The first group of South African hujaaj have arrived back in the country in high spirits, according to the president of the South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc), Shaheen Essop. Pilgrims have begun swarming back into the country after completing their five-day pilgrimage in the Saudi Kingdom, one of the five key ‘pillars’ of Islam.
But hajj 2015 has been overshadowed by two unfortunate tragedies that have collectively led to more than 800 deaths; the first a crane collapse on the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, killing 111 pilgrims before the start of the pilgrimage. That was followed on Thursday by a stampede in the tent-city of Mina on the second day of the hajj, the death toll of which now stands at 769 pilgrims, with more than 800 others also believed to have been injured.
From a South African perspective, while numbers have decreased in recent years as a result of a reduction in quotas due to on-going renovations in the Kingdom, Essop said the journey has become somewhat easier to manage. The reduction has allowed for improved service delivery from operators, as well as better honouring of contracts with hujaaj.
“We have to say shukr to Allah that it was a success yet again,” he declared, praising the all-round cooperation between all parties involved in the process.
While no real logistical problems have been noted this year, Essop admitted the local hajj process had been beset by a trend of high dropout rates amongst those accredited, a result of the country’s increased economic woes. He noted a 45% dropout in the queue for this year’s pilgrimage before the quota was eventually filled.
Essop also addressed the issue of those critical of Sahuc’s work in relation to the hajj, pointing out that many of the organisations detractors would and were seeing a change in attitude once they saw the extent of work put in by Sahuc, both in South Africa as well as on the ground in the Saudi Kingdom.
“Instead of our pilgrim or the hajj operators running to the muasasas office, Sahuc is there as the intermediary to make sure we facilitate what is necessary for the ease of ibadah for the pilgrims,” he added. VOC