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‘Govt has to limit pilgrim numbers’

Minister of Haj Bandar Hajjar, left, meets with Sri Lankan Senior Minister for Urban Development Abdul Hameed Mohamed Fowzie

By MD Rasooldeen | ARAB NEWS | 26 Jan 2012

RIYADH: Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar said Wednesday that around 80 countries have requested an increased quota of Haj pilgrims, but the ministry has to restrict the number of Hajis according to the availability of accommodation in Mina.

The Haj minister was discussing such a request with Sri Lankan Senior Minister for Urban Development Abdul Hameed Mohamed Fowzie at his office in Jeddah on Wednesday. Hajjar said according to the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) teachings, the sacred area of Mina cannot be extended and the pilgrims have to be housed in the demarcated area during their stay.

Sri Lankan Consul General Athambawa Uthumalebbe also took part in the talks between the two ministers.

Speaking to Arab News from Jeddah following the talks, Fowzie, who is also in charge of Sri Lankan Haj Affairs, described the talks as useful to help prepare for the next pilgrimage.

Fowzie said he made a request to the Haj minister to stipulate a fixed quota of pilgrims for Sri Lanka during the signing of the agreement between the two ministers. He explained that last year a quota of 2,800 pilgrims was given, but subsequently on a request made by the Sri Lankan government the Haj Ministry increased this by 1,000. However, by that time there was no time to fill this increased quota.

The minister said Haj operators exploit such situations and increase their charges, claiming last-minute arrangements could cost more money.

The Sri Lankan minister said the Saudi minister assured him that a fixed quota of Lankan pilgrims would be provided. “Such an arrangement is good where we need not bargain for an increased quota and can go ahead with the stipulated number,” he said.

“In 2010 we received a quota of 5,800. This year I have requested the Haj minister to approve the same number,” Fowzie said, adding the Saudi minister said he would be taking up the matter with the relevant committee that deals with pilgrim quotas.

He also thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for providing improved facilities and services to the pilgrims who come from all parts of the world. “There was a time when stampedes were an annual feature. Now the new improvements at the Jamrat have facilitated the smooth flow of pilgrims in the area,” Fowzie said.

The Ministry of Rural and Municipal Affairs is expected to implement development projects in the holy sites worth over SR1.4 billion. Two new projects will connect Aziziyah district with the Jamrat area via tunnels and another will link the King's Road to Al-Sharaie district. There are other projects that include the expansion and improvement of the western area of the Jamrat.

Dispelling rumors about Sri Lanka expelling Islamic preachers, Fowzie said tourist visas are given to non-Sri Lankans for their leisure holidays. “There was a misunderstanding with the local immigration authorities and now they have been sorted out with the parties concerned,” he said, pointing out visitors from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Middle East would be allowed to enjoy their stay and continue their Dawa'h work as per the stipulated period mentioned in their respective visas. “Regular preaching by such visiting scholars have refreshed Islamic values in the island,” Fowzie said, adding 8 percent of the country's 21 million population are Muslim.



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