No early update on whether Singaporean pilgrims can perform Haj this year
It is unlikely there will be an early resolution on whether pilgrims from Singapore can take part in this year's Haj, given how complex the Covid-19 situation is, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (March 29).
In a Facebook post, Mr Masagos, who is in Saudi Arabia on a week-long work visit that started last Saturday, said the kingdom is studying how many pilgrims it will allow to perform the Haj this year.
Hence, Singaporean Muslims have to be flexible and be prepared to make adjustments "if the decision is made and conveyed to us at the last minute".
"But whatever the decision, we can take heart that it has been made in the best interests of pilgrims," said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for Health.
He said he met with Saudi Arabia's Haj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah on Tuesday, and conveyed "the deep desire of Singaporean Muslims to perform Haj".
He also acknowledged that planning and coordinating the Haj for millions of pilgrims arriving from around the world is not an easy task, and "the health, safety and security of pilgrims is one of the Saudi government's top priorities".
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) did not send Singaporean pilgrims for the Haj in 2020 and 2021.
After two years of restrictions, Saudi Arabia announced on March 6 that foreign pilgrims from around the world would be allowed to participate in this year's Haj, and a quota for each country would be released later.
In a call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had expressed the hope that Singapore's request for an increased Haj quota would be "favourably considered" when the Haj resumes for international pilgrims.
Mr Masagos also noted in his post that under Dr Tawfiq's leadership, the umrah pilgrimage - which can be undertaken at any time of the year - has resumed for pilgrims worldwide.
"As more of us are vaccinated, we have seen more Singaporean Muslims travelling to the Holy Lands to perform umrah," said Mr Masagos.
"During the meeting, I conveyed Singapore's appreciation and support towards the kingdom's efforts in ensuring the safety and welfare of Singaporean pilgrims."
Mr Masagos is accompanied by Muis chief executive Kadir Maideen and other senior officials.
His trip, which ends on April 1, has also seen him meet various Saudi officials and engage in dialogues with Singaporean students in Riyadh.