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MENAFN - Arab News - 06/10/2012

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(MENAFN - Arab News) Local pilgrims are facing further price hikes in the booking of Haj packages with Haj companies.

Local pilgrims are expected to perform Haj this year for as much as SR 5,500 to SR 7,000, up from SR 3,800 last year. The price increases are based on what Haj operators are offering.

Under the Ministry of Haj rules local pilgrims can perform Haj only under the supervision of authorized companies. The ministry has warned residents and citizens that they will only be allowed to perform Haj with licensed Haj operators and with an official permit.

Last Saturday the Haj Ministry announced the number of pilgrims each Haj operator can book. One operator said local Haj service providers received an almost 60 percent allotment of tents from the ministry because of less space, so the operators increased the cost for local pilgrims.

"This 15 percent to 20 percent increment in packages has not been done by the Ministry of Haj," said the operator. The government did not increase the cost of Haj but owners of local companies did to take in more profit," he said.

He said the price increases were also due to increased cost for transportation. "Last year we paid SR 20,000 for buses to take the pilgrims to Makkah. This year we have to pay SR 35,000, just for taking pilgrims to Makkah and bringing them back," he added.

Other local Haj operators said packages for Haj doubled in price since last year, forcing many local pilgrims to change their mind about performing Haj.

"It's become very expensive as compared to last year," said Ali Al-Hasan, spokesman for Al-Mukam Al-Saudi Company for local pilgrims. "We booked our pilgrims with prices of between SR 5,000 and SR 7,000. This is due to the increase in commodities and other reasons."

Another local Haj operator of Al-Ahsan Haj Group Liaqat Mailk told Arab News that due to expensive Haj packages they are not booking pilgrims because the pilgrims can't afford it.

"We closed booking because many pilgrims who were intimated their intention to book with us withdrew at the last moment. Due to this we canceled our booking, in fact the price increased so much that we ourselves also decided not to perform Haj this year," said Malik.

Due to limited capacity at holy sites, the operating companies get a limited quota of tents and accommodation, which they use for the pilgrims they book. The increase in price of Haj this year has put local pilgrims in a difficult situation.

"We want to book for Haj and Haj operators but couldn't do it. First they didn't book us and now they increased the price to SR 6,000 to SR 7,000, which is not affordable," said Tahir Arshad, a resident.

Ahmed Malik, another resident, said: "The people who saved money for this year thought they could perform Haj for SR 3,500, but cannot afford to pay SR 6,000 or SR 7,000. It's too much. Not every one can afford it. So I decided not to go this year," he said.

Asif Qurashi also complained that he wanted to perform Haj this year, but can't afford it. "The government should look into the matters," said Qurashi.

"Haj is a religious duty and one of the five pillars of Islam. Haj is obligatory once in a life time for adult Muslims having physical and financial capability. But as prices increase each succeeding year, it is becoming hard to perform this religious duty specially with family when you have limited resources," Qurashi said.


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