While Muslims around the world observe Ramadan while going about their days, a lucky few are venturing to the holy cities of Makkah and Madina to perform Umrah. Ramadan being the busiest period of the year for the Umrah pilgrimage, thousands of mu’tamireen flocks to the holy lands, where Saudi Arabian officials take all precaution to ensure an incident free experience.
Speaking to VOC’s In the Fast Lane, newly elected president of the South African Haj Travel Operators Association (SATHOA), Adam Jainodien explains that the Saudi Government is very optimistic that the expansion of the haram through the Expansion Project, which is scheduled to be completed by the year 2020, will greatly improve the flow of traffic and over-all congestion.
Given the growing numbers of mu’tamireen, he says that the umrah season has been extended into the 15th Shawaal, after starting as early as the 15th Muharram.
Commenting on reports of a flight with South African hujjaaj that was reportedly cancelled, Jainodien says that given the fact that hujjaj are expect to travel within 15 days of their visa’s being issued.
“You have to travel within the 15 days of your being visa being issued and although the Saudi’s are encouraging people to come for the month of Ramadan, emphasis is really on the last fifteen days of Ramadan…any earlier ones are sometimes a challenge to get the system to give you the full 30 day benefit.”
Describing fees as “counterproductive”, Jainodien says that the visa fee for repeat pilgrims hinders people from performing the pilgrimage.
“Yes our rand does not help us. But our recent political dynamics around our president has given us a rand-dollar rate and hence a better riyal rate. Even in the past week, people are becoming more positive. Just on Saturday, one of the agents signed about 30 people.”
With regards to the contested visa payment requirement, he says that Saudi authorities have implemented the ruling which requires pilgrims performing more than one umrah within the same Hijri year to pay a SR2000 visa fee.
Jainodien says that generally there is no fee for the issuing of visa’s, but the counterparties within the haj ministry and with regards to the attached responsibilities of safe guarding mu’tamireen within the Kingdom, there is costs involved in the entire logistical procedure.
While the temperatures in the city of Madina remain moderate, he advises mu’tamireen to take extra precaution when venturing out in the city of Makkah.
“Try and go to the haram earlier and find a spot that is in the shade. Also hydration is a must, so in the mornings have enough liquids.” VOC