Hopeful that haj quota for S'pore will rise: Yaacob

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim with Miss Nur Asyura Suratman (far left), 21, a software engineering technician; her father Suratman Haji Hussein, 60, an oil refinery plant operations supervisor; and mother Hamidah Samsuri, 58, a housewife, before they left on the
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim with Miss Nur Asyura Suratman (far left), 21, a software engineering technician; her father Suratman Haji Hussein, 60, an oil refinery plant operations supervisor; and mother Hamidah Samsuri, 58, a housewife, before they left on their pilgrimage.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

A three-year bid by Singapore to increase the number of haj places for pilgrims may see progress soon.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday said he is "hopeful" that Singapore will get an additional 120 spots for the pilgrimage to Mecca "in the years to come".

Currently, the number of Singaporeans allowed to go on the pilgrimage is 680, after a quota system was introduced to limit numbers while construction work takes place.

He cited two factors for his optimism: Previous Singaporean haj pilgrims have maintained the nation's positive reputation.

Saudi authorities are also aware Singapore's population has grown, resulting in greater demand.

"At the moment, the waiting time (for people to go on the pilgrimage) is 15 years. We know there's a lot of demand from our community," said Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security.

He was at Changi Airport yesterday to send off the largest batch of haj pilgrims this year, 467 people, to Saudi Arabia. Ninety per cent of this year's pilgrims are first-timers.

They will be accompanied by a 21-member delegation from Muis, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, which includes four doctors and 10 nurses.

The Singapore Government has been asking its Saudi counterpart for more places since 2013.

Miss Nur Asyura Suratman, 21, a software engineering technician, is among those embarking on the annual pilgrimage. "I'm quite excited as not many people my age go for this. I believe I'm the first of my friends from my madrasah to do so."

She is travelling with her parents. The pilgrimage for the three of them cost almost $40,000. They had been on the waiting list for five years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Hopeful that haj quota for S'pore will rise: Yaacob'. Print Edition | Subscribe