Hajj or pilgrimage is one of the fundamental pillars of Islam which every Muslim who has the means and is able should undertake, at least once in a lifetime.
As the Holy Ka’aba and the other stations of hajj are in Saudi Arabia, having the means and being able will also include having the financial ability to buy air tickets to and from the Holy Land and leave enough resources at home.
In The Gambia this year, 2019, the hajj air ticket is a whooping D300,000 plus. This is obviously too expensive for most Gambians and would exclude a great majority of the people from performing the fifth pillar of Islam.
The hajj operators are adamant that this is not too expensive considering that the package is all-inclusive citing the fact that the Government of Saudi Arabia has increased taxes on almost everything. They claim that the cost of the ticket includes hotels, food, transport and even a ram while the pilgrims are there in Saudi Arabia.
What can the Government of The Gambia do? Firstly, the government should engage the hajj operators in a dialogue with a view to finding ways of reducing the cost to make it at least a little more affordable to the Gambians. This may not be easy but as the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way.
Government could also think of subsidizing the hajj financing so that the intending pilgrims will only have to pay the difference between what the operators are charging and whatever the government gives as subsidy. This will definitely reduce to cost to an amount that will be affordable to most Gambians.
Finally, the government does not have to wait till the time arrives before they start talking about hajj. It is high time that government started planning things early so that there will be contingencies as well. In this way, all these problems could have been foreseen.