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Kyrgyzstan changes Hajj procedures
Transparency of utmost importance this year
By Ulan Nazarov
BISHKEK – With a large number of Kyrgyz hoping to perform the Hajj this year and constant accusations of corruption, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (SAMK) has revised the rules for going on the pilgrimage.
Under the new rules, those going to Makkah must owe no debts and perform the five daily prayers. This year’s Hajjis also must be first-time pilgrims. Hajj organisers in Bishkek intend to verify such information about applicants by inquiring with local imams and religious leaders.
Another reform is that the SAMK will organise the pilgrimage. Last year, a group of members of the Muslim community, parliamentarians and SAMK representatives organised the Hajj for Kyrgyz citizens.
“Monetary transactions related to the Hajj [now] go through banks in order to avoid bribery accusations,” said Mufti Chubak Hajji Dzhalilov. “Second, all pilgrims will travel only by plane. ... Third, all pilgrims’ first and last names will be published online.”
In the past, organisers have charged pilgrims airfare, but put them on buses for part of the trip and pocketed the difference. Busing in the pilgrims from Istanbul or the Jordanian border cost $100 (4,700 KGS) per head, meaning organisers made a profit of $500-$600 (23,500-28,200 KGS) each, Dzhalilov said.
“More than 80% of the corruption was reported in [Kyrgyzstan’s] southern regions. Now, before going on the Hajj, every pilgrim has to sign a contract with the SAMK and transfer $2,500 (117,500 KGS) to a special account in the Kyrgyzstan Bank – none of it in cash,” he said.
Will reforms work?
Several families who have encountered fraud in the past are sceptical of the reforms.
“Our family is trying to go on the Hajj for the third year now, but every time they fob us off with promises,” said Abdumajid Rasulhodzhayev of Kara-Suu District, Osh Oblast. “Last year, we paid the local imam $7,500 (352,500 KGS) for him to help us go on the Hajj. He assured us right up to the end that we’d definitely get in on the supplemental quota, but in the end we weren’t able to do the Hajj last year, and this year our pilgrimage is a big question mark. We got back only 70% of our money.”
Fraud occurs because “most believers are naïve and think that if they pay a certain amount, they will automatically get on the precious list,” SAMK spokesman Maksat Mambetaliyev said.
Authorities opened a special headquarters in Osh to settle grievances that arise in connection with the pilgrimage, acting Osh Kazi (religious judge) Arabidin Marifov told Central Asia Online. “Anyone who wants can go to [the headquarters] with claims or complaints,” he said. “We will try to resolve all grievances.”
Because of last year’s problems with fraud, governmental agencies including the State National Security Committee inspected the SAMK’s financial activities related to organising the Hajj.
More applicants than slots
Kyrgyzstan has a limit of 5,000 pilgrims for the Hajj and 8,000 people have applied, the SAMK said. In years past, the quota went only half filled and foreigners would buy some of the slots, but in 2011, 5,060 Kyrgyz made the pilgrimage, with some going through other countries.
“We divided the country’s quota according to region, based on the (regions’) populations,” Dzhalilov said. “We took this step in order to give all hopefuls the opportunity to go on the Hajj. In the past, the southern regions took up most of the quota. That was unfair to residents from other regions.”
Last year, Kyrgyz Hajjis paid $2,350 (110,500 KGS). The price included $20 (940 KGS) to support the network of Muslim schools in Kyrgyzstan, according to the SAMK.
The price for this October’s Hajj will be the same, the SAMK said.
The SAMK has already selected about 3,000 of this year’s pilgrims, including Nabi Otorbayev, from Dzhalal-Abad, who has been dreaming of visiting Makkah for five years.
“This is a great honour for my family, and I have wanted this all my life,” he said. “I just can’t wait for the Hajj to start.”