SINGAPORE - The last batch of Muslim pilgrims for the haj this year here have set off for the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia after what has been a decade-long wait for some of them.
A total of 180 pilgrims departed for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening (July 3), the first time for Muslims here since the Covid-19 pandemic began two years ago.
They will be accompanied by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs and Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, as well as chief executive of Muis Kadir Maideen.
Those attending the haj this year said they are glad they can perform the pilgrimage after the two-year hiatus and hope to seek blessings for their loved ones.
Civil servant Jamil Jusuf, who has been waiting for nine years to be chosen for the pilgrimage, was thrilled to finally be able to go.
The 56-year-old was accompanied by his wife.
"I'll keep my family in my prayers. And I'll pray for the recovery of my sister, who is sick," he said.
He and the other pilgrims were gathered at Changi Airport Terminal 3 for their flight.
Civil servant Mohammad Imran, 48, said that he was given a slot for the pilgrimage in 2020, but the trip was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Imran, who is travelling with his wife, said his 17-day trip will be devoted to visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
"I'm grateful to everyone for sending me off today, especially my three children. I'll hold them in my prayers," he added.
Speaking to pilgrims and their families at Changi Airport, Mr Masagos thanked Saudi Arabia for increasing the number of slots for haj pilgrims from Singapore.
Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had announced earlier this year that Haj 2022 will be opened to one million pilgrims in total.
Singapore was granted a quota of 407 places out of 850,000 international pilgrims, less than half of the previous official quota of 900.
A confirmed list of pilgrims who met the requirements were issued formal offer letters in early May.
Mr Masagos said despite the last-minute approval, Saudia Arabia and the approved haj travel agents worked hard to get the pilgrims through.
"They made sure every pilgrim who has an intention and desire to get to haj this year have gotten their visas cleared and all their accommodations settled," he added.
After a 10-year wait, Mrs Jarinda Arshad will be performing the haj. The 55-year-old housewife will be in Saudi Arabia until July 30.
Mrs Jarinda, who has been applying since 2012, was previously offered a slot in 2020, but the trip was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She paid the initial deposit of $8,900, which was refunded after the trip was cancelled.
"I'm both happy and sad about my trip. Happy that I'm finally getting to go, sad that I'm leaving my family for so long," she said.
This year's haj pilgrims must be aged below 65, vaccinated against Covid-19 with a Saudi-approved vaccine and must submit a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours from the time of departure to Saudi Arabia.