Cancellation of Hajj dashes hopes of pilgrimage and business alike

Srinagar: The cancellation of the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year due to Covid-19 has dealt another blow to the Jammu and Kashmir economy, which has been bleeding relentlessly for nearly a year now, and has also dashed the hopes of many who were expecting to make the holy pilgrimage this year.
Sheikh Feroz, head of the JK Association of Hajj and Umrah Companies, told Kashmir Reader that the cancellation will deprive the economy of Rs 700 crore that more than 30,000 pilgrims were expected to spend on travelling to the holy city of Makkah for either Hajj or Umrah. Last year, more than 10,000 persons in J&K had gone on the Hajj while more than 20,000 had gone for Umrah, he said.
“This Covid has brought our business to an abrupt halt. Our income has been zero this year. All our expenditures are being met from our savings,” Sheikh Feroz added.
Feroz represents an association of more than 200 Hajj and Umrah travel operators. He said on behalf of all of them, “There has been no booking this year because the travelling season starts in March and peaks in the holy month of Ramazan, both of which were consumed by the pandemic.”
The government charges over Rs 3.5 lakh for the Hajj while private operators’ fees begin from Rs 4 lakh. The highest package can go up to Rs 10 lakh. For Umrah, the fee is much less, about Rs 1 lakh. The cost varies because of various facilities offered, which include food, hotel, travel, and duration of the visit.
Hajj is mandatory in Islam for a believer who can afford it, while Umrah is not an obligation. Muslims across the world consider it as fortune if they get a chance to travel to the holy sites. Such is the desire to visit the holy sites that many people save for it over their entire lifetime and are able to travel only in old age.
One of them is Ghulam Muhammad, who sells food times at his shop which he operates from his home. The 60-year-old has been saving for more than twenty years to get a chance to perform Hajj. Last year he could not travel because his name did not figure in the list approved by the government. This year he was hopeful.
“I think God does not want me to see his home,” he said. “That is why for the second time, I have failed to make it.”
Muhammad Yousuf, another aspirant, sees it as a bad omen. A government employee, Yousuf had planned the journey from his savings in the provident fund.
“I wanted to get rid of my sins, many of which I committed during my childhood. But it seems god is unhappy with me. It has been the aim of my life to see Makkah and Madinah,” he rued.

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