10/15/2008, 00.00
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Makkah hotels too expensive for Nepali Muslims

by Kalpit Parajuli
The demolition of low-cost pilgrims’ hostels in the holy city will prevent Nepali Muslims from performing the traditional hajj pilgrimage. Finding a solution is proving difficult and is generating tensions between Prachanda’s Maoist-led government and some Nepali Muslim leaders.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepali Muslims might not make it this year to the traditional Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah. The gates to the city might be closed after Saudi authorities decided to shut down the more dilapidated buildings in Kawasaripha, accommodation hub for visiting pilgrims, in order to build new ones. The decision is aimed at improving crowd controls for the millions of pilgrims who come, but it has a negative impact on low-income pilgrims who can only afford cheap accommodations.

Hajj, the once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Makkah, is the fifth pillar of Islam, a duty for every practicing Muslim. For would-be hajjis the cost of finding lodgings in the holy city would top US$ 800. Accustomed to spending US$ 200 at most, Nepali Muslims can hardly afford the new prices.

Still pilgrim safety in Makkah remains a top priority, especially at pilgrimage time. Last year, at least 345people were killed in a stampede during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual.

In Nepal Muslims represent 3.5 per cent of the population of 24 million. In 2007 405 of them left Kathmandu for the holy city. This year that number might drop to only 33.

Nepali authorities have tried to find a solution with their Saudi counterpart but no solution has been forthcoming yet and there is little time left. This year the month of Dhu l-hijjah when hajj takes places starts on 30 November.

The Saudis rejected a proposal to house Nepali pilgrims in accommodations farther from Makkah. In view of the situation the former chief of the Nepali Hajj Committee, Izharul Haq Mikrani, sarcastically said that “not all Nepali pilgrims can afford to live in five-star hotels.”

Nepal’s domestic situation is also complicating matters. Under the country’s Maoist leader, Prachanda, Nepal is trying to follow more secular-oriented policies, far from Muslim leaders’ guidelines.

Some Muslim leaders have complained that the government appointed (on 25 September) the wrong man, Taj Mahammad Miya, to head the Hajj Committee.

According to Nazrul Hasan Falahi Ameer, chairman of the Islamic Sangh Nepal and assistant secretary general to Inter-religious Council, the “Hajj Committee should be headed by a person who adheres to a true Islamic ethos.”

“I disagree with how the government proceeded to select committee chairman and members,” he said before complaining that the selection process “is all based on nepotism, favouritism and political affiliation.”

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