Staunton, July 4 – Despite the fact that no foreign Muslims have been able to make the haj to Mecca since 2019 because of the pandemic, the Saudi authorities have radically cut back the quotas of various countries to come and introduced a variety of restrictions on them that may reduce the number of pilgrims still further.
Among the countries hardest hit is the Russian Federation. In 2019, it had a quota of 25,000, based on the traditional principle of one haji for every 1000 Muslim residents. This year, the Saudis have reduced the Russian quota to 11,318, less than half of what it was (ng.ru/ng_religii/2022-07-05/9_532_lottery.html).
(The real number of slots available to Russia’s Muslims is in fact lower than that because the Russian Muslim authorities have agreed to include under the Russian quota 250 Muslims from Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine where an estimated 30,000 to 70,000 of the faithful currently live.)
This reduction is likely to create serious problems in Daghestan and a few other North Caucasus republics where far more people want to make the haj than Moscow allows and have used slots from elsewhere. Now thanks to this cutback, those additional slots from the Middle Volga and Siberia won't be available.
What makes this cutback especially infuriating in Russia is that Moscow both religious and civil have long pressed for a higher quota and the Saudis in 2019 said they would consider that given the backlog in demand from Soviet times when almost no Muslims from the USSR were able to come. But now the Saudis have moved in the opposite direction.
The Saudis have also introduced a variety of additional restrictions: each haji aspirant will have to be tested for the coronavirus within 72 hours of scheduled arrival, have the complete sequence of shots to prevent that disease, and be under the age of 65, a restriction that will hit hard an age group that traditionally is overrepresented in the haj.
In addition, hajis from Russia face serious problems in getting there. Not only are prices up by 30 percent or more since three years ago, but because of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions, no haji from Russia can travel there directly. Instead, he or she must make a complicated trip through third or even fourth countries.
As bad as things are for hajis from Russia this year, they may be worse in some European countries where the Saudis are requiring lotteries to select people only a few days before departure. In Russia, the selection process appears to be following the traditional one in which Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) are making the choices.