WE grow up hearing umpteen times that somebody has been to Saudi Arabia on a paid government trip and used the visit to make time to perform the Umrah Hajj -- a truly divine experience for any Muslim and a special introduction to the land that is consecrated with the existence of greatest sites in our religion. Saudi Arabia is a blessed land, for it is the land on which Almighty Allah bestowed the greatest of greatest personalities in human history and the greatest sites that any Muslim holds dear. People cherish the chance of performing the Umrah Hajj simply because it gives them the chance to experience nearness with their soul, for it may be the only chance they may have to experience that feeling, to be near, to be so close to special experiences of past history, and religious duties so dear to Muslims.
There are people who cannot afford the money to perform the holy Hajj. This is understandable because most middle class Bangladeshis and Muslims in other countries as well, may spend their entire lives to save money from their meager incomes to be ready to perform social duties. Being prepared for the marriage of daughter or daughters, taking care of elderly parents who retire, are such social functions that most Bangladeshi people have to perform. Therefore, Umrah Hajj takes a special significance.
That is why a recent travel advise from Saudi Arabia is a source of worry and consternation. The new rule states that no single Bangladeshi can go to perform Umrah below the age of 40. A married couple can go but not a single person below the age of 40. The reason given is the old one. The Bangladeshi citizens who have gone to perform Umrah have either overstayed or have stayed on in Saudi Arabia illegally.
This particular practice has been responsible for many such restrictions imposed on Bangladeshis in many parts of the world. When somebody overstays in a country that tantamounts to an illegal act. Unfortunately, those who perform such acts are only trying to get some work or a way out of their economic hardships. It can become difficult for people who have no recourse to regular income and, therefore, they are forced to act in ways that may not conform to acceptable behaviour. That fact cannot condone such flagrant violations of other countries' rules and spirit of generosity. Overstaying makes life difficult for everybody, for those who have valid visa and need to visit Saudi Arabia for essential purposes like visiting next of kin etc.
The Saudi government has to take steps to uphold its own values and its own country. And more to our point, the government is already taking steps that can be combined with a new immigration policy that can prevent and discourage overstay. Saudi Arabia is already investing large amount of money to modernise its police and security forces to meet the challenge of home-grown extremism. Some of the technological innovations being introduced have been shown in TV and they are simply first rate and quite amazing. A country that is rich in petrodollars can afford such innovations. Perhaps, we can urge the Saudi government to increase policing and other measures to combat overstay.
There are many other kinds of steps possible that can prove effective against illegal visa fraud and any overstay or other infraction of visa rules. A modern and alert immigration police at both ends of the official visa process, stern punishments acceptable to international law, identifying and legalising employment opportunities for much needed workforce that can be beneficial for Saudi economy, quickening of visa procedures for valid employment visa that would show that Saudi Arabia welcomes valid travelers and that would make stern punishment for violators acceptable, training Bangladesh immigration officials and encouraging them to foil illegal visitors with forged passports or visas etc., would certainly help in the long term.
Restrictions on potential visitors seeking visa to perform Umrah is rather quite a strong action, not only for religious reasons but also for the sake of common sense as well. And the point of this writer is that, applications to western countries are more prone to consist of people who intend to overstay because the lure of the west is strongest for Bangladeshis. However, no such blanket restrictions apply to western embassies, though visa application process has become cumbersome and prone to be delayed. This writer has seen many students, both male and female going to study to the west very recently. These students may never return and may seek valid ways to stay back. Yet visas are given in such western embassies
Umrah Hajj formalities can be completed at one third of the price needed for going for Hajj. The Air ticket rate, during Hajj, is higher by approximately $300.
Hajj package including all formalities are separate and cost much higher. Umrah can be performed at a fraction of the cost of Hajj. Therefore, applications for Umrah Hajj should can be looked at kindly and with some considerations. Many young men who are tired of the modern life seek to perform both Umrah and Hajj also. Therefore, any ban on the basis of age can be avoided if other matters are looked into. We hope that the new rule governing Saudi visa applications perforce for Umrah Hajj will be eased very soon.