Hajj: As costs rise, the pilgrimage becomes more and more out of reach

On June 27, 2023, a Muslim woman offers prayers on Mount Arafat during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia's vicin...

On Tuesday, more than 1 billion Muslims traveled to Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia to commemorate the most significant day of the Hajj. However, the pilgrimage is getting more and more expensive due to rising prices everywhere.   .

"This year, fewer reservations were made overall. Many people find it to be prohibitively expensive, according to a Hajj trip organizer at a private Egyptian tour company who wished to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation for criticizing their nation's financial situation.    .

The least expensive government-sponsored pilgrimage in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, is now double what it was last year at around $6,000 (£4,720).

The sharp devaluation of the Egyptian pound, which since March 2022 has lost more than 50% of its value against the US dollar, has contributed to the price increase. As a result, both the cost of living and annual core inflation have skyrocketed, reaching 40% in May.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, 30% of the population was estimated to be living below the government's poverty line, and the World Bank estimates that number is likely to have increased since then.

The Hajj took Farida, a retired Egyptian civil servant, five years to save for.

"My savings are insufficient to cover the cost of the trip. I was stunned when I saw the price list," the woman claims.

A widow and mother of five, Farida (not her real name) is. Additionally, she requested anonymity because she did not want to publicly criticize the Egyptian government for the country's rising standard of living.

According to Farida, performing the Hajj is "my dream," and it "cleanses the soul. ".

In her words, "social and financial responsibilities have been lifted off my shoulders" because all of her children are married. "It's almost time to perform the Hajj. ".

Muslims pray at Mecca's Great Mosque in preparation for the start of the Hajj pilgrimage (25 June 2023)
It's one of the biggest religious gatherings in the entire world.

Farida has already made four trips to Mecca to complete the lesser Umrah pilgrimage, which incorporates some of the Hajj rituals and can be completed at any time of the year.

This time, she exploited a flaw in the system to enable her to perform the Hajj.

As she waits to begin the pilgrimage, she tells me from Saudi Arabia, "Instead of the Hajj visa, I got a three-month tourist visa and arrived in Mecca a month before the Hajj season kicks off.". The only choice I have is this. " .

The total cost of Farida's trip to Mecca is 80% less than the Hajj package offered by the government.

One of the five pillars of Islam is the hajj. If they are physically and financially able to do so, Muslims are required to travel to Mecca at least once during their lifetime.

The pilgrimage lasts for five to six days and begins on the eighth day of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, which in this year's calendar corresponded to June 26.

It typically draws between 1.5 million and 2 million pilgrims to the Hajj, but this is the first time since the pandemic that Saudi authorities have permitted it to resume operating at full capacity.

Depending on the number of Muslims living there, Saudi Arabia allots a certain annual quota to each nation.

The largest belongs to Indonesia, which has 270 million people and is the world's largest Muslim-majority country. This year, 221,000 spots were allocated for it.

The subsidy for the pilgrimage was reduced by the Indonesian government this year from 60% to 50%, making it necessary for each Indonesian pilgrim to pay $3,320. The package's price in 2022 was $2,660.

While the cost may be a barrier for many Muslims worldwide, the situation is much more difficult for those living in Yemen, Saudi Arabia's war-torn and impoverished southern neighbor.

Yemeni Muslims arrive at Sanaa's airport before flying to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage, in Sanaa, Yemen (17 June 2023)
For the first time since 2016, hundreds of Yemeni pilgrims were able to travel to Saudi Arabia by air from Sanaa.

Conflict that started in 2015 and erupted when a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia intervened after the rebel Houthi movement, supported by Iran, took over large portions of the nation, has devastated the nation. One of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in history has been brought on by the fighting, which has reportedly killed over 150,000 people.   .

In this month's Hajj, Yemeni pilgrims took the first commercial flight from the country's rebel-held capital, Sanaa, to Saudi Arabia in roughly seven years.

In a nation with a population of 30 million, where more than 21 million require humanitarian aid and 17 million do not know where their next meal will come from, those who traveled had to pay about $3,000, which is a sizable sum.

"For less than half of this cost, I performed the Hajj in 2016. I can no longer afford it," a journalist from Yemen claims.

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