Sri Lankan Muslims are allowed to perform Hajj if they pay in foreign currency

Colombo, June 9 (Arab News) – The Sri Lankan government has announced that Muslims will be allowed to perform Hajj this year on the condition that they pay their travel expenses in foreign currency, as the country faces its worst economic crisis in recent memory.

Last month, Sri Lanka’s umbrella association of pilgrimage organizers said its members would suspend operations because the cost of sending worshipers to Mecca – estimated at $10 million – would be too high for the country then that it is grappling with the worst financial downturn since independence. in 1948, and has already failed to repay its foreign debt.

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The suspension was conditionally lifted by Religious Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake on Tuesday, following consultations with Muslim lawmakers and Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed, who also oversees Middle East affairs.

“At the request of Muslim groups led by Minister Ahamed, we have decided to fulfill the quota of pilgrims by asking them to pay their Hajj package in foreign currency, which will not affect our national economy,” Wickremanayake told Arab News.

“I have asked the Central Bank to work out the modalities for developing this pilgrimage and they would help them find an easy passage to and from Makkah this year.”

Muslims make up nearly 10% of the country’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist.

This year, the country was given a quota of 1,585 pilgrims to perform the Hajj, after Saudi Arabia announced it would allow 1 million foreign and domestic Muslims to visit holy sites in Mecca. .

Although Sri Lanka is unlikely to meet the entire quota, Ahamed, who discussed the issue with Wickremanayake, said even sending a reduced number of pilgrims this year would help the country retain his allowance. This year’s number is already lower than in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted Hajj travel.

“Given that pilgrims have been asked to pay for their package in foreign currency, we cannot expect to use the full quota this year. But it’s good to bring some pilgrims to keep Sri Lanka’s quota intact for next year as well when things calm down,” Ahamed told Arab News.

“Three years ago we got a pilgrimage quota of almost 4,000 and this year we don’t want to miss that quota of 1,585 for the Lankan pilgrims.”

One of the five main pillars of the faith of Islam, the Hajj was limited due to coronavirus fears to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020. Last year the Kingdom allowed 60,000 participants nationals, compared to 2.5 million before the pandemic.

Prospective Sri Lankan pilgrims must submit their applications to the Ministry of Religious Affairs by Friday.

“I have asked interested persons to make the necessary inquiries to the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department no later than June 10,” said Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, director of the ministry’s logistics department.

“There are 86 Hajj tour operators and about 15 reputable agents will be selected from among them and operations will be streamlined through them,” he added.

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