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Uzbekistan: Hajj Pilgrims Face More Stringent Requirements

The Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Uzbekistan has published an edict listing detail on the stricter requirements for worshippers hoping to embark on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Since the death of the late President Islam Karimov, the authorities have loosened their stance toward the country’s devout Muslims, including by dramatically increasing the quota for people allowed to make the pilgrimage to the faith’s most holy site. There are concerns, however, that the trip is often carried out by the better-off and as purely as a status-boosting initiative, squeezing out those with less money.

Religious authorities have decreed that genuine Muslims should know that the hajj can only be performed once in a lifetime and that pilgrims should have the financial and physical wherewithal to complete the trip. The fatwa also states that the regular observance of basic daily Islamic duties is mandatory for hopeful applicants.

Batyr Shadmanov, 70, went to Mecca with his wife this year after waiting a decade to reach his turn. The physical challenges of performing all the rites in blistering Saudi weather took its toll, however.

“The ideal age for going on pilgrimage to Mecca is about 45 to 55. This is what I understood from my experience. For people any older than that it is very difficult to perform all the rituals mandated by Islam. Many pilgrims just sit it out in the hotel because of their age and state of health,” Shadmanov told EurasiaNet.org.

Babahan Hamdamov, a neighborhood imam from the Kashkadarya region, said that the pilgrims often assume onerous debts to pay for the voyage. If anything bad happens to them while abroad, paying back the loan can become impossible.

“Going on the hajj can cost 19 million sum ($2,375), and besides that you need spending money and there are costs when you return, such as for organizing a function for the people who come to visit you at home. In the end, it turns out it is about 28-30 million sum ($3,500-3,750). That is why the hajj has normally been done by people who have money but are far from real Islam,” Hamdamov said.

The fatwa issued by the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Uzbekistan, the government-sanctioned body charged with regulating the activities of the faithful, noted that in earlier years there have been Uzbek pilgrims who might have had the financial means to carry out the trip, but whose health left something to be desired.

“It then turned out that these Uzbekistanis were sending their children, whose wanted to fulfill their obligations to their parents or who simply wanted to acquire status in society,” the decree read.

The ranks of the pilgrims sometimes reportedly include criminally minded individuals. There was considerable outcry over the summer when customs officials at Samarkand Airport found 72 grams of opium, hidden inside loaves of bread, and more than $5,000 in cash in the luggage of man heading for the hajj. Uzbek law only allows people leaving the country to carry $2,000.

In 2017, around 7,500 people from Uzbekistan went on the hajj. That quota is being increased to 10,000 in 2018.