Islamic Lifestyle 

2017 roundup of the biggest haj and umrah stories

| 17 December, 2017 | General
2017 roundup of the biggest haj and umrah stories
Photo: Muslims pray at the Grand mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Haj and umrah are important for the Islamic economy in terms of Muslims' religious obligations as well as the economic impact of the pilgrimages for Muslims around the world and the Saudi Arabian economy. In 2016, pilgrims spent an estimated $22.7 billion on haj and umrah.

This year, 2,352,122 pilgrims attended the haj, a 53 percent increase from 2016, according to data from Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics.

A lot more pilgrims go on umrah, which happens throughout the year outside of the haj season. 6,745,145 umrah visas were issued by Saudi Arabia’s ministry of hajj and umrah for the hijri year 1438 that started on October 2, 2016 and ended on September 20, 2017. This was up from 6,393,492 issued in the previous hijri year 1437.

BIGGEST HEADLINES 2017

The biggest haj and umrah headlines of 2017 revolved around the following stories:

1. QUOTAS: In January, Saudi Arabia reverted haj pilgrim quotas for all countries to pre-2013 levels. In 2013, Saudi authorities cut all countries’ haj pilgrim quotas by 20 percent to accommodate the expansion of facilities at Masjid Al Haram in Mecca. With pre-2013 levels installed this year, the number of haj pilgrims surged 53 percent from 2016. The quota revision also affects the waiting periods for would-be pilgrims, in all cases shortening the number of years Muslims would have to spend on waiting lists to go to haj. 

2. QATAR: The rift that erupted in June between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain affected umrah pilgrims as well as Qatari haj pilgrims. Saudi Arabia allowed in Qatari haj pilgrims for the annual pilgrimage.

3. IRAN: This year, haj pilgrims from Iran returned after the country boycotted the pilgrimage in 2016 after hundreds died in a crush at the 2015 pilgrimage.

4. INDONESIA: The Indonesian government announced it was forming a new, independent haj funds management agency similar to Malaysia’s Tabung Haji. The move is aimed at increasing transparency and profitability for Indonesia’s estimated $6.7 billion haj fund, which was previously managed by the religious affairs ministry.

5. WOMEN: Salaam Gateway examined how different interpretations of the ‘mahram’ system affects the number of female pilgrims coming from large Muslim populations Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

Chart Haj pilgrims 2011 to 2017

ALL THE KEY HEADLINES IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

JANUARY

In January 2017, the Saudi Arabian government reverted the quota for haj pilgrims after it was cut by 20 percent since 2013 to accommodate the expansion of facilities at masjid Al Haram in Mecca. Saudi Arabia and Iran started discussions on the latter’s haj arrangements. Iran boycotted the haj in 2016 after hundreds died in a crush at the 2015 pilgrimage.

JANUARY 9: Iran receives Saudi invitation to discuss haj arrangements

JANUARY 10: Malaysia's haj quota for this year back to 27,800

JANUARY 12: India's haj quota returns to pre-2013 level

JANUARY 12: Indonesia's haj quota returns to pre-2013 level plus additional 10,000

JANUARY 12: Iran to send delegation to Saudi Arabia Feb 23 for haj discussions

JANUARY 16: Malaysia: Project Hope to serve haj and umrah pilgrims, fourth carrier to create 700 jobs

FEBRUARY

Iran accepted Saudi Arabia’s invitation for discussions on rejoining the haj, and sent a delegation on Feb 22. Indonesia announced a new, independent agency to manage its haj funds.

FEBRUARY 22: Iran sends delegation to Saudi for talks on rejoining haj

FEBRUARY 26: Independent agency to manage Indonesia's $6.7 bln haj fund to start in Q4

MARCH

After discussions at the end of February between Saudi and Iran on the haj, Saudi authorities announced that arrangements had been completed for Iranian haj pilgrims.

MARCH 15: Malaysia’s haj quota restored to 30,200 pilgrims this year

MARCH 17: Saudi says arrangements complete for Iranian haj pilgirms

MARCH 27: Haj waiting period for Malaysians shortened by 13 years, thanks to quota increase

MARCH 29: Tabung Haji warns Malaysians to beware of dubious haj packages

APRIL

In April, the nation that sends the most number of haj pilgrims in the world, started discussions with Saudi authorities on preparations for the pilgrimage.

APRIL 11: Indonesia to send delegation to Saudi for talks on Islamic da’wah cooperation, haj preparations

APRIL 27: Malaysia Airlines close to launching A380 charter carrier for pilgrim flights

MAY

Ramadan started towards the end of May 2017 and Salaam Gateway looked at how the religious tourism sector boosts the Saudi’s hotel and dining industries.

