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Indonesia: Controversy over Haj Agency Proposal

(Oct. 7, 2016) Indonesia’s government currently oversees its citizens’ exercise of the haj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, something each observant Muslim aspires to accomplish once in a lifetime. Under the Law on Implementing Haj Worship of 2008, which replaced a law on the same topic of 1999, the Ministry of Religious Affairs provides guidance and protection to Haj pilgrims making the trip. (Indonesia: International Religious Freedom Report 2008, U.S. Department of State website; Undang-undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 13 Tahun 2008 Tentang Penyelenggaraan Ibadah Haji [Republic of Indonesia Law No. 13, 2008, on Implementing Haj Worship] (Apr. 28, 2008), House of Representatives website, replacing Law No. 17, 1999 (May 3, 1999), House of Representatives website (in Indonesian).)

The lower house of the Indonesian legislature, the House of Representatives, is currently considering legislation that would form an independent body to oversee the pilgrimage. The proposal is listed as priority legislation for this year. (Program Legislasi Nasional: Prolegnas Prioritas 2016 [National Legislative Program, Priority Bills], No. 22, Bill on the Management of Haj and Umrah Operations (proposed Feb. 2, 2015), House of Representatives website (in Indonesian); Umrah refers to making a pilgrimage to Mecca at a time other than the Haj.)

The government has opposed this draft law, arguing that it would “undermine the country’s history of organizing the haj.” (Marguerite Afra Sapiie, Govt Opposes House Proposal to Form Independent Haj Agency, JAKARTA POST (Oct. 3, 2016).) Speaking on October 3, 2016, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, the Minister of Religious Affairs, pointed out both the high cost of establishing a separate agency and the complicated aspects of managing the haj, including the fact that the number of people wanting to go is increasing, resulting in a long waiting list, and the need to make arrangements with Saudi Arabia. He argued that “[r]ather than improving the quality of our haj pilgrimage management, forming an independent body could lead to other problems, since organizing the haj is very complex.” (Id.)

Background

Indonesia is a predominantly Islamic country, with 220 million Muslim citizens. The list of those hoping to perform the haj is about 3.2 million names, with the wait for a turn to make the pilgrimage estimated at 37 years. Due to this backlog, demand for Umrah trips, which are less expensive and involve less waiting, is growing. (Indonesians Have to Wait for 37 Years to Perform Hajj, AL ARABIYA (June 22, 2016).) One contributing factor is the existence of a quota system established by the Saudi Arabian authorities. Indonesia was given a quota of 168,800 pilgrims for the haj this year. (Marguerite Afra Sapiie, Saudi Arabia Won’t Increase Indonesia’s Haj Quota in 2016, JAKARTA POST (Mar. 16, 2016).)