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Despite bigger quota, more young Singaporeans are dreaming of Hajj.

Muslim pilgrims go through passport control upon their arrival at Jeddah airport in the Saudi capital on July 14,2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP)

SINGAPORE: Although the Saudi government gave the green light to an increased number of Singaporean pilgrims for Hajj, more and more younger Singaporeans are placing the pilgrimage on their bucket list.

Singapore is a multicultural nation nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia in the Malay Archipelago. About 14 percent of its 5.89 million population are Muslims, the majority being Malay-Muslims.

This year, the Singapore Pilgrims' Affairs Office (SPAO) had its annual pre-departure briefing on July 7, whereby 900 pilgrims from Singapore will be performing Hajj.

The briefing was aimed to "prepare pilgrims to meet the challenges of the Hajj."

The number is a jump from last year's 850 pilgrims, with 90 percent of them first-time pilgrims.

From Hajj registrations to the appointment of Hajj travel agencies, the SPAO is the one-stop hub for Singapore's Hajj affairs under the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), a government body that handles Muslim concerns in the country.

Traveling to Makkah for Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, but unlike the other pillars, it is only mandatory for those who can afford it. A typical Hajj package costs between $8,430 and $5,128.

As one of the most expensive cities in the world, Singapore has an average household income of S$6,600 per month, the highest in Southeast Asia. Most Muslims in Singapore enjoy the conveniences of a modern city.

Affandi Salleh, the chief operating officer of SSA Group, wrote a coffee table pictorial book to showcase the emotions of people who performed Hajj. He had performed Hajj twice, in 1983 and 2017.

"Ten to 20 percent of the pilgrims are younger than 40," said Salleh, adding that going for Hajj has helped him "to have a spiritual balance in life." Salleh wrote his book especially for those who have not performed Hajj yet or have no chance to go to Makkah and Madinah.

"In my opinion, yes, the young Singaporeans, even from 1983 till now, want to perform their Hajj. Starting from young does give you a sense of closeness to God. In my first trip in 1983, I was only 23 and unmarried," he said.

Despite applying for Hajj, Hidayah Amin, an author and publisher of Helang Books, has yet to get called for Hajj because of the strict quota system where they give priority to the elderly first.

However, she has performed Umrah twice. "Once was with my parents during my late teens and the second time was in 2015 during Ramadan," said Amin.

An increasing number of young Singaporeans go for Umrah because of the relatively low cost in comparison to Hajj. A person would only need to fork out $3,500 for a trip.

"It's cheaper than Hajj and one does not need to be on the Hajj visa. Hence it's easier to go," said Amin.

Muslim Singaporeans in the civil service who are performing Hajj or Umrah can take a month's unpaid leave.

Most Muslim Singaporeans have a higher purchasing power and spend more during Hajj. They also tend to stay in luxury hotels nearer the Grand Mosque.

"Singaporeans have higher spending power to perform Hajj. Most of these people save their money for these trips. It is not cheap compared to the neighboring countries," said Salleh. He spent around $1,400 on souvenirs and gifts during his last Hajj trip.

"My package included a stay at the Hilton, which I consider luxurious," said Amin. Most Umrah or Hajj packages take care of everything, including accommodation.

"I think most Singaporeans prefer hotels that are nearer the mosque. And these tend to be more expensive than those further away," she added.

Meanwhile, Siraj Aziz, a writer, recently performed Umrah and sees going for Hajj as a "rite of passage." He said going for pilgrimage is more and more appealing to the younger crowd, especially for exploration of self and religion.

"Not in the near future. Maybe in five to 10 years?" said Aziz regarding Hajj. He is a young man just starting a family. "I'm not that stable and secondly due to the quota system it may take a while."

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9SING
Date:Jul 23, 2018
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