INFLATION has hit all sectors of society and even the performance of religious rites has been affected by the price hike. As reported in this paper on Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has been told that the cost of performing Haj under the government scheme has shot up by a steep Rs115,000. Now, performing the pilgrimage to the holy sites in Hejaz will cost intending hajis Rs550,000 from the north of the country, and a few thousand rupees less from the southern parts of Pakistan. The Senate committee was told that the cabinet would make the final decision in this regard. It was stated that the sharp rise in Haj cost has been attributed to depreciation of the rupee as well as a hike in taxes related to the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
While religious injunctions state that only those with means are mandated to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives, such a costly government Haj package amounts to depriving the average Pakistani of the chance of performing this key religious requirement. Those with deep pockets can perform privately operated ‘five-star’ pilgrimages every year, but for countless hardworking people who save up their entire lives to be able to perform Haj, the steep price hike will shatter this lifelong dream. The government says it is talking to the Saudi authorities for relaxation of certain taxes on Pakistani pilgrims. These efforts should be followed up, and considering the warm ties between Islamabad and Riyadh, our Saudi friends should consider lowering taxes for Pakistani hajis. Moreover, the government should consider introducing a need-based subsidy for those intending to go for Haj, but who are unable to meet the high cost. Perhaps a qarz-i-hasana model can be adopted in this respect; intending citizens can be given interest-free loans to cover majority of the cost, to be paid back in manageable instalments. The cabinet should consider all available options before making the final decision, and keep the wishes of the average Pakistani in mind when doing so.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2020