The run-up to this year’s hajj kicked off with little fanfare as pilgrims began leaving the country on Sunday for Mecca, with the government promising to provide better services this time around.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali saw off the first batch of 221,000 pilgrims at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. More pilgrims also headed out from other airports across the country.
Cheppy Supriatna, secretary of the ministry’s hajj directorate, said his office had secured accommodation for the pilgrims that would put them closer to the Masjid al-Haram, the grand mosque in Mecca and Islam’s holiest site, compared to last year.
“This year we will have 93 percent of our pilgrims staying within two kilometers of the mosque,” he said. “The rest will stay in lodgings that are two to two and a half kilometers away.”
He added that this was the best arrangement Indonesians had been accorded by the Saudi authorities in years. In 2009, the majority of Indonesian pilgrims were housed within seven kilometers of the mosque, while in 2010 they were within a four-kilometer radius.
The Religious Affairs Ministry said it was striving to secure closer lodgings, usually referred to as the “first ring” of accommodation, to make it easier for Indonesian pilgrims to get to the mosque.
Chairun Nisa, deputy chairwoman of House of Representatives Commission VIII, which oversees religious affairs, said legislators had inspected some of the facilities for pilgrims in Mecca and Medina and seen some improvements, most notably in the lodgings.
“We can see that the [Indonesian] government has made better preparations this year than last year,” she said.
Chairun also said the Saudi government had been helpful and that the controversy surrounding the execution of an Indonesian migrant worker there earlier this year had not affected the cooperation between the two countries in preparing for the pilgrimage.
Taufik Tjahyadi, the head of the Health Ministry’s Hajj Health Center, said last week that more nurses should have been assigned for the pilgrimage since there were more elderly people taking part this year.
He said Saudi Arabia had strict regulations in place for the number of Indonesians who could travel, meaning that sending more nurses would reduce the number of places for pilgrims.
“The total number of nurses going to Mecca is 46, while ideally we should have sent 340,” Taufik said.
The final batch of pilgrims is expected to leave the country at the end of October. The hajj itself will take place in early November and the pilgrims will return in batches from Nov. 11 to Dec. 20.