Lankan politician to propose govt subsidy for Haj pilgrims

Updated 22 January 2015

Lankan politician to propose govt subsidy for Haj pilgrims

A leading Sri Lankan Muslim politician plans to propose that the newly elected government of the island nation subsidize citizens going on Haj.
Azath Salley, the former deputy mayor of Colombo and a member of the new government’s task team to implement its program over the first 100 days, told Arab News on Thursday he plans to deliver the proposal soon to Minister for Muslim Religious Affairs Mohammed Hazeem.
Speaking from Makkah, where he is on Umrah with his wife Reinoza, Salley said the Haj scheme in Sri Lanka does not benefit lower middle-class families. “The Haj package shot up last year to Rs650,000 (SR18,508) which average Muslims cannot afford,” he said.
He said that the scheme would possibly be implemented this year and benefit half of all pilgrims from Sri Lanka. He would also urge the government to increase the Haj quota, which was cut from 6,700 to 2,200 last year.
“Muslims will be given their due place under the present regime.” Minorities such as Tamils and Muslims would be treated with respect and their rights protected, he said. He said Minorities were living “in fear and insecurity” in the country. “Muslims cannot forget the orchestrated attacks on them in Alutgama and Beruwella,” he said.
He lamented that the Waqaf Board and Muslim schools on the island were neglected by the previous regime. “We will restore them to their pristine glory,” he said.
Commenting on the recent stunning election victory of President Maithripala Sirisena, Salley said that God never takes the side of persons who are engaged in unjust acts. “It was emancipation from misrule, dictatorship and totalitarianism.”
“President Sirisena emerged victorious through a popular mandate given by the majority Buddhists and minorities on the island.” He said the people showed that they do not support corruption, nepotism and dictatorship. The new president received backing from people of all faiths including Buddhists, Tamils and Muslims.
Salley said Tamil-speaking people in the country have placed great faith in the new president.
He said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would help to ensure good governance.
He said the mandate of the voters ended the culture of violence. “No man will be above the law under the new regime,” he said.
Salley said he had come on Umrah to thank the Almighty for the blessed opportunity that the country now has to create good governance.

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

There was an explosion of joy at the podium when Antonio Felix da Costa lifted the winner’s trophy at the conclusion of the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 21 min 4 sec ago

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

  • Three-day event at Ad Diriyah reaches spectacular climax in an unprecedented spirit of openness

The driver with the winner’s trophy was Antonio Felix da Costa — but the real winners were Saudi Arabia itself, and more than 1,000 tourists visiting the country for the first time.

Da Costa, the Andretti Motorsport driver, won the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in front of thousands of race fans at a custom-built track in the historic district on the outskirts of Riyadh.

But in truth, the event was about much more than high-tech electric cars hurtling round a race track — thrilling though that was. The three-day festival of motorsport, culture and entertainment was Saudi Arabia’s chance to prove that it can put on a show to rival anything in the world, and which only two years ago would have been unthinkable.

The event was also the first to be linked to the Sharek electronic visa system, allowing foreigners other than pilgrims or business visitors to come to Saudi Arabia.

Jason, from the US, is spending a week in the country with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here,” he said.

Aaron, 40, a software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. “Saudi Arabia has always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said.

About 1,000 visitors used the Sharek visa, a fraction of what Saudi Arabia aims eventually to attract. 

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

His optimism was backed by Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a visitor to Ad Diriyah. “Such events will attract tourists and are a true celebration for young Saudis who desire a bright future,” he said.

“The vision of moderate Islam, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is important both for the region and the entire world, and its realization needs to be appreciated, respected and supported.”

The event ended on Saturday night with a spectacular show by US band OneRepublic and the superstar DJ David Guetta. “Just when you think things can’t get better, they suddenly do,” said concertgoer Saleh Saud. “This is the new Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”