A total of 4,867 pilgrims are to make the Hajj in 2017. File photo: Mariwan Naqshbandi
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Thousands of Kurdish pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia and many more are expected to make the journey in the next few days for this year’s Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj, officials report, and for the first time in the last two years the government has charged pilgrims a registration fee to raise funds.
Nabaz Ismail Kamal, representative of the Religion Affairs Ministry, told Rudaw from Saudi Arabia that a total of 4,867 pilgrims are to make the journey this year.
Since the start of the month 3,269 of them have flown to the Arab kingdom which is home to Islam’s holiest site of Mecca.
Kamal who also heads the pilgrim groups said that the Kurdish government’s Religious Affairs Ministry has sent a special medical team to look after and care for the pilgrims during their journey.
“It is a 19-man team,” said Kamal. “12 of them are doctors and three clinics have been set up in Saudi Arabia for the pilgrims.”
The Kurdish government started last year to charge pilgrims a special registration and processing fee of 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($40).
Official government data shows that more than 86,000 people had applied to make the annual journey but less than 5,000 had been accepted.
The fee applies when people want to make other journeys such as Umrah that could be performed any time of the year.
Mariwan Naqshbandi, chief of staff of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said that the government raised more than $5 million from pilgrim registration and paperwork last year.
“In 2016, the revenue for Hajj and Umrah was more than $5 million,” Naqshbandi told Rudaw in January. “We collected more than $4 million from the people, who need to pay 50,000 IQD [about $38 USD] to fill in the application form. And we collected about $1 million from Umrah fees.”
Since the Kurdistan Region found itself in a severe financial crisis in 2014 to falling oil prices and a war with ISIS, there have been suggestions that pilgrims should spend their money at home to keep the economy afloat.
“Umrah gives blessing only when people live in relative wealth, but given the current circumstances in Kurdistan, I advise the umrah pilgrims to give their money to the needy and be sure that they will be blessed just as much,” head of the Kurdistan Union of Islamic Scholars told Rudaw ahead of last year’s Hajj season.