Vienna, January 29 – Daghestan’s Muslims, who traditionally have formed 80 percent of Russia’s hajis, again last year exceeded both that republic’s and Russia’s overall haj quotas, thus simultaneously sparking controversy within Russia’s Muslim community and creating problems for the Saudis because of the large number of the Daghestanis who made the pilgrimage illegally.
Daghestan, which was assigned a quota of 8500 hajis, in fact sent 18,000 who “went by all possible means,” many of them illegal, Ildar Nurimanov, editor of the almanac “The Haj of Russian Muslims, a figure that pushed the number of Russian hajis last year to 10,000 above the 20,500 allocated because other regions of Russia sent 2,000 fewer than they were allowed.
In 2008, the Saudi authorities assigned Russia 25,500 places for the haj, as a result of pressure from Moscow officials who pointed out that there was pent-up demand from the time when Soviet authorities would not allow Muslims from the USSR to make the required pilgrimage to Mecca (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusopinions/11414/).
But this year, despite Russian insistence, the Saudis reduced Moscow’s quota back to 20,500, something many Russian Muslims were unhappy about but in fact a significant concession to Moscow because the Saudis had reduced the haj quotas below the one per 1,000 Muslims for many countries fearful of the spread of influenza.
Indeed, for the first time in many years, the Saudis banned anyone over 65, under 12 or ill from making the haj, lest they become infected or suffer ill effects during the pilgrimate, despite these efforts, approximately 7,000 hajis came down with the HINI virus and 62 of those so affected died.
Despite these Saudi restrictions, the total number of Muslims making the haj was more than 2.8 million, seven percent less than the record figure of 2008 but far more than many had expected, the result, Saudi officials said of the sad fact that the number of people who had made the haj in excess of their national quotas was 753,000.
Among those “illegals” were 10,000 pilgrims from the Russian Federation, most of this number coming from the Republic of Daghestan. And that fact has prompted Russian officials to begin planning for the next haj, lest some regions and especially that North Caucasus republic cause Moscow diplomatic embarrassment.
Daghestan, far and away the most religious of the Muslim regions of Russia, has given trouble before, Nurimanov says, prompting Moscow to cut is allocation of slots each year, down to 6,000 n 2009, while boosting the number of places for Muslims from other parts of the North Caucasus, the Middle Volga and elsewhere in Russia.
Despite the problems the Daghestani “excess” created – the Saudis take great exception to any violation of their quotas and Muslims from other Russian regions are offended – they were remarkably complimentary of what the Russian haj organizers had achieved. For the first time, the Saudis listed the Russians “among the best haj missions in the world.”
Clearly, Nurimanov says, Russian Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) and tour firms are getting better with each passing year in meeting haj standards. But he said Moscow is concerned about the Daghestani figures and the Russian haj authorities have decided to begin planning for next year’s haj immediately.