Despite bigger quota, more young Singaporeans are dreaming of Hajj

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)
Updated 23 July 2018

Despite bigger quota, more young Singaporeans are dreaming of Hajj

Despite bigger quota, more young Singaporeans are dreaming of Hajj
  • The number is a jump from last year’s 850 pilgrims, with 90 percent of them first-time pilgrims
  • A typical Hajj package costs between $8,430 and $5,128

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.”


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 58 min 40 sec ago

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
  • The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia
  • Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed”

MOSCOW: Russian police detained dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
The rallies — planned for dozens of cities across Russia — are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite the increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita where several thousand took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition rallies, said around 50 people were detained in 10 cities.
Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march toward the Kremlin.

On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
“I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The “Putin’s palace” report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square meter mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media — including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens — to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures — including those who usually steer clear of politics — have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.