Uganda plans to send 750 of its citizens – including 415 women – to this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.
“I can’t wait to get to Makkah and see Prophet Muhammad’s tomb and Mount Arafat and drink Zamzam water,” 58-year-old Kasifah Nankumba told Anadolu Agency. “The sheikhs have briefed us on what to expect. I’m so excited [that] I’m afraid I might faint.”
For the last decade, Kasifah has been saving small increments of money from her modest smoked fish business, which she has been running for the last 28 years in Kalerwe market near Kampala.
Kasifah recalled, that in 2006, while sitting in the market, she suddenly felt compelled to perform the pilgrimage.
“But, I didn’t have a penny to my name, so I pushed the thought aside,” she said.
Shortly afterward, she got in touch with a man known for helping Muslim pilgrims travel to Makkah.
The man, known as Haji Musa, introduced her to the manager of the Mityana Hijja and Umrah tour agency, who advised her to start saving.
With her modest savings, they began buying U.S. dollars for her.
From 2007 to 2009, she recalls, “I managed to save small amounts of about $4 to $5 each”.
In 2009, she heard of a man who sponsored Hajj pilgrims and immediately began looking for him.
Two days later, she was knocking on Hajji Kajumbi’s door.
“I explained my dilemma to this stranger,” she said. “But, unfortunately, he couldn’t help me.”
With her dollar receipts in her bag, she showed him what she had managed to save over the last three years.
“He prayed for me and said I should start saving more, telling me to give the tour agency amounts of between $100 and $200,” she said.
She then began making payments every four or five months.
On June 15, 2015, she remembers getting a call from the Hijja office manager, who told her: “Hajjati Kasifah, the money you saved is now enough for the Hijja [pilgrimage].”
“I was at the market at the time, sitting on the ground,” Kasifah said. “He said my name four times, but I was too shocked to speak.”
At Wandegeya Mosque, where she attended a final Hajj briefing, she said: “When I return from Makkah, God willing, I’ll stay home and continue with my ibadah [prayer]; I’m not coming back to just sit on the ground and sell fish.”
While 750 Ugandans are going to Makkah this year, this represents a significant decrease from previous years.
According to Sheikh Ali Juma Shiwuyo at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council’s department of Hajj and Umrah, during the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of Ugandans used to perform Hajj each year.
“Late President Idi Amin Dada was very supportive; he used to send between 6,000 and 10,000 Ugandans on the pilgrimage each year,” he said.
Saudi Arabia had previously allocated 1,200 slots for Ugandan pilgrims, but Shiwuyo says this figure has not been raised to match the increasing population.
“In 2014, we only had 957 pilgrims [from Uganda] due to the rising value of the U.S. dollar,” he said. “Last year, pilgrims paid $2,178. Now, it costs $4,150.”
Uganda’s current lack of a national air carrier is also a challenge.
“During Amin’s time, we had a national airline, and he would ensure there were flights to Makkah for pilgrims,” Shiwuyo said. “But now, we have to negotiate with foreign airlines, and this makes it more expensive.”
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