Pilgrims brave illness to perform haj

Journey for the soul: Would-be haj pilgrims in Medan, North Sumatra, undergo fi nal checks upon departing for Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday. More than 4,000 local Muslims have gone to perform one of Islam’s obligations for physically and fi nancially able Muslims. (JP/Apriadi Gunawan)

Four days before leaving for the haj pilgrimage, retired private school teacher, Harun MS bin Umar, was still lying in a bed in Labuhan Ruku Hospital in Batubara, North Sumatra. Harun, 76, has been undergoing treatment at the hospital for two weeks for a prostate infection.

Although he remains weak, Harun decided to leave for the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He removed all the medical devices attached to his body, including a catheter.

“I’m still sick, but I want to perform the haj because it has been my intention for a long time,” Harun, accompanied by his wife, Hindun binti Ilyas, 74; and his eldest son, Zukifli Fahmi, said at the Haj Dormitory in Medan.

Harun said that he had wanted to perform the pilgrimage since the 1980s. However, financial constraints prevented Harun, a teacher at the Al Wasliyah Islamic junior high school, from going, he said.

“In 2000, I started saving money and I registered for the haj pilgrimage in 2009. This year I am going on the haj,” Harun said.

Harun said that he paid Rp 32.6 million (US$3,402) to make the haj from Medan. He added that had he only relied on his savings, he would not have been able to go. “I’m grateful that my children helped me pay for the haj so I could perform the pilgrimage this year,” Harun said.

A haj affairs official of the North Sumatra office of the Religious Affairs Ministry, Abdul Rahman Harahap, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday the number of haj pilgrims departing for Mecca from Medan this year was 8,229, slightly less than last year’s figure of 8,500.

Performing the haj is for those who can afford it. While those who are well off can go on the haj with relatively little effort, the less well off or those employed in the informal sector must save for years.

For example, Nasimin, 60, of Krasak in Kudus, Central Java, is a day laborer who regularly sets aside a little from his wages to make the pilgrimage. “Every time I get work, I set aside Rp 25,000,” Nasimin said.

He said he was typically paid Rp 50,000 a day when he could find work. Realizing that his earnings were inadequate and with a wife and four children, Nasimin said that he only started saving to for the haj after his children had grown up and working.

“I started saving and registered for the haj pilgrimage in 2009. I did not get help from my children, but sometimes I would get money unexpectedly,” Nasimin said.

“I am convinced that the haj is a call from God. If we have been called by God, there will always be a way,” Nasimim said.

Lawmakers on the House of Representatives’ Commission VIII overseeing religion have criticized the Religious Affairs Ministry for failing to provide quality service to Indonesians performing the haj, even though the ministry set the price tag for making the pilgrimage this year at $3,617.

“Although there are improvements, several problems from previous poor management have reoccurred,” Commission VIII deputy chairman Jazuli Juwaini said on Thursday.

Jazuli, a Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician, cited a recent incident in a pilgrim dormitory in Jakarta where people were served food containing formalin. “All pilgrims should be served fresh and healthy foods for their tough journey to the holy land. The religious affairs minister should have known this,” Jazuli said.

According to the ministry’s website, 215,570 Indonesian pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia as of Oct. 10.

— Margareth S. Aritonang contributed reporting


Categories: Asia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia

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