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Austrian Muslims Ready for Hajj

 

By Ahmed Al-Matboli, IOL Correspondent

VIENNA, January 1 (IslamOnline.net) - Despite high costs, an increasing number of Austrian Muslims are readying themselves for hajj this year, thanks to facilities provided by mosques and tour operators.

With an increase of 520 from last year, some 2,000 Austrian Muslims will start flying out of the country into Saudi Arabia on January 9.

Hajj costs range this year between 1600 to 2000 euros per person.

“Pilgrims can pay in installments to free them from the financial burden of the holy journey,” Ahmad Ahmad, a hajj organizer at Ibn Taymiya mosque, told IslamOnline.net.

He said the mosque pays some of the expenses for those who cannot afford the entire package.

Egyptian-born Ahmad, however, complained about some difficulties in getting visas as the Saudi Embassy demands a valid one-year residence permit in Austria.

The embassy also no longer accepts individuals and would-be pilgrims have to enroll with mosques or tour operators to take on the holy journey.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and thus an essential part of Muslims’ faith and practice on the condition of physical and financial ability.

It consists of several ceremonies meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.

Hajj LecturesFareed Al-Khoutani, the director of the Islamic Center in Vienna, said the center also arranges video and audio lectures for would-be pilgrims.

“The center further provides charge-free ihram clothes [the state of consecration] for them,” he told IOL.

Khoutani said the center organizes Qur’an memorization and Islamic contests every year, noting that some of the prizes are hajj trips.

He said the center’s 100-member hajj group will leave on January 12, putting the average cost at 1600 euros each.

“There is no Saudi ceiling on the number of pilgrims from Europe given that the total number of pilgrims from Europe, the Americas and Australia doesn’t exceed 50,000,” Khoutani added.

Saudi Arabia allows one percent of the population of each Muslim country to perform hajj every year, in accordance with the resolution of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Established in 1979, the Islamic Religious Authority functions as the religious and spiritual representative of Muslims in Austria.

Islam, which was officially acknowledged in Austria in 1908, is considered the second religion in the country after Catholic Christianity.

Muslims, estimated at nearly half a million, make up some 6 per cent of the country’s eight-million population.

There are 76 mosques and prayer rooms across the country, including 53 in Vienna alone.

A law issued in 1867, which guaranteed respect for all religions, gave Muslims the right to establish mosques and practice their religion in Austria.

The community is now seeking to reconstruct the first Muslim cemetery in Austria on an area of 34,000 square meters.

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