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Jakarta Post

EDITORIAL: Haj system overhaul


    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, August 31, 2017   /   08:10 am
EDITORIAL: Haj system overhaul Idul Adha is inseparably connected to the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the fifth pillar of Islamic teaching and worship (JP/File)

Muslims worldwide will celebrate Idul Adha, the Islamic Day of Sacrifice, tomorrow to commemorate the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (known as Abraham to Christians and Jews) to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The annual festival falls on the 10th day of Zulhijjah, the last month of the Islamic Hijrah calendar system.

Idul Adha, held in remembrance and in honor of Ibrahim’s readiness to submit himself to the divine will, generally centers on Muslims performing mass morning prayers, sacrificing offerings (mostly cattle, goats or sheep) and sharing the meat with the poor. It will also be observed by charitable donations, as well as an exchange of gifts among family members.

Idul Adha is a ritual that creates a bond among Muslims as it is a special time for the fortunate to show their concern and support for the less fortunate. It can be seen through the slaughter of the sacrificed animals and the immediate distribution of the meat to the needy so they can take part in the celebration.

The holiday is inseparably connected to the annual haj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the fifth pillar of Islamic teaching and worship, as it will only start worldwide after the descent of the Hujjaj (haj pilgrims) from a mass gathering on Mount Arafat, a hill east of Mecca. The gathering on Mt. Arafat, also known as wukuf, peaks and concludes the entire haj ritual.

Apart from the symbolization of Ibrahim’s devotion to God’s command through the sacrifice of animals by Muslims, the rituals of the month-long haj pilgrimage follow the steps of the prophet himself. The joyful Idul Adha celebration is therefore part and parcel of a solemn and orderly haj pilgrimage procession set forth by the prophet.

Unfortunately, the government-administered organization of the Indonesian end of the haj has repeatedly been tainted by mismanagement. This year’s organization was marked by poor government oversight of private travel agents authorized to send would-be pilgrims on umrah (minor haj).

A case in point was the failure of the Religious Affairs Ministry to closely supervise the umrah services provided by the First Travel agency, which has deprived tens of thousands of would-be pilgrims of their voyage to Mecca, even though they had paid up in full. The ministry should take some share of the blame as complaints about the agency’s poor services had arisen months before the police arrested the owners of First Travel.

The ministry has revoked the company’s permit and its owners will soon face trial. But the core problem of lax supervision has apparently not been completely resolved as there are many other travel agents with equally poor track records that remain untouched.

Unless the government overhauls the haj and umrah management, complaints about poor services and scams will continue to arise.

Let us hope this is carried out. In the meantime, to our Muslim brothers and sisters, we wish you a blessed Idul Adha!