The prevailing winds of luxury services have swept into unlikely quarters, observes Lukman Hakim.
Unlike fashion, sports or entertainment, religion is not usually mentioned in the same breath as marketing.
But times have changed. As have the fortunes of many Muslims, in ways that haven’t escaped the keen business sense of Islamic entrepreneurs.
As they see it, since there are different classes of flight tickets and hotel rooms, why not apply the same principle to those who wish to go on the hajj? And so in recent times, hajj pilgrimage operators in Indonesia have devised a two-tier arrangement.
For about US$4,000, Indonesian pilgrims bound for Saudi Arabia get the standard package, which includes 40 days in simple accommodations. The actual duration required to fulfil the hajj does not, of course, have to be 40 days. But because roughly 2.5 million Muslims from all corners of the world descend concurrently on Saudi Arabia, it does take time to move them around in the desert heat.
The premium you spend allows you to be briskly whisked from one place to another, while mere mortals must wait their turn
But lo and behold! Enterprising operators have discovered that there are enough customers who are prepared to fork out extra cash to make their pilgrimage less arduous. So if you have deep pockets, or at least $7,500, you take what is known as the “ONH Plus” package. This entitles you to stay at a five-star hotel replete with Olympic-size swimming pools. And if the heat starts to get on your nerves, you can always stay in your air-conditioned room and keep abreast of the rest of the world by watching Al Jazeera or CNN International.
Even “better”, with ONH Plus you need to spend only 21 days on your hajj, rather than the “normal” 40 days. The premium you spend on ONH Plus allows you to be briskly whisked from one place to another, while mere mortals must wait their turn.
According to World Bank standards, Indonesia has about 30 million poor citizens. At the same time, 1.4 million Indonesians are currently registered to go on the pilgrimage this year. Most will have to wait a while, however, because the Saudi government has allotted space for only 211,000 of them each year. Last year, 194,000 took the standard package while 17,000 opted for the deluxe ONH Plus package.
Does a solemn religious obligation marketed under a two-tier payment arrangement leave you with a curious aftertaste? Perhaps, but that’s the way it is.
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 Luxe issue of Aquila Style magazine. You can read the entire issue free of charge on your iPad or iPhone via Apple Newsstand, or on your Android tablet or smartphones via Google Play