ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government has received only 13,000 applications for the Hajj 2024 pilgrimage in 10 days against a quota of 89,605 pilgrims, an official confirmed on Wednesday, citing inflation as one of the reasons for the applicants’ “slow response.”
Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage that has been in practice for over 1,400 years. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires every adult Muslim to undertake a journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime (if they are financially and physically able).
Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs invited Hajj 2024 applications under the government’s scheme from Nov. 27 and the process will continue till Dec. 12. The quota for Pakistanis performing the pilgrimage under the government’s scheme next year is 89,605, with the pilgrimage expected to cost Rs1,075,000 [$3,769] per head.
“We have received around 13,000 applications for Hajj so far in 10 days under the government scheme,” Umar Butt, the religion ministry’s spokesperson, told Arab News.
“Inflation and opening of early Hajj applications may be the reasons behind a slow response from the applicants.”
Pakistan’s consumer price index (CPI) jumped 29.2 percent in November on a year-on-year basis, the country’s statistics bureau said earlier this month. Prices went up by 2.7 percent in November as compared to a 1 percent increase in the month before.
Butt added that Pakistan failed to fulfill its Hajj quota in 2023 following which it surrendered a quota of 8,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
This year, Saudi Arabia restored Pakistan’s pre-coronavirus Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and lifted the upper age limit of 65 years to perform the pilgrimage. More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed Hajj under the government scheme in 2023 while the rest used private tour operators.
Speaking about the Hajj sponsorship scheme, Butt said the government has so far received below 1,000 applications against an allocated quota of 25,000 pilgrims.
The ‘Sponsorship Scheme Hajj’ was introduced by the government this year, allowing overseas Pakistanis to apply for Hajj or sponsor someone in Pakistan for the journey by paying in US dollars. In return, applicants would not have to participate in the balloting process.
This year, the government’s Hajj sponsorship scheme could only attract 7,000 applications against a total quota of 44,000. The numbers were a setback for Pakistan as the South Asian country hoped to generate $194 million from the scheme out of the total $284 million required for its 2023 Hajj operation.
“The government may decide to extend the Hajj applications date to encourage a positive response from applicants,” Butt said.
He, however, said if Pakistan failed to receive the required number of Hajj applications, it would once again have to surrender its quota of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
Butt said the government initiated the process of inviting Hajj 2024 applications early following a request from Saudi Arabia as the kingdom wanted to arrange accommodation, transportation, and other facilities for pilgrims on time.
Applicants for next year’s Hajj would also not be required to submit COVID-19 immunization certificates as the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the disease no longer a public health emergency, Butt said.
This year, Saudi Arabia has also included Karachi in its Makkah Route Initiative, following successful operations in Islamabad. The initiative allows pilgrims performing Hajj under the government scheme the convenience of undergoing all immigration requirements to enter Saudi Arabia from their home countries’ airports.
Islamabad has also requested the kingdom to include Lahore airport in the project to facilitate more Pakistani pilgrims.