The British Muslim scholar Shaykh Suliman Gani is leading a campaign to encourage Saudi Arabia to reduce an “unacceptable” rise in visa fees affecting Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.
Earlier this month the Saudi government introduced a massive rise in visa fees for pilgrims from all countries, although the rise has not officially been confirmed as policy yet. The fees are expected to rise from SR350 (£46) to SR2000 (£438). However, first-time Hajj and Umrah performers will be allowed free entry into the country.
The change comes as the Gulf states seek new ways to increase revenue given the slump in oil prices.
Shaykh Suliman Gani, of Wifaqul Ulama (Board of Islamic Scholars), has written an open letter urging Saudi’s UK ambassador, Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, to relay the concerns of British Muslims to King Salman.
The letter states: “We are concerned because the rise in visa fees may put significant financial constraints in (sic) the path of those who wish to visit the Holy Mosques. There may be some who be (sic) discouraged from achieving their lifetime dream of visiting and seeking the Blessings of the Holy Mosques.”
The letter is seeking to accumulate signatures from the public to boost support. So far 135 people have added their names.
Speaking to 5Pillars Shaykh Suliman Gani said: “So many people cannot afford to go for Hajj and Umrah; it was already so costly given other expenses, never mind the new visa fee. You cannot boycott Hajj, it is a religious duty.”
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In June, Saudi’s deputy crown prince Mohamed bin Salman announced a financial reform programme seeking to increase non-oil revenue by £77bn by 2020. This will include taxation on sugary drinks and the introduction of VAT.
Shaykh Gani told 5Pillars Saudi Arabia should not be seeking to financially exploit people’s faith to strengthen their balance sheet.
“We can’t remain silent. We hope to get a response. If more voices are added, we will,” he added.
Muslim leaders in other countries have taken similar action. In South Africa, a committee has been created to deal with what they call the “inhumane” fee hike. A petition they created for the new charge to be scrapped has acquired thousands of signatures.
Gani believes the next step might be to create a global campaign to “put pressure on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to review the shocking charges.”