On a recent Monday, Mat Haval, a 56-year-old Cambodian Muslim, prepared to leave for Saudi Arabi, to participate in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. She was content spending $3,550 for the trip, money she had saved since 1993, for a 40-day trip that is one of the pillars of the Muslim faith.
“Everyone has sins,” said the woman, a fish vendor on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. “Until now, we can’t say we have no sins, so I’m going there to get rid of them.”
The Hajj, which is held once a year in the holy city of Mecca, is the fifth obligation to be carried out by Muslims. It must be fulfilled at least once in their lifetime, so long as they can afford it.
The largest Islamic annual ritual, the Hajj creates solidarity among Muslims around the world and is meant as a show of admission to Allah.
Mat Haval was one of at least 391 Cham Muslims participating the Hajj, at their own expense, according to figures of the country’s supreme Muslim leader.
Sos Kamry, Cambodia’s Mufti, said the number of Cham Muslims participating in the Hajj has increased each year.
But the cost of the pilgrimage remains out of reach for many of the country’s impoverished Chams.
Oun Am Nas, 57, a Cambodian noodle seller in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district, said she had always wished to join the Hajj to fulfill her religious obligation, but she cannot afford to now.
“The cost is too much for me,” she said, speaking at her small wooden home along the Tonle Sap river. “Where can I get the money from if I am just a small seller?”
Long Sok, 74, who was lucky enough to win a drawing for humanitarian assistance for the Hajj a few years ago, said he was desperate now that he still could not afford to go.
He accused the Ministry of Cults and Religions’ former secretary of state, Sith Ybrahim, of cheating him and taking money from a private donor for his journey to the Hajj.
“He showed me 25 passports, but those were fakes,” Long Sok said.
“That was not true,” Sith Ybrahim said. “I was not involved with your money; it’s others, you understand.” Long Sok was difficult to deal with, so the money was transferred to another person, he said.
A recently retired imam of 7-Kilometer Mosque, next to Sith Ybrahim’s house, said those who cheat and exploit others during the Hajj are committing a deadly sin that can sentence them to Hell.