Pakistan government to bear Haj food costs

Karachi : Pakistan government has a good news for over 143,000 intended pilgrims who are reeling from an additional financial burden imposed by the Saudi government against mandatory food buying from a Saudi company during Haj, according to a report in

“No matter, the Saudi government withdraws this condition or not, but I am pleased to announce that Pakistan government will bear the additional cost to be incurred by the (intended) Hajis,” federal Minister for Religious and Haj affairs, Sardar Mohammad Yousaf told Dilemma of Pakistan pilgrims started after the Saudi authorities imposed new conditions forcing would-be pilgrims to pay 400 riyals in advance. In return, they will get food from the respective Saudi food companies during their combined six-day stay in Mina, Arafat, and Muzdilfa.

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The recently imposed condition had made things difficult for thousands of intended pilgrims who complained form the additional cost. However, the Haj minister’s announcement has sent a wave of relief to them. “The ministry is still in contact with Saudi Haj authorities to lift this bar, but there are fifty-fifty chances. Our request may be entertained or may not be,” Sardar Yousaf said. “We fully understand the concern of Hajis as a large number of them , cannot afford this additional cost. “That’s why, the government has taken this decision to remove the simmering uncertainty, and to facilitate the Hajis,” the minister added. “If the Saudi government withdraws this condition, then well and good, and if not, then the Hajjis will not have to bear any additional burden at all,” he said. “We know it will cost us massively,” Sardar Yousaf said, adding, “But, this is nothing in front of the prayers of thousands of Hajis for us.”

Pakistan is the second most populous Muslim state with 180 million people, of which, according to the World Bank, 34 percent are living below poverty line. However, the government statistics show this figure between 18 and 20 per cent. This year, some 143,000 Pakistanis will go to perform Hajj as compared to over 180,000 last year due to a 20 per cent decrease in Haj quota for Pakistanis in the wake of ongoing extension at the holy sites in Makkah. Out of 143,000, around 56,884 will go under government Hajj scheme, while remaining will be facilitated through private Haj scheme.

The Haj ministry’s announcement has made thousands of intended Hajis happy and relaxed, giving them new hope of meeting the financial costs of the life-time journey. “I am feeling very relaxed,” Khan Mohammad Khan, an employee of the provincial government of southern Sindh province said. “I had been totally confused what to do, and how to arrange additional 3500 riyals to cope with this condition,” Khan who has applied for Haj along with his wife, two daughters, and a son, said. “But thanks to Allah, the government has listened to our appeals, and removed this heavy burden from our shoulders,” Khan added.

Tahir Ikram, who runs a small utility store in garrison city of Rawalpindi, was also jubilant about the new promises by the Pakistani officials. “I had requested some of my family members and friends for loan to bear with these expenses,” Ikram who is all set to fly to the Holy Land along with his wife, and a daughter, said. “But, now I am relaxed as I do not have to borrow any loan. I will Insha Allah be going to see the home of Allah without burden of any loan,” a soft-spoken Ikram who had decided to go for Haj this year no matter, the Saudi government withdraws this condition or not.

“I do not know I will be alive next year or not. I do understand that borrowing loan for Hajis not a good and preferable idea but life is unpredictable. Therefore, I, in consultation with my wife, had decided to go for Haj this year even if we had to buy some loan,” he added. Ikram dubs the government’s decision as a result of his prayers and good intention. “I know that many would have prayed for that (solution of the issue) but I feel this is the outcome of my intention under which I had to decide to go for Haj despite a burden of loan. It means, the Almighty Allah wants me to come to his Home this year,” an apparently jubilant Ikram-in his mid 60s- said. Muslims from around the world pour to Makkah every year to perform Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam.