11/09/2019, 09.10
UZBEKISTAN
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Pilgrims to Mecca under state control and at risk of corruption

To get a permit pilgrims have to go through numerous offices. Ban on persons under 45.  Documents on good health and on charitable activities obtained with bribes.  A pilgrimage with state companies costs 960 euros.  With private companies it costs half.  Perhaps the reason for the controls is to curb Islamic fundamentalism.

 

Tashkent (AsiaNews / Forum 18) - The Uzbek state imposes a large number of controls on Islamic pilgrims who want to go to Mecca.  Among these there are age limits;  the obligation of "charitable actions";  the use of state-approved companies.

Above all, there is a widespread control over people wishing to go to the Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, which the devout Muslim should perform at least once in his lifetime.

The checks are carried out by the Haj Committee, the Haj Commission, the Haj Council.  The secret police are involved, the Office of the Mufti of the republic, the Office of religious affairs are involved in all of these.

Since the process from one office to another is unnerving and the risk of receiving a rejection is high, the faithful often resort to bribes to oil the wheels of bureaucracy.

In all probability the reason for the control is also to curb Islamic fundamentalism, the trend already present in the country, and the access to the Wahhabi formation  in Mecca.  This explains why Uzbekistan allows only a few thousand people a year to perform the Haj. 

Saudi Arabia imposes limits on the presence of pilgrims, at the rate of 1000 pilgrims for every million Muslim inhabitants.  With a population of 32 million, of which at least 90% are Muslim, Uzbekistan would have the right to send 28,000 pilgrims every year.  Instead it sends only 7200 last year. In the previous years around 5 thousand.  Devotees are also willing to pay bribes even to be included on the restricted annual lists.

The State also places an age limit on those who have the right: 45 years or more, although in the Islamic faith there are no age limits for making the pilgrimage.

Another ambiguous chapter is the series of documents that those who have been chosen must present to the administrative offices.  Among these are documents that prove the charitable commitment of the faithful, which must be released by the neighborhood mullah.  In this case the mullah asks for donations for his mosque, or repairs to the electrical system, or road, or bribes.  All these donations are made in cash and the way this money is spent is not verifiable.

Similarly, at least 20% or more of the necessary medical certificates of good health are obtained by paying some compliant doctor.

Finally, pilgrimages can only be made through travel organizations permitted by the government and the Mufti.  Anyone who dares to travel and go to Mecca in other ways, risks being arrested on his return.

In state companies, the price of the pilgrimage is around 10 million Soms (about 960 euros), equal to five times the average annual salary, which is two million Soms.  Many private companies would be willing to guarantee the Haj at half the state price.

In 2019, the pilgrimage to Mecca took place from August 9th until 14th.

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