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Cablegate: Overview of Brunei's Hajj Pilgrims

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DE RUEHBD #0288/01 3380641
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R 040641Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4724

UNCLAS BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 000288

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SUBJECT: OVERVIEW OF BRUNEI'S HAJJ PILGRIMS

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Government of Brunei (GoB) is committed to
supporting the Hajj pilgrimage for Bruneian citizens, including
recent converts to Islam. As Brunei's pilgrims return, it is useful
to highlight how the GoB supports the annual Hajj pilgrimage. This
year, there were 766 official Brunei Hajj pilgrims. Amongst the
pilgrims were thirty-three medical and Hajj liaison officers.
Concerns about H1N1 flu prompted additional medical officers. The
Hajj pilgrims were given priority to receive H1N1 virus vaccination
from the GoB's limited supply. In addition, the Sultan of Brunei
opened his palace to the pilgrims for lavish departure meals. The
Sultan, along with the Royal Family, met with the pilgrims and he
awarded twelve new Muslim converts BND9, 300 (USD6, 700) for
performing their Hajj pilgrimage. The preferential treatment shown
to those undertaking and completing the hajj is reflective of the
Sultan and the GoB's support for Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) belief
system and the importance of the Hajj within MIB. End Summary.

HEALTH AND WELFARE CONCERNS: H1N1
2. (SBU) The Government of Brunei (GoB) places a high priority on
ensuring Brunei Hajj pilgrims' health and welfare. Of the 766
people performing this year's hajj pilgrimage, 33 were medical and
Hajj liaison officers. Due to H1N1 flu concerns, Hajj pilgrims were
the first group of Bruneians to receive the H1N1 vaccinations. The
Ministry of Health also provided the Hajj group with more Tamiflu,
antibiotics, and other medications than in previous years.

3. (SBU) The Hajj Management Department within the Ministry of
Religious Affairs (MoRA) and the Brunei's government hospital H1N1
committee advised senior citizens, patients with chronic disease,
pregnant mothers and children under 12 yrs old to postpone their
Hajj plans. Performing the Hajj involves a lot of physical
challenges that would weaken the immune system for the high-risk
group potentially making them more prone to H1N1 infection,
according to the GoB. The MoRA Hajj Department senior officer
stated that 300 intending pilgrims under the high-risk group
postponed their Hajj trip for this year. H1N1 likely caused a 14
percent drop in the total number of Hajj pilgrims.

TRAVEL AND RELIGIOUS PREPARATIONS
4. (SBU) The MoRA and its Hajj Management Department is responsible
for coordinating Brunei Hajj pilgrims travel. This year, five travel
agencies were chosen by the MoRA to provide full service Hajj travel
packages. Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) operated four specially
chartered flights to Medina. The Minister of Religious Affairs,
Pehin Zain, and Deputy Minister, Pehin Badarudin, greeted each
pilgrim prior to departure at the Brunei airport.

5. (SBU) It is compulsory for intending Hajj pilgrims to attend a
Hajj course prior to their trip to Saudi Arabia. The course is
provided by the MoRA Hajj Management Department along with the
Islamic Da'wah Centre providing additional courses to new Muslim
converts. The courses address the rules and regulations on how to
perform the Hajj rites.

SPECIAL BENEFITS FOR HAJJ PILGRIMS
6. (SBU) Every Hajj season, the Sultan of Brunei awards new Muslim
converts fully funded Hajj airfare. This year, His Majesty awarded
twelve new converts BND 3,500. Each Muslim convert also received an
additional BND 5, 800 to pay for the full Hajj travel package as
well as providing spending money. In total, each recipient received
BND 9, 300 (USD 6,700). The Sultan also awards the Hajj fare to all
Muslim government officers who have more than 15 years of government
service. It is an entitlement that Muslim government officer who can
choose to claim, if they wish. In addition, Brunei military
personnel and civilian staff at the Royal Brunei Armed Force
Headquarters and bases and the Ministry of Defense who intend to
perform the Hajj pilgrimage, on top of the Hajj fare privileges,
also receive cash donations and medical care. Some local companies
would also provide Hajj fares to their local Muslim employees who
have worked with the company for more than 15 years.

7. (SBU) The Sultan and royal family members personally met with
intending Hajj pilgrims at the Istana Nurul Iman. This year, the
Sultan presented 'ihram' clothing to the men and a suit of 'telkong'
to the women making the Hajj. Pilgrims are provided a lavish meal as
well as opportunity to greet the Sultan and royal family members
prior to their departure. The event was widely covered in the local
media.

COMMENT
-------
8. (SBU) The Sultan and the GoB place a special emphasis on the
Hajj. The financial support is an important component of the program
as well as an opportunity for the Sultan to publicly show his
support for this fundamental element of the Islamic faith. Support
for the Hajj is part of the government's overall efforts to sustain
the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) belief system.
TODD

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