Staunton, February 16 – The Saudi authorities have given the Muslims of the Russian Federation an additional 4500 haj slots, bringing the national total to 25,000, a change the Muslims and Moscow have long sought but one that may mean less because rising costs for the pilgrimage to Mecca mean that fewer people from that country can afford to go.
Under existing arrangements, the Saudis allocate to each country with a Muslim population one slot each year for every 1,000 Muslims. Since the 1990s, the Russian quota has been 20,500, meaning that in the Saudi view, there are 20,500,000 Muslims in the Russian Federation.
The Russian government has argued that there are fewer than that but said that Russia’s Muslims should be given a higher quota because so few were able to make the required pilgrimage in Soviet times, while Muslims have said that there are more than 20.5 million Muslims in Russia and that their quota should be greater.
Since 2000, two things have occurred. On the one hand, Russia’s Muslims have routinely ignored the quota and sent as many as 40,000 pilgrims before the 2008 economic crash and the requirement that most fly rather than take the bus because of instability in the Middle East meant that ever fewer Muslims from the Russian Federation could afford to go.
And on the other, the Saudis, alarmed by the extent to which Muslims from Russia and other countries as well were ignoring its quotas and overwhelming its capacity to host them, imposed more draconian restrictions on entry, something it justified by saying it was modernizing facilities in the haj center.
Now, that Russia’s Haj Mission has announced the quota (akcent.site/novosti/71940), the various regions where Muslims live will begin to fight over who gets how many. Last year, Daghestan, the most Muslim area in Russia, was given 8600 slots but ultimately won 1400 more; Chechnya, 2600; Tatarstan, 1800; and Ingushetia, 1400, with other regions many fewer.
The cost of making the pilgrimage is rising. For most Muslims from Russia, it will amount to 230,000 rubles (nearly 4,000 US dollars), approximately 10 percent more than a year ago and an amount far beyond the means of most of the faithful in Russia to pay without subsidies from the state or the Saudis (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/345985/).
That is a smaller increase than the 20 percent plus boost in each of the last two years, but it puts the haj beyond the reach of most Muslims. Officials and businessmen may be able to afford it but not ordinary believers. They will either have to give up making the haj entirely or decide to make pilgrimages to local holy sites instead.
If they do the former, they will likely be further angered at a Russian government that has run the economy into the ground. If they do the latter, they likely will come under the influence of Sufi sheikhs who serve as guardians of the local holy places and thus at least potentially be radicalized politically as a result.