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The Mistaken Ban on Independent Umrah Pilgrimages

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The government ban on independent umrah only benefits travel agents. The government of Saudi Arabia already made it easy for everyone to perform umrah.

arsip tempo : 172142235831.

The Mistaken Ban on Independent Umrah Pilgrimages. tempo : 172142235831.

THE Ministry of Religious Affairs ban on backpacker umrah, or people making the minor pilgrimage to Mecca independently, is an excessive interference in the private religious affairs of Muslims. The policy making it difficult for people to make their umrah pilgrimage by themselves only benefits travel agents.

The umrah business is tempting. According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, in 2023, there were 1.3 million umrah pilgrims, an increase of 36 percent over the 2022 total. If every pilgrim spends Rp20 million on an umrah package, that means the business is worth Rp26 trillion overall. A total of 2,557 umrah travel agents and providers of other services such as accommodation and flights are all vying for this income.

Nowadays, the umrah seems to be viewed more as a business. Last year, for example, Saudi Arabia launched the Nusuk app, which made it possible for people to buy umrah packages themselves at lower prices. But rather than welcoming the fact that it would be easier to make the umrah, the Indonesian National Haj and Umrah Commission sees it as a serious threat to the umrah industry in Indonesia.

At a time when in the Indonesian government is tightening the umrah regulations, claiming it is obliged to do so by law, the Saudi Arabian government is relaxing the rules. The Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry now allows Muslims to make the umrah using tourist or business visas. This means that if a person travels to Saudi Arabia to do business, for example, he or she can make the umrah at the same time. The Saudis have also cut the cost of umrah insurance by 63 percent, from 235 riyals or Rp1 million to only 87 riyals, or Rp368,000.

This Saudi policy is part of Saudi Vision 2030, a major national strategy to encourage the growth of the tourism industry and reduce dependence on income from oil. The haj and umrah pilgrimages are part of the spiritual tourism sector that the Saudis want to grow. Last year, 1.8 million people performed haj, and more than 13.5 million people performed umrah. The nation has a target of 100 million visitors by 2030.

Every Muslim has the right to make the haj and umrah as part of their religious observances. The haj needs to be regulated by the government because it is a religious obligation, it only takes place once a year, and each nation only receives a certain quota of pilgrimages from the Saudi government. Because of this quota, prospective haj pilgrims need to wait for many years for their turn.

The haj is different from the umrah. In general, Muslims in Indonesia see it as a non-obligatory religious observance. The Saudi authorities do not limit either the numbers of people or the number of times people perform umrah in a year. And there is no set time period for it, so pilgrims can travel at any time. This has resulted in the umrah coming to resemble ordinary tourism, although there are strict rules about attire when entering Mecca, the main destination for pilgrims.

The government should not intervene too much concerning the umrah. It should instead focus on efforts to ensure people are able to make the pilgrimage easily and safely. If people want to travel independently, allow them to do so as long as they are able to accept the consequences. For those who find that too difficult, they can still buy an umrah package from a travel agent. Let Muslims decide for themselves the best way to make the umrah.

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