Two meetings in Cape Town and Johannesburg to discuss the umrah fee hike have unanimously agreed that umrah should not be boycotted. On Sunday, hundreds of concerned residents gathered in both cities to call for the visa increases to be scrapped. Saudi Arabia has increased visas from 350 riyals to 2000 riyals, which could equal R8000 to R10 000, and lead to many not being able to perform hajj and umrah.
The uncertainty of being unable to perform pilgrimage due to the price increase has sparked outrage against the Ministry of Hajj in a bid to overturn the decision. In Cape Town, Sedick Steenkamp, the chairperson of the South African Travel and Haj Operators Association (SATHOA), said those in attendance were of the view that Saudi authorities must be pressured to review their decision. The resolution was to approach the South African Government and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to intervene.
“We wish to approach our government and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to stand as a representation for all Muslims in South Africa. The memorandum to the ambassador of Saudi Arabia was signed by all present at the meeting and it will hopefully be delivered by SATHOA to the embassy,” he said.
Steenkamp says that representatives for members of the Muslim community do not believe in staging a boycott or believe that a boycott is appropriate.
“We are taking a more pragmatic approach. We do not think it is right to boycott Umrah or Hajj,” said Steenkamp.
Social activist Yusuf Abramjee has described the visa fee hike as “daylight robbery”. Along with other concerned citizens, he has formed the Anti Visa Fee Committee SA which will lobby the Saudi Arabian embassy to address the matter. Abramjee spearheaded a meeting held in Crosby Johannesburg , in which 700 Muslims spoke out against the visa increases.
“We took the input from members of the community and there were some suggestions that did come forward. The resolutions briefly included that all members present unanimously condemn the fee increase and the need of the Saudi Arabian government and the South African government to make representations to the Saudi government to scrap the fee implementation,” said Abramjee.
Abramjee adds that there is no clarity on whether the resolutions may work and that the communication from the Saudi embassy has been appalling.
“We want clarity and we want answers. We want to use a policy of effective engagement and we want to say to the Saudi government loud and clear that you cannot profit out of pilgrims, Hajj and Umrah is a religious obligation,” said Abramjee.
Abramjee like many others are firmly against staging any sort of boycott.
“We cannot boycott the house of Allah SWT, but we have co-opted a number of operations and we have written an urgent letter to the Minister of International Relations calling for an urgent meeting.
There is currently a petition being signed as another means to help the cause. Visit https://www.change.org/p/saudi-embassy-new-umrah-visa-fees-must-fall to sign the petition. VOC (Imran Salie)