By P.K. Abdul Ghafour
MAKKAH — It seems the government’s recent decision to impose SR2,000 fee on pilgrims who perform Haj or Umrah more than once has not affected the inflow of visitors to the Two Holy Mosques at the start of this year’s Umrah season.
However, many pilgrims and Umrah operators requested the authorities to review the decision.
“It’s a big blow to Umrah operators,” said an agent of an Umrah service company from Kerala, which has sent thousands of pilgrims this season.
“We find it difficult to get pilgrims due to the new fee, which has increased the cost of an Umrah trip by Rs36,000,” said the agent.
He hoped that the Kingdom would withdraw the fee for the benefit of Umrah operators as well as Saudi businesses.
An elderly South African pilgrim, who introduced himself as Mohammed, said Saudi Arabia has every right to impose fee on pilgrims. However, he said the fee should be brought down to SR500.
“I have decided to come for Umrah every year irrespective of the cost it would incur. This is my 32nd Umrah,” Mohammed said while watching pilgrims circumambulate the Holy Kaaba.
“I manage to get the money required for visiting Makkah every year by the Grace of Allah.”
Zainul Abideen, a young Malaysian pilgrim who came for Umrah with his wife, was not happy with the fee, saying it would make Umrah unaffordable. “Many foreign pilgrims having low income like me wish to visit this holy place to pray to Allah and get His blessings,” he told Saudi Gazette.
He also agreed that Saudi Arabia has the right to impose fees for the services it offers.
“Even if it charges SR300 from every pilgrim it can make a good amount of money as more than seven million foreign pilgrims come for Umrah every year,” he pointed out.
Abideen has spent 14,000 ringgit (about SR11,700) for the Umrah trip of himself and his wife. “We came on a Saudia flight, which was full of pilgrims. This is our first Umrah and we are extremely delighted for getting an opportunity to make this wonderful spiritual journey,” he told Saudi Gazette sitting in the Grand Mosque.
Bangladeshi businessman Mohammed Shahidul Islam also expressed his hope that the Saudi government would lift the fee in order to encourage more faithful to visit Makkah and Madinah.
Asked about the response of Bangladeshi Muslims toward the Umrah fee, he said: “They are hopeful that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman would revoke it for the benefit of all Muslims who dream to visit the holy places in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Gazette also met a group of young Indonesian pilgrims at the Grand Mosque, some of them have paid SR2,000 Umrah fee. They believe the fee would decrease the number of Indonesians going for Umrah.
“We hope King Salman would revoke the Umrah fee in response to the prayers and pleas of Muslims all over the world,” said Akbar, a member of the group.