More haj slots likely next year: Yaacob

Nurse Nur Asyiqin Jumari (left), 30, hugging her father, retired bus driver Jumari Suri, 65, at Changi Airport yesterday. She was among the latest batch of Muslim Singaporeans pilgrims heading to Mecca for their haj. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim was there to se
Nurse Nur Asyiqin Jumari (left), 30, hugging her father, retired bus driver Jumari Suri, 65, at Changi Airport yesterday. She was among the latest batch of Muslim Singaporeans pilgrims heading to Mecca for their haj. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim was there to see them off.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Quota for S'pore Muslims may be raised as Saudis finish construction in Mecca

More Muslims may get to go for the haj pilgrimage to Mecca next year.

Since 2013, the Singapore Government has been asking its Saudi counterpart for more places due to increasing demand.

Its last appeal to the Saudi government failed because of ongoing construction works in Mecca, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, who sent off a group of pilgrims at Changi Airport yesterday.

"They (Saudi government would) rather not take the risk and we understand that," he said.

Another request has already been submitted and the Saudis have informed the Singapore Government that the construction works should be completed by next year. "Therefore we are hopeful," he added.

Singapore has appealed for the quota for haj pilgrims to be raised from 680 to 800.

Dr Yaacob said he has also asked for another 1,500 spots to clear some of the backlog.

There are 17,000 people on the waiting list.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore gives places on a first-come-first-served basis, with priority given to first-timers. Dr Yaacob added: "I am thankful that our pilgrims have been very patient with us because they know we have been appealing (for more spots)."

Last Friday, a massive crane collapsed in Mecca's Grand Mosque in stormy weather, killing 111 people and injuring over 200.

But the group of 43 pilgrims who left for the Saudi Arabian city yesterday told The Straits Times that they were not concerned.

Among them were first-time pilgrims Mohamad Syaiful Omar, 33, and Nur Asyiqin Jumari, 30. Both husband and wife are nurses.

"I was initially worried, but I think the government there will take steps to improve the situation," said Madam Asyiqin, who gave birth to her second son five weeks ago.

Their first son is aged four.

"I feel sad leaving my sons behind, but it's our calling as Muslims to perform the haj," she added.

Another first-timer, retired shipping executive Sulaiman Diron, 68, said: "I've waited four years to go for the haj, and I'm happy to finally get the chance to go."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'More haj slots likely next year: Yaacob'. Print Edition | Subscribe