44,232 Hajj quotas vacant, middle-class miffed: Pilgrimage priced out of poor people

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By Anisur Rahman Khan

Performing Hajj has become financially challenging for the middle-income group, as a total of 44,043 Hajj quotas out of 127,198 allocated for Bangladesh remained vacant.

Despite the demand from many aspiring pilgrims for the government to lower Hajj package prices, including airfares, to fill the stipulated quota, the registration deadline closed at 11 pm on Tuesday with over 44,000 slots unfilled.

Bangladesh is now in the position of returning these unused quotas to Saudi Arabia.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs reported that, although Hajj registration opened on November 15 last year, only 82,966 out of the 127,198 potential pilgrims had registered by Tuesday night (February 6).

Among these, 4,260 registered under government management and 78,705 under private management.

The ministry extended the registration deadline four times, with the final extension ending on February 6 due to the lukewarm response.
Mofizur Rahman, a retired college teacher, expressed his disappointment, saying, “I had a dream to perform Hajj, but I’m unable at this moment because of the high prices of Hajj packages.
The government should reconsider the pricing.”

While many have opted for Umrah as a less expensive alternative, the high airfares specifically for Hajj have deterred others. Pilgrims are often charged higher rates for what are termed dedicated flights.

Despite extending the registration period, the significant number of vacant quotas indicates Bangladesh could not meet its allocated quota.

M Shahadat Hossain Taslim, President of the Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), remains optimistic that the unfulfilled quota this year will not impact the quota allocation for the following year.

He acknowledged the national elections and financial strain on many as factors, but also noted a shift in preference towards performing Umrah due to its lower cost.

Taslim disputed the notion that the decline in Hajj pilgrims was solely due to economic reasons or high airfares, mentioning that even after reducing the package price by Tk 90,000, the number of pilgrims did not increase as expected.

Md. Abdul Hamid Jamaddar, Secretary of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, stated that there would be no further extension for registration, and the final count of pilgrims would be communicated to the Saudi government today (Wednesday).

The HAAB announced this year’s minimum cost for performing Hajj under private management at Tk 5,89,800, a decrease of Tk 82,818 from last year’s minimum expense of Tk 6,72,618.

The government had previously announced the Hajj packages for 2024 on November 2, reducing costs by Tk 92,450, with prices set at Tk 5,78,840 for the general package and Tk 9,36,320 for the special package.

Hajj-2024 is scheduled for the 9th day of Zilhaj (June 16), subject to moon sighting.
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