S'pore appeals for bigger haj quota

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim with Saudi Hajj Minister Bandar Mohammed Al-Hajjar during an exchange of gifts. Singapore has asked for its haj quota to be raised from 680 to 800 pilgrims a year.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim with Saudi Hajj Minister Bandar Mohammed Al-Hajjar during an exchange of gifts. Singapore has asked for its haj quota to be raised from 680 to 800 pilgrims a year.PHOTO: MUIS

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written a letter to the Saudi King, appealing for Singapore's official haj quota to be increased.

The letter was presented yesterday to a Saudi minister by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Dr Yaacob is in Saudi Arabia along with the chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Haji Abdul Razak Maricar, for the annual haj ministerial meeting to discuss the haj quota and operations.

In the letter, PM Lee appealed to King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud to consider raising Singapore's quota from 680 to 800 pilgrims a year, in line with the growing Muslim population here.

He said that Singapore's quota of 680 was based on the formula decided by the Organisation of Islamic Conference in 1987, which set it at 0.1 per cent of the Muslim population.

"Since then, Singapore's Muslim population has grown by about 20 per cent but our quota has remained unchanged," he wrote.

About 800,000 of Singapore's current population are Muslims, said Mr Lee.

He also made a personal appeal to the king to grant an additional 200 places on top of the revised quota this year.

Muis said that during redevelopment and improvement works in the holy cities from 2012, the Saudi government has not granted additional haj visas beyond its official quota.

The number of people on the waiting list here has risen to 21,000, a spokesman said. Last year, about 17,000 people were reportedly on the waiting list.

The waiting time is now 33 years, compared to an average of five years in the past.

Dr Yaacob yesterday wrote on his Facebook page that he had a good meeting with the Saudi Hajj Minister, Dr Bandar Mohammed Al-Hajjar.

Referring to PM Lee's letter, Dr Yaacob wrote: "We provided our assurance that Singapore is willing to comply with all the requirements for the additional pilgrims and will ensure their welfare, safety and security," he said.

He added that the additional number of places would "greatly help" to meet the demands of Singaporean Muslims.

In his letter, PM Lee added that ongoing efforts to enhance the infrastructure and the haj management system have benefited the welfare and safety of pilgrims.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore appeals for bigger haj quota'. Print Edition | Subscribe