“Do not lose hope nor be sad” Quran 3:139
Finally and expectedly, Saudi Ministry of Hajj has announced the suspension of Hajj 2021 for foreign pilgrims due to the COVID-19 new variants. The announcement as reported by Saudi Press Agency was made after serious analysis on the current pandemic situation in Saudi Arabia and in other Hajj participating countries. The announcement effectively hibernates Hajj operations for two consecutive years.
Ya Allah! You know what we know not.
Two days before the announcement, I wrote a piece titled “When the going gets tough”; the theme of the piece was to urge Hajj administrators to be on alert and oppose the call for boycott. Never did I know that the hammer for the cancellation was dangling. There is an African proverb that says: “he who waits for dead men’s shoes is in danger of going barefoot. The Proverb subscribed that it is better to be prepared and be disappointed than to be called upon and fail because of failure to prepare.
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As a reaction, I also argued that Nigeria should participate in Hajj 2021 no matter the number given to her because it is better a bare foot than none at all.
However, the wave of hope that propelled Hajj authorities in Nigeria to begin preparation was not without signals: Saudi Arabia hajj officials did make some pronouncement that foreign pilgrims will be allowed to partake in Hajj 2021.
On 9th of May 2021, Saudi Ministry of Hajj said that the Kingdom will allow a small number of pilgrims into the Kingdom for Hajj 2021. According to him “Allowing a small number of pilgrims into the Kingdom under strict health and precautionary measures is an option under discussion. It was followed by a series of activities and releases of Hajj 2021 protocols by Saudi Ministry of Health. The Ministry has suggested that a total number of 60,000 pilgrims with 15,000 residents and 45,000 overseas pilgrims be allowed to participate in hajj 2021.
Remember, the controversy that trails the issue of 60,000 when it was published by HAJJ REPORTERS? I will come back to that.
However, how I wish the Kingdom stick to the Ministry of health recommendation of 45,000 Pilgrims for outside Hajj participating countries.
2,000 pilgrims from Nigeria could have served as an assurance to prospective and intending pilgrims to prepare for Hajj 2022
Or better still allow selected delegation from Hajj participating countries to perform Hajj 2021
That also could have boosted the spirit of hajj pilgrimage in the hearts and minds of Muslim and intending pilgrims from Hajj participating countries.
Matters of interest
Going by the protocols adopted and the associated Hajj packages announced, the question is: What might have been the approximate cost for Hajj 2021 for Nigerian pilgrims? Can an average Nigeria pilgrim pay the remaining balance of the hajj before the commencement of airlift especially as at the time the kingdom made the announcement on cancellation for foreign pilgrims?
Saudi Ministry of Hajj announced three Hajj packages for Hajj 2021. The first package (Hospitality Package Camps) costs SR12,113 (an equivalent of N1,318,400.00 ), the second package (Distinguished Hospitality Camps) is priced at SR14,381 (an equivalent of (N1,579,856.40 and the third package (Distinguished Hospitality Towers) costs SR16,560 (an equivalent of N1,819,235.24.
The Ministry also announced that 15% VAT will be added to the price of each package.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah website, people will be bused to the holy sites and there will be a maximum of 20 pilgrims per vehicle.
They will be supplied with three daily meals in Mina and two meals (breakfast and lunch) in Arafat. They will be given dinner in Muzdalifah and other food and beverage services.
The Ministry said paying and purchasing the package must be within three hours of selecting the package to avoid cancelation.
This simply means that the packages consists of accommodation or camps in Mina, Muzdallifa and Arafat, feeding and transportations. I am going to take it that it includes accommodations in Makkah
Meanwhile, this announcement has shown that Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has effectively taken control of accommodation, feeding and transport within the Kingdom during Hajj operation unless of course it review its decision before Hajj 2022.
The question is whether Saudi Ministry of Hajj could have used a different hajj cost template for foreign pilgrims and the likely answer is NO. If that is the case, let’s invoke tabulations to work out what an average Nigeria pilgrims could have paid as Hajj fare for Hajj 2021.
The minimum package is SR14,381 (an equivalent of N1,579,856.40). This cost is without airfare, Basic Travelling Allowance, suitcases, administrative charges, pilgrims’ uniform, development levy, and Hadaya.
Without taking the current exchange rates into consideration, I referred to Niger State 2017 hajj fare template as a guide. In 2017, airfare is put at $ 1,650 an equivalent of N503, 000. Suitcases were N16, 600, Basic Travelling Allowance was $800, an equivalent of N244, 000. Hadaya was 38,000 and pilgrims’ uniform cost N5, 000. Administrative charges were N3, 000 and another N5, 000 development levy totaling N814, 000.
Remember, 2017 Hajj fare packages were based on an exchange rate of N305 to a dollar.
The Saudi ministry of Hajj minimum packages for Hajj 2021 is N1,579,856.40 while the local components of hajj 2017 in Nigeria cost N814, 00.
Therefore, the fare for Hajj 2021 could have been within the range of N2, 393, 856 for Nigerian pilgrims . (Based on exchange rate of N305 to a dollar)
The maximum amount deposited by Hajj 2020 or 2021 intending pilgrims is around N1.3 million leaving the balance of N1million.
In reality, paying N1 million or above within a short time could have been a difficult task for an average Nigerian pilgrim. The approximate cost tabulated above could have also put an enormous pressure on the shoulders of Hajj administrators, especially NAHCON; having promised to reduce or make hajj fare affordable even though it has no control or power over the decision of Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
Imagine if Nigerian pilgrims tested positive within Mina, Muzdallifa or at Arafat and the Kingdom decides to ban Nigeria from Hajj for five or three years? We should be grateful and be steadfast because Almighty Allah loves those who are steadfast. (Quran, 3:146).
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried?” (Quran, 29:2)
This verse is a reminder on the power of Allah; this verse directly tells us that we should all be expected to be tested from Allah Himself – especially those who claim to be believers. Knowing that we will be tested, and knowing that we must acknowledge the hardship of life in order to truly build up our morals and faith is something guaranteed – and therefore we must face it head-on. The Hajj industry is undergoing trials from Allah and we must remain focused and committed to overcome it. After all, Hajj has been cancelled 40 times and bounces back to full capacity.
Ibrahim is the Publisher, Hajj Reporters/National Coordinator, Independent Hajj Reporters