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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JAKARTA: The lifting of age restrictions for Hajj is being celebrated across Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, where many prospective pilgrims have to wait many years to embark on the religious journey.
The Hajj was restricted to domestic participants in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic fears.
After Saudi Arabia lifted most of its COVID-19 curbs last year, precautionary measures were still in place in 2022, with an age limit of 65 for pilgrims.
But this year, the annual pilgrimage will return to pre-pandemic rules, and Saudi authorities have announced that those older than 65 will also be allowed.
“This is certainly wonderful news because firstly, many Hajj pilgrims from Indonesia are above 60 years of age, and even older than 65 years,” said Mizaj Iskandar, professor in the faculty of Shariah and Law at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, who in 2022 was tasked with organizing the pilgrimage in Aceh province.
Last year, about 100,000 pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia from Indonesia during the Hajj season. This year, the quota for the world's largest Muslim-majority nation will return to its pre-pandemic figures.
Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas signed on Sunday an agreement on the 2023 quota with Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, who approved the arrival of 221,000 Indonesian pilgrims this year.
“The Hajj is a long-awaited pilgrimage … on average the wait is about 25 to 28 years in Indonesia to perform the Hajj,” Iskandar told Arab News, citing data from the Religious Affairs Ministry.
In some regions such as Aceh, South Sulawesi and South Kalimantan, the wait can be even longer than 30 years.
Now that the quota is higher and age restrictions have been lifted, it will help “accelerate the departure of Indonesian pilgrims,” Iskandar added.
Indonesians also took to social media to celebrate the lifting of restrictions for Hajj, with many writing to express their gratitude.
Indonesian officials are now gearing up to prepare for the upcoming Hajj season, as elderly pilgrims will likely require more support, including medical assistance.
“Many of our pilgrims are indeed elderly,” Indonesia’s consul-general in Jeddah, Eko Hartono, told Arab News.
“For that reason, we are considering the need to limit the number of elderly pilgrims so that we can prepare even better for Hajj-related things … we will certainly formulate the right kind of policy to limit disappointment from prospective pilgrims.”
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