with the owner and even paid the required money.

Accommodation during Hajj has been and is always an issue. In previous years the issue was not blown to this proportion as our operators were scattered among many muallims and contained similar issues within their own groups. This year it became very apparent as all the Sri Lankan pilgrims were housed together and were competing for space among them.

This year we were allocated 88 tents in Minna which had a covered area of 5,124 sq metres ,sufficient according to Saudi Hajj Ministry officials to house  approximately 6,028 pilgrims. If  only those officially issued visas thorough the committee (6,001 “”…” made up of 5,800 hajj visas,150 basa visas and 51 mujamulla visas) there would not have been an issue of accommodation. The addition of unaccounted pilgrims, which took our total count to  approximately 6,248 added to the demand for already scare space.

The committee cannot be blamed for not making arrangements for those who were brought as pilgrims without the knowledge or consent of the committee.

Minna and Arafat are tent cities. While the tents in Minna are modern and air conditioned, the tents in Arafat are basic and open. There is no exception and every pilgrim has to make do with the facilities provided. The demand for space and toilet facilties has been experienced to varying degrees by pilgrims annually. One cannot even attempt to compare this with any other arrangement. To make an issue of this and criticize the committee, is an act against the very spirit of sacrifice involved in the performance of hajj.

This year operators were permitted to move to Azeezia in the suburbs of the holy city for two days before hajj and three days after hajj , at their request, to make it convenient to enter and exit from Minna, which has always been a major obstacle.

We have confirmation that some operators have abused this concession and housed pilgrims in distant places and for longer periods than allowed. The committee will take serious view of these lapses and take appropriate action.

There are also instances where operators made use of unauthorized buildings to house the pilgrims within the city of Makkah. The Department has made a note of this lapse and will be taking it up with the operators involved.

The Committee is of the view that Hajj 2010 was concluded successfully with lessons learnt. The Committee will be interviewing each operator individually to ascertain their views on the hajj concluded. A survey will also be done among the pilgrims. The experience gained along with constructive criticism of the process will be heeded by the committee in working to ensure a better hajj during the year 2011.

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