Thursday 23 May 2019 \


Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

Pilgrims leaving after throwing the final pebbles in the symbolic "stoning of the devil" ritual, in Makah. (AFP)
On Sunday, Filipino Muslims will start their pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — a pinnacle in every Muslim’s life.
Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Aside from the Filipino Muslims, some foreign diplomats will be among the delegates from the Philippines.
“There are diplomats who want to join us. They are requesting to be included. These are from the Libyan Embassy, UAE and Iran. They want to join us,” Mandia told Arab News.
“They can just arrange for their Hajj visa but they need to be accommodated in our housing and space in Mina and Arafat,” Mandia continued, as he explained that housing accommodation for pilgrims is done country-to-country, which means that the NCMF has to write a request to the Ministry of Hajj for additional slots to accommodate the diplomats.
In 2017, a total of 6,032 Filipino Muslims performed Hajj, but the number has fallen slightly this year.
“Last year, we had a bigger number of pilgrims from the Philippines, but we’ve reduced it... because of stringent visa requirements,” said Mandia.
An incident in 2016 when dozens of Indonesians were intercepted using Filipino Hajj passports en route to Makkah, prompted the authorities to introduce tight measures to ensure that no other nationalities join the Philippine contingent’s pilgrimage.
“That’s one reason why they’ve been very strict on securing the passports. They don’t want a repeat of that controversy. We are still bearing the consequence of that anomaly,” said Mandia. “We have assured them (Saudi authorities) that we have taken steps in order to prevent that from happening again,” he added.
Of the 5,800 Filipino Muslim pilgrims, the majority are from Cotabato and Lanao provinces, and include pilgrims from war-torn Marawi City.
Mandia, who will also be performing Hajj this year, added: “I’m from Marawi. Our house was destroyed during the siege. We are still not allowed to go back as it is a restricted site even today. They said there are still live bombs there you could step on and get killed.”
When he performs the pilgrimage he said that it would be “a sigh of relief after all those problematic days,” referring to the five-month battle in Marawi.
On average, a Filipino Muslim spends up to 200,000 pesos on Hajj. Some lawmakers sponsor Hajj for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to make the trip, especially those from Marawi City who suffered major devastation during the siege.
The first two batches of pilgrims are scheduled to leave on July 22 on a Saudi Airlines flight. The country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also has direct flights to take pilgrims from the Philippines to Madinah.
“Last year they (PAL) were not able to get landing permit, so we had to land in Kuwait and an airline in Kuwait flew them to Madinah. Now they have been able to secure a landing permit so they will be transporting pilgrims directly from Philippines to Madinah,” said Mandia.
Source : ELLIE ABEN / ArabNews 

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