Hajj applications open from November 27

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ISLAMABAD: Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Aneeq Ahmed on Thursday announced the commencement of the Hajj applications from November 27 to December 12, 2023. In a press conference at the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, he assured a transparent balloting process would follow, providing equal opportunities to all applicants.

Minister Aneeq, while revealing the Hajj Policy 2024, emphasised the historic measures taken to ensure comfort for pilgrims. Essential items, including a large travel bag with QR coding (30kg capacity), a hand-carry bag (7kg capacity), Pakistani flag scarves for women’s identification, Ahram belts for male pilgrims, and designated bags for shoes, would be provided free of charge, he added.

He said to enhance connectivity, a mobile SIM with 7 GB data would be supplied for mandatory use during the stay in Saudi Arabia while a dedicated mobile application, developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Information Technology, would offer training, tracking, and guidance both online and offline. He said the inclusion of Karachi airport was being incorporated into the Road to Makkah Project, adding that a short Hajj package of 20 to 25 days was being introduced as well.

Minister Aneeq announced the provision of separate two-bed and three-bedrooms in Makkah, subject to availability, with additional charges for families. He said the Hajj quota for 2024 was set at 179,210, with a balanced distribution ratio of 50 percent each for public and private Hajj schemes, allocating 89,605 seats for each.

He said in the government Hajj scheme, 25,000 seats were reserved for sponsorship, while half of the total quota of the private scheme, 44,803, was reserved for sponsorship. Addressing eligibility criteria, Minister Aneeq clarified that individuals who performed Hajj from 2017 to 2023 would not be eligible this year.

However, there would be an exception for the ‘Mahram’ of a woman going on Hajj for the first time, he said adding that those in the sponsorship scheme would also exempted from the 5-year ban. He said the hardship quota would be 500 while the labor quota would be 300.

He said the government sponsorship scheme would be on ‘first come first serve basis’ and would also be exempted from the balloting process. He said pilgrims over 80 years of age must be accompanied by a helper. Minister Aneeq emphasized that women could apply for Hajj without a ‘Mahram,’ provided they submit an affidavit stating permission from parents or husbands and assurance of safe travel.

He underscored that no one would be granted free Hajj. He said comprehensive training would be provided to pilgrims adding that welfare staff comprising of Medical Mission/Hajj Assistants would be deployed as per Saudi teachings. He said monitoring teams would be deployed in Saudi Arabia for immediate redressal of complaints and unresolved complaints would be referred to CDC in Pakistan and above all, decisions of the CDC may be appealed to the Appellate Committee.

In a bid to ease financial burdens, Minister Aneeq declared the Hajj package to be Rs. 100,000 cheaper than the previous year, totalling Rs1,075,000 compared to Rs1,175,000. Any additional savings in the package would be refunded to the pilgrims, reflecting the government’s commitment to facilitating a spiritually enriching pilgrimage experience, he maintained.

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