MAY 18: Ramadan is make-or-break for Saudi Arabia’s religious tourism sector

MAY 31: Malaysia’s Tabung Haji to shorted waiting period for haj by 39 years

JUNE

In June, a rift erupted between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia closed its airports and airspace to Qatari planes, affecting flights carrying umrah pilgrims.

JUNE 8: Indonesia to divert 250 umrah pilgrims affected by Fulf rift to Garuda, Turkish Airlines

JUNE 10: Middle East diplomatic spat will not affect M’sian haj pilgrims: Tabung Haji

JUNE 16: Focus on the haj, not politics, Malaysian haj pilgrims told

Chart Male Female haj pilgrims

JULY

The first haj pilgrims started arriving in July, including Iranian pilgrims who boycotted the haj in 2016. Despite the diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Qatari pilgrims are allowed into Saudi for the haj. In an analysis, Salaam Gateway found that more males than females perform the haj.

JULY 20: Saudi lets Qataris go on haj, despite diplomatic row

JULY 23: More males than females perform the annual haj

JULY 26: First haj pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia

JULY 26: Malaysia Airlines to set up new carrier for haj flights

JULY 30: Iranian pilgrims return to haj in Saudi Arabia after boycott last year

JULY 30: Indonesia’s new haj fund management agency to take over 95 trln rupiah fund by Nov

Saudi Arabia Mecca masjid al haram haj pilgrim pray

Photo: Muslims pray at the Grand mosque ahead of the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in this August 26, 2017 mobile phone image. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

AUGUST

The haj started in August and as always, security was a top priority. For the first time, Saudi Arabian authorities allowed women to work as part of the bigger team overlooking safety and security of pilgrims. Salaam Gateway examined how different interpretations of the mahram system affects the balance of men and women pilgrims.

AUGUST 15: More men than women pilgrims: India may revisit mahram rules for haj

AUGUST 16: Additional security measures to safeguard haj pilgrims

AUGUST 17: Indonesia’s different mahram system sends more women than men to haj

AUGUST 17: Saudi Arabia to restart work on $26.6 billion Grand Mosque expansion

AUGUST 17: Saudi Arabia to open border to Qatar pilgrims, Qatar media silent

AUGUST 23: Indonesia’s women tip gender balance of haj pilgrims from 3 biggest Muslim populations

AUGUST 23: Pakistan haj mahram policy unaligned with Saudi’s, exception for Shia women

AUGUST 29: Saudi says it’s prepared to handle any stampede or disease at haj

AUGUST 29: Saudi security forces brace for haj but no militant threats detected

AUGUST 30: Muslims begin annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca

AUGUST 30: For first time, Saudi women step into haj emergency role

AUGUST 30: Muslim worshippers seek green inspiration at annual haj pilgrimage

USA New York_Fashion designer Anniesa Hasibuan walks runway at NYFW17_14 February 2017

Photo: New York, NY, USA - February 14, 2017: Fashion designer Anniesa Hasibuan walks the runway for Anniesa Hasibuan FW17 collection runway show during the New York Fashion Week at Skylight Clarkson Sq., Manhattan. Hasibuan, co-founder of umrah travel agency First Travel, has been named a suspect in an 848.7 billion Indonesian rupiah umrah scam. Sam Aronov/Shutterstock.com

SEPTEMBER

The haj ended in early September, without incident. In Indonesia, news of an umrah scam broke involving well-known modest fashion designer Anniesa Hasibuan. Umrah fraud also featured in Malaysia this month. Salaam Gateway examined the affordability of the haj as prices keep going up.

SEPTEMBER 4: Pilgrims return to Mecca as haj winds down without incident

SEPTEMBER 4: New umrah agency for Indonesia in wake of 848.7 bln rupiah Anniesa Hasibuan First Travel scam

SEPTEMBER 5: India’s luxury haj seekers jostle for space with budget pilgrims

SEPTEMBER 5: Umrah package case: Malaysian tour agent fined RM7,000 for failure to refund customers

SEPTEMBER 6: 53 pct more haj pilgrims in 2017, still 16.8 pct lower than 2012 pre-quota slash

SEPTEMBER 28: Asia leading the way in making haj affordable for its citizens

OCTOBER

India said it may change its regulations to allow female haj pilgrims to travel without male guardian, and the Saudi government said it is setting up a fund to develop holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

OCTOBER 2: Saudi sovereign fund to develop holy sites in Mecca, Medina

OCTOBER 10: India may allow female haj pilgrims to travel without male guardian

DECEMBER

Malaysia announced a new monitoring system for umrah pilgrims management, only to cancel it a day after.

DECEMBER 16: Malaysia: Tourism and Culture Ministry mulls new mechanism to replace Imams

(Compiled by Emmy Abdul Alim)

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