The cost of performing hajj is relatively high in Bangladesh when compared to its neighbouring countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
A Bangladeshi pilgrim has to pay a minimum of $5,332 for performing hajj this year, which is 47% more ($3,627) than for a pilgrim in Pakistan, and 93% more ($2,763) for one in Indonesia.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has allotted the highest quota of Hajj pilgrims to Indonesia, followed by Pakistan in 2022, on the basis of the countries' Muslim population.
According to stakeholders, the hajj agencies in Bangladesh mainly pocket money from pilgrims' accommodation fees. They collect high service charges from pilgrims but provide them with subpar hotels.
The hajj related expenditures have gone up this year in all countries due to rising inflation. The cost, however, has increased by 24-28% in Bangladesh compared to 2020.
Hajj packages in India and Malaysia cost more than Bangladesh, but pilgrims in both countries get subsidies from the government.
Malaysian pilgrims get more than 50% subsidy from the state's Hajj fund. Thus, a Malaysian pilgrim actually pays around half the amount a Bangladeshi pilgrim pays.
The Bangladesh government does not provide any subsidy to Hajj pilgrims.
Shehbaz Sharif, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, has announced a restoration of the subsidy system for pilgrims that was ended in 2019 by the Imran Khan government.
The Indian government in 2018 announced the end of a decade-long policy of providing subsidies to thousands of Muslims heading to the holy city of Mecca to perform the annual Hajj.
The decision followed a 2012 ruling by the country's Supreme Court, which had directed the government to gradually reduce the subsidy and abolish it by 2022.
Currently, the Indian government's Hajj package includes an airfare subsidy as well as assistance to Muslim pilgrims for domestic travel to reach specially-designed Hajj departure airport terminals, meals, medical care and accommodation throughout the Hajj.
In 2014, the subsidised airfare charged for Hajj was Rs 35,000 per pilgrim while the actual amount was anything between Rs 63,750 and Rs 1,64,350 depending on the point of boarding.
By 2016, the amount paid by each Indian pilgrim rose to Rs 45,000. In 2017, the Hajj subsidy was cut down by almost 50% of the expected cost, reports The Indian Express.
Abrar Mattoo, an Indian Journalist based in Kashmir, told TBS, "If the cost of a government hajj package is Rs 5 lakh ($6452), a pilgrim has to pay actually less than the costs according to the fixed subsidy. However, the privileged will no longer be effective from next year."
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi Hajj pilgrims will have to spend Tk1 lakh more in performing the ritual this year under both government and private packages.
The government package-1 and package-2 will cost Tk5,27,340 and Tk4,62,150, respectively while the price of the general package under private management has been fixed at Tk4,63,744 by the Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB).
In addition, these packages do not include the cost of qurbani (the ritual animal sacrifice of a livestock animal), which will require Tk19, 683 more.
When asked about the big jump in prices of Hajj packages, State Minister for Religious Affairs Md Faridul Haque Khan said, "The increase in the currency exchange rate is one of the primary causes of the price hike. The Saudi Riyal exchange rate currently stands at Tk24.30, which was Tk23 in 2020."
"Moreover, the Saudi government has imposed a 15% VAT, tax, and service charge on all sectors, while house rent and other costs have also gone up significantly," the state minister added.
Airfare has also increased by Tk12,000 compared to the pre-pandemic period. A round-trip ticket fare to Saudi Arabia now stands at Tk1.4 lakh, which was Tk1.28 lakh in 2019.
Shahadat Hossain Taslim, president of HAAB, told TBS, "Airfare is a major reason behind the increase in overall cost. All other costs fixed by the Saudi authorities remain the same as before, except the accommodation cost."
"We estimated house rent Tk1,58,000 this year, which is a three-star category accommodation fee. But it may vary from agency to agency as per accommodation quality and distance from the holy Kaaba," he added.
He mentioned that the service charge for agencies has been fixed at Tk4,000 this year.
Mahmudul Haque Pearu, a hajj agency owner, told TBS, "If an agency works with decency and honesty, it will not be able to make a profit of more than Tk6,000-8,000."
The total cost of performing the hajj depends on various factors: the country where the pilgrim begins his or her journey, the route taken, the choice of package, flights, choice of accommodation, the number of days the pilgrim will take and additional services, such as "meet and assist".
The Covid-19 pandemic is the main source of additional travel costs for the Hajj, and for Saudi Arabia in general, according to Saudi media.
Whether visiting the kingdom as a tourist or as a pilgrim, travellers will have to do the following, each of which will come with a fee: take a Covid-19 test before setting off and get medical insurance to cover any coronavirus-related expenses.
Inflation in Saudi Arabia is another key factor. The price of goods and services in the kingdom has risen, meaning that the overall cost of a trip has also gone up.
Saudi Arabia implemented an increase in its standard VAT rate from 5 % to 15 % in July 2020 as part of tax measures taken to support the economy during the pandemic crisis.
As many as 57,585 pilgrims from Bangladesh will be permitted to perform Hajj this year while the figure was 1.37 lakh in 2020. This year, 4,000 pilgrims will go under government arrangement, and 53,585 under private management.
Out of the total 1,250 hajj agencies in the country, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has approved 780 agencies till 15 May to conduct hajj activities this year.
The ministry excluded agencies whose licences have expired, which did not submit documents to the ministry, which have been punished or fined on various charges, which have been blacklisted by Saudi Arabia and which are under investigation over various allegations.
According to the ministry's order, every hajj pilgrim has to enter into a written agreement with the approved agencies.
Each agency will be able to send a maximum of 300 and a minimum of 100 pilgrims this year.
Hajj flights are likely to commence on 31 May from Dhaka. Hajj rituals will begin on 8 July.
This year, 31,000 people will travel on 75 flights of the national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines, and the rest of the pilgrims will be transported by Saudia Airlines and Flynas Airlines.
HAAB has been demanding for years that a third carrier be allowed for transporting pilgrims as a measure toward reducing airfare.
On 6 May, Flynas – a budget Saudi Arabian carrier –became the third airline to get permission to carry Bangladeshi hajj pilgrims from this year onwards.
After two years of tight Covid restrictions, the kingdom in April this year announced that it will let up to one million people join the Hajj pilgrimage this year. Pilgrims below the age of 65 will be allowed to perform hajj.
The Middle Eastern country has limited the Hajj to domestic pilgrims for the past two years due to the pandemic. A total of 60,000 pilgrims performed the Hajj last year compared to around 2.5 million in 2019.
The pilgrimage to Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba in the city of Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj is a week-long Islamic ritual and a must for financially-capable Muslims at least once in their lifetime.