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Hajj costlier for Bangladeshis than other Asians

Performing Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is more expensive in Bangladesh than in other Asian countries, including India and Pakistan.

While pilgrims in India and Pakistan pay around Tk 400,000 each, a Bangladeshi aspirant will have to pay Tk 6.83 lakh.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB) officials cited several reasons for this season’s pricey Hajj packages, including the degradation of the local currency’s value against the dollar, skyrocketing airfares, an increase in moallem fees, and fees fixed by the Saudi government for house and tent rent.

All these factors are true for other Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia, but the cost of performing Hajj is more affordable in these countries. Though neighboring countries offer Hajj packages between Tk 3 to 3.5 lakh, in Bangladesh, it is almost twice that in Bangladesh.

This year, the Saudi Arabian government has signed an agreement with Bangladesh, allowing 1,27,198 people to perform Hajj. Among them, 15,000 will go to Hajj under government management, while 112,198 will perform the ritual under private management.

A Bangladeshi pilgrim will have to spend at least Tk 6.83 lakh to perform Hajj under government management, which is about Tk 2.21 lakh more than last year. The minimum cost for performing Hajj under private management has been fixed at Tk 6.72 lakh this year, about Tk 1.5 lakh more than the previous year. Besides, each pilgrim will have to pay about Tk 22,000 for a Qurbani (sacrificing animals) coupon from the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia. Food and other accompanying costs will increase the total expenditure to at least Tk 8-8.5 lakh for a pilgrim.

Due to the high cost of the Hajj package, the government couldn’t fulfill Bangladesh’s quota for Hajj pilgrims, even after extending the registration deadline three times amid a poor response from devotees.

Bangladesh’s closest neighbour, India, has reduced the cost of the Hajj package by Rs 50,000 this year, and the country provides a subsidy of Rs 100,000 for each Hajj pilgrim, meaning an Indian Muslim can perform Hajj with less than Tk 400,000.

Pakistan has fixed the Hajj package cost at Pak Rupee 1 million, which is about Tk 400,000 when converted. The cost of going to Hajj this year from Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, has been fixed at USD $3,300 or Tk 3,47,347, which is about 70 percent more than last year. The rest will be subsidized from the government’s Hajj Fund Management Agency fund.

In Malaysia, Hajj is largely subsidized by the government. For families with a monthly income of less than Tk 96,000, the Hajj cost has been estimated at Tk 2,18,754 this year. If anyone’s monthly income is more than Tk 96,000, in that case, they have to pay Tk 2,58,600 for performing Hajj. Private Hajj packages in the country, however, start from Tk 9 lakh.

When asked about the reasons for the expensive Hajj packages for Bangladeshi pilgrims compared to other Asian countries, Md Matiul Islam, the Additional Secretary (Hajj) of the religious affairs ministry, explained that Bangladeshi pilgrims need to spend more in certain areas. According to him, Bangladeshi pilgrims live in the Misfalah area of Makkah during Hajj, while pilgrims from other Asian countries stay in the Azizia area. The house rent in Misfalah is higher than in Azizia, and Azizia is closer to Mina. Therefore, pilgrims from other countries can walk to Mina, while Bangladeshi pilgrims need to be takeon AC buses.

The official from the religious ministry attributed the high cost of the Hajj package to several factors, including the 15 percent VAT imposed by the Saudi government, the increase in dollar price, and airfare. However, Zahirul Kabir Chowdhury, the Vice President of HAAB, suggested that the cost for Bangladeshi pilgrims could be reduced through certain measures.

Chowdhury proposed that the government reduce airfares and allow pilgrims to stay further away from Masjid al-Haram, which would shorten their stay and focus solely on the main rituals of Hajj. By implementing these changes, the cost of the Hajj package could be significantly lower.

In response to the High Court’s directive issued on Tuesday, the government provided an explanation on Wednesday for this year’s costly Hajj package price.

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Religious Affairs recommended reducing airfare to Tk 1,50,000 instead of Tk 1,97,000 to reduce the cost of the Hajj package.