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Haj reflections

Haj reflections

Siraj Wahab, a journalist with Arab News, gives a rare and personal glimpse of the Haj pilgrimage in Mecca.

December 9, 2008 11:47 by

With no access to satellite TV news in Mina, it is easy to forget the economic crisis that has gripped the world. It has also been surprising to note the increased numbers of pilgrims who have come from abroad in such dire economic times. A Saudi Haj official explained that the economic crisis didn’t affect the pilgrim numbers this year because all the plans and fees for these pilgrims had been set and paid more than six months ago.

The pilgrims paid their fees to their local Haj authorities by May 2008 and then those officials had come to the kingdom immediately to procure housing and services. With economic conditions in many countries getting worse, one might think that pilgrim numbers would be reduced next year, but probably this will not be the case.

Every nation has a quota. For example, India’s quota is 170,000 pilgrims. However, requests for 250,000 Haj permits were received this year. Many countries ask year after year for an increase in their Haj quota. It also remains to be seen how currency fluctuations will affect Muslims’ abilities to pay for the pilgrimage. The Saudi riyal is tied to the dollar so a strengthening dollar will hurt the currencies of some nations and help others.

It is important to point out, however, that pilgrim numbers and the spending power of those pilgrims are two different issues. We will have to wait a few days to see if this year’s pilgrims will be interested in buying extras such as Russian-made binoculars and Chinese electronics, or if traders will be disappointed by their Haj sales. –SW

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