Yaacob Ibrahim: This year's haj went smoothly

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (right) greeting Mr Kamaludin Bahain, 42, at the airport yesterday. Also present are (from left) Ms Faizah Mah Atar, 42; Madam Siti Raudah Embar, 90; Ms Sharifah Nurhajar Syed Salleh, 28; and Ms Chik Ejah Ahmad, 55.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (right) greeting Mr Kamaludin Bahain, 42, at the airport yesterday. Also present are (from left) Ms Faizah Mah Atar, 42; Madam Siti Raudah Embar, 90; Ms Sharifah Nurhajar Syed Salleh, 28; and Ms Chik Ejah Ahmad, 55.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

About 120 pilgrims returning from their haj journeys in Saudi Arabia were greeted by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim at Changi Airport yesterday morning.

He told reporters that the pilgrimage had gone smoothly this year.

"Based on my interaction with the pilgrims who came back this morning, they were quite happy with all the arrangements," said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information.

This year, nearly 1.4 million people worldwide made their way to Mecca to perform the haj, which is one of the five basic requirements of Islam that all Muslims must carry out at least once in their lifetimes, if they can afford it.

Haj quotas - the number of pilgrims allowed by the Saudi government from each country - were reduced worldwide by 20 per cent in June last year due to construction works near the Holy Mosque in Mecca.

However, small countries such as Singapore with fewer than 1,000 pilgrims each year had their quotas restored by the Saudi authorities three months later.

Singapore has, since last year, asked for more places due to increasing demand.

Here, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) gives places on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to those going on the haj for the first time.

Dr Yaacob said Singapore will be appealing to raise the official haj quota again next year.

"We will have to try and appeal again, because the demand is increasing," he said.

linettel@sph.com.sg