June 1 (Arab News) – Sri Lankan Muslims will not take part in this year’s Hajj, the country’s pilgrimage organizers announced on Tuesday, as the island nation faces its worst economic crisis in memory.
Muslims make up almost 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist.
This year, 1,585 Sri Lankans were expected to perform Hajj after Saudi Arabia announced last month that it would allow 1 million foreign and domestic Muslims to travel to the holy city of Makkah in the pilgrimage season.
The Hajj, one of Islam’s five main pillars of faith, was restricted to just 1,000 domestic visitors in 2020. Last year, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
But even with Sri Lanka’s reduced pilgrim quota this year, the cost of sending worshippers to the Kingdom is too high for the country to bear.
“When going through the prevailing situation and the suffering the people are undergoing in our Mother Lanka, members of both associations decided to sacrifice this year’s Hajj,” All Ceylon Hajj Tour Operators Association and Hajj Tour Operators Association of Sri Lanka said in a letter to the country’s Department of Muslim Religious Affairs.
The organizations are umbrella groups of government-licensed operators — the only tour organizers available to prospective pilgrims.
Hajj Tour Operators Association President Rizmi Reyal said that the decision by operators was unanimous due to “the severe dollar crisis facing the country.”
Sri Lanka’s economy is in dire straits. Earlier this month, the finance ministry estimated its usable foreign reserves at less than $50 million. The country has already defaulted on its debts after missing a deadline for foreign debt repayments.
“The whole Hajj operation of Sri Lankan pilgrims will cost around $10 million, which is a big amount compared with the current economic situation of the country,” Ahkam Uwais, chairman of the National Hajj Committee under Sri Lanka’s Department of Muslim Religious Affairs, told Arab News.
“The decision to forgo this year’s Hajj is a generous gesture by members of the Muslim community to sacrifice their pilgrimage for the sake of the country,” he said.
Saheed M. Rismy, president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, said the Muslim community’s decision was “in solidarity with the other people during the trying times.”