- Title: CRIMEA-HAJ Record number of Crimean Muslims to perform annual haj pilgrimage
- Date: 7th September 2015
- Summary: MUSLIMS INSIDE AIRPORT DEPARTURES BOARD SHOWING FLIGHT DETAILS (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) CRIMEA RESIDENT, RISHAT ABLAZISOV, SAYING: "I have a long-time dream. My late father wanted to go to haj, this is the duty of every Muslim. But during Soviet times, there was no such opportunity. Now this opportunity has arisen for me." SIGNS INSIDE AIRPORT HAJ PILGRIMAGE ORGANISERS SURROUNDED BY CRIMEAN MUSLIMS SEEN THROUGH GLASS EXTERIOR OF SIMFEROPOL AIRPORT CARS DRIVING ALONG AT ENTRANCE OF AIRPORT CRIMEAN FLAG
- Embargoed: 22nd September 2015 13:00
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA2D0MAE8XGPZ2KPNVF2PK7PQ9P
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A record number of Muslims from Crimea are set to make the annual haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca this year.
Over 300 pilgrims will board direct flights from Simferopol to Saudi Arabia in the next couple of days - double the numbers that were allowed to make the holy journey last year.
Earlier this year, the quota allocated to Crimea's Muslims was increased after an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Haj of Saudi Arabia and Russia's Haj Mission head, Mahomed Gamzayev.
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine on March 21, 2014, and soon after began issuing Russian passports to its residents.
Those going on the haj are doing so under a new political reality for their region, and with newly issued biometric passports.
Members of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Crimea, who help organise the annual trip, could be seen on Monday (September 7) calling out people's names and handing out passports to the first batch of pilgrims waiting to board a flight at Simferopol airport.
Fatima Asanova said leaving for the haj was an emotional moment.
"Haj for me, you know, is such a dream. To be honest, on my way here - (I came) by car, you could see how many cars there are here, so the car was left far away over there - I was walking and tears appeared in my eyes. You know, it is such an event, every Muslim - it is written in our Koran - must go to haj once," Asanova said.
According to the Crimean authorities, this year's pilgrims will pay less than $3,000 for the trip, as a Russian subsidy means the government will pay half the costs. It's all part of a move to make the haj more affordable for ordinary Crimean residents.
Deputy head of the council of ministers of the Crimea, Ruslan Balbek, said as well as the reduced costs, many other improvements had been made.
"A record number of pilgrims are heading to the haj from Crimea, that is 322 people. The Crimean government has created the most convenient conditions, so that haj is affordable for the majority of Crimean Muslims. This implies prices, the possibility of direct flights from Simferopol airport, naturally, it (implies) getting biometric passports. By the way, Crimean Muslims were among the first residents of Crimea to get biometric passports," said Balbek.
One-hundred-and-fifty people started their journey on Monday and a further 172 are set to fly out on Tuesday (September 8).
Organisers say the pilgrimage will last 20-21 days for Crimean participants, with worshippers travelling to Medina, the second sacred city in Islam after Mecca.
As one of Islam's five pillars, haj is an obligation for all Muslims who are physically able to carry it out.
One pilgrim, Rishat Ablazisov, said he was overjoyed to finally be able to make the journey.
"I have a long-time dream. My late father wanted to go to haj, this is the duty of every Muslim. But during Soviet times, there was no such opportunity. Now this opportunity has arisen for me," he said.
Crimea became part of a sovereign Ukraine after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, until its annexation by Russia last year, a move denounced as illegitimate by Ukraine and the West.
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