White House: NATO’s new strategic concept reflects concerns about China

‘Most important moment of my life’: Filipinos begin Hajj after two-year hiatus

Manila/Davao City: Bazar Suleiman was set to perform Hajj in 2020 when coronavirus travel restrictions hit the world, preventing him and millions of other foreign pilgrims from reaching Mecca for two years.

Hajj, one of the five main pillars of the faith of Islam, was restricted to only 1,000 people living in Saudi Arabia in 2020 over fears of a pandemic. Last year, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared to 2.5 million pre-pandemic.

But this year, as it has already lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions, Saudi Arabia will welcome one million pilgrims from overseas – and 3,500 of them will come from the Philippines.

A predominantly Christian country of 110 million people, the Philippines has a Muslim minority comprising one-tenth of its population. Most Filipino Muslims live in the south of the country in Mindanao, Palawan and parts of the Sulu Archipelago.

“This is the most important moment in my life. I am looking forward to it,” Suleiman, a 59-year-old retired policeman, told Arab News.

Beginning his journey to Mecca and Medina on Wednesday, Suleiman will fly more than 8,500 km from Parang, Maguindanao province, in the southern part of Mindanao, Islam’s two holiest sites.

“I want to meet my fellow Muslims on the other side of the planet,” he said. “I want to strengthen my faith.”

This year, the Philippines has been allocated a quota of 4,074 pilgrims, but not all of them will be able to attend the Hajj as the transport industry has still not recovered from the two-year pandemic shutdown and travel costs are high, Malo said. b. Manonggiriing, who heads the pilgrimage bureau of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, told Arab News.

“They (pilgrims) may be ready, but the problem is their financial capability as now the cost of performing Hajj is $3,390. Before that it was less than $3,000,” he said.

“The quota given to us was 4,074, but we are analyzing the situation, so we have reduced it to 3,500.”

Mike Buntillon, 58, who is traveling to Mecca from the city of Cotabato in Maguindanao, has been supported by his family to make the pilgrimage.

“I had donations from relatives,” he said. “Because of my excitement and thinking about the memorable trip, there were nights I couldn’t sleep.”

Buntilan has already processed all the documents, and has prepared himself physically, as he will be traveling this week.

“It is mandatory for all Muslims who can attend Hajj,” he said. “I am doing this for the sake of Allah.”