SINGAPORE - The Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim is "hopeful" that Singapore will get an additional 120 spots for haj pilgrims "in the years to come".
He cited two factors for this optimism: the Saudi authorities understand the fact that the population here has increased; previous Singaporean haj pilgrims have also maintained the nation's positive reputation.
"At the moment the waiting time 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.
Dr Yaacob was at Changi Airport on Monday (Sept 5) afternoon to send off the largest batch of haj pilgrims this year, comprising 467 people, to Saudi Arabia.
This year, Singapore is sending a total of 680 pilgrims, 90 per cent of whom are first timers. They will be accompanied by a 21-member delegation from Muis, who will provide medical and welfare services.
The Singapore Government has been asking its Saudi counterpart for more places for the past three years.
Miss Nur Asyura binte Suratman, 21, a software engineering technician, is among those embarking on the annual pilgrimage to Islam's holiest city, Mecca.
"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 said.
She is travelling with her parents, Mr Suratman bin Haji Hussein, 60, an oil refinery plant operations supervisor, and homemaker Madam Hamidah bte Samsuri, 58.
The pilgrimage for the three of them cost Mr Suratman almost $40,000, which he paid for with his CPF and savings. They had been on the waiting list for five years.