BEIJING (AFP): Around 13000 Chinese Muslims have gone to Saudi Arabia this year to perform Haj, it was officially stated here on Tuesday.
The China Islamic Association, a national Muslim organization under the supervision of the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) was engaged in organizing the Chinese pilgrims’ visits. It highly praised the government’s support, making the Hajj convenient for the Chinese Muslims.
As overseas travel becomes increasingly convenient and affordable for ordinary Chinese, demand is growing among the Muslim community, especially in the western regions of the country, the Association said. China has official policies to manage the hajj and all potential Chinese pilgrims to Mecca have to first go through an application process.
First, one must go to the management committee of a local mosque to acquire proof of one’s Muslim identity, which should then be submitted to the local Islamic Association. Once approved by the association, the potential pilgrims have to have their health checked to ensure they are up to taking the long journey. Next, the wannabe hajji must pay travel fees to the association and then receive training.
According to hajj application websites, each pilgrim must pay a bit more than 40,000 yuan ($5,998) in advance to cover the entire trip including their transport, meals, religious garments and insurance.
Anything that’s left over, which usually amounts to a few hundred yuan, is given back to the hajji after their return to China and the balance sheet for each year is publicized on each provincial Islamic Association’s website. The training they receive includes China’s hajj policies and regulations, discipline related to taking a trip abroad, and religious knowledge about the hajj.
“The aim of the training is to allow the pilgrims to understand how their journey is being organized and to enhance their sense of unity to ensure they have a safe and fruitful hajj,” the hajj department of the China Islamic Association told the Global Times in an e-mail.
Wang Jingxian, a Beijing Muslim who went on the pilgrimage in 2012, said the experience enriched her and inspired her to practice stricter self-discipline and help others more enthusiastically. Although there is no age requirement for pilgrims in Islamic teachings, the association requires that pilgrims should be over 18 years old, though some western provinces set the bar at 25 or 35.
In some provinces and regions, those over 70 years old are required to sign a declaration saying that they take responsibility for any health issues they experience while on hajj. The application process is very competitive, especially in western regions with large Muslim populations, even though the number of Chinese pilgrims has been dramatically expanding over the decades.
Wei Zeming, who went on hajj in 2009 as the head of a multi-province group of several hundred pilgrims, said that in eastern areas like Beijing it only takes one year to get approval to go on the pilgrimage while an applicant living in an area with large Muslim communities may well spend four of five years on the waiting list.
A 2015 Foreign Policy article claims that applicants in Indonesia, the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population, can wait from 12 to 17 years to take the hajj. This year China has sent 12,800 pilgrims on the hajj, and the quota is split up among 30 provincial-level Islamic administrations.
Among the regions, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region takes about one-fourth of the total, followed by the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which is allocated 2,700 places this year.
China has just over 20 million Muslims, according to the 2013 population census. A total of 10 ethnic groups including the Hui (with a population of 9.81 million) and the Uyghur (8.39 million) are majority Muslim.
The allocation of pilgrim quotas to provinces and regions is decided by the SARA according to the number of applications in each province, the hajj department of the China Islamic Association said. China’s national quota is set by Saudi Arabia.
The department said the total number of pilgrims China sends each year has hovered between 12,000 and 14,500 in recent years.