The good news about the reopening of Umrah for Indonesian pilgrims was gratefully welcomed by H. Firman Muhammad Nur, M.Sc., as General Chairperson of the Muslim Association for Hajj and Umrah Providers of the Republic of Indonesia (AMPHURI) and all members of the organization. They have been fasting for almost two years because there has been no departure for Umrah and Hajj pilgrims to the holy land. This opening is a glimmer of hope to rise in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared his experiences with the VOI team in dealing with a pandemic and tips for surviving these difficult times.
Umrah and Hajj entrepreneurs are the first group of business groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is that since February 27, 2020, the Saudi government, said H. Firman Muhammad Nur, M.Sc, has closed the arrival of Umrah and Hajj pilgrims to the holy land. As the general chairman of the association and also the President Director of PT Kafilah Maghfirah Wisata, they and hundreds of other members really feel the impact of this pandemic.
But with this condition, should you be silent? Of course not, AMPHURI members seek business diversification, which will reduce layoffs. And in fact, according to Firman, he has not received any reports of layoffs, except for housing or soft capital so that employees can work independently while waiting for normal Umrah and Hajj to return.
Information that the Saudi government has opened Umrah since 1 Muharram 1443 H (10 August 2021) we welcome it with gratitude. “The Saudi government also announced that it will open Umrah for 11 months until the 30th of Dhul Qo'dah after being closed for so long. This means that Saudi Arabia is optimistic that Umrah can be carried out as normal, because it will be open for 11 months,” said the alumni of Pondok Modern Gontor, Ponorogo who continued his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan, majoring in Islamic Economics.
Firman Muhammad Nur is very optimistic about the target set by the Saudis regarding this Umrah congregation. And this is a very promising hope for Hajj and Umrah entrepreneurs. "Saudi also set a target per day of 60 thousand pilgrims, per month 2 million pilgrims and 11 months means 22 million pilgrims. Subhanallah they have a target as if umrah in normal times. Lastly, before the pandemic, the Saudi achievement for local congregations in one year, both Saudi and international, was not more than 19 million pilgrims. The target set now is bigger than the previous year's achievement. This is a great hope for us," he told Iqbal Irsyad, Edy Suherli Savic Rabos and Rifai who visited the AMPHURI DPP office in Jalan Saharjo, Tebet, South Jakarta recently. Here is the full excerpt.
What is the condition of AMPHURI members like during this COVID-19 pandemic?
Hajj and Umrah travel entrepreneurs are the first sectors to be affected since this pandemic hit the world. Because since February 27, 2020 the Saudi government has closed the arrival of pilgrims to the holy land. AMPHURI which houses 486 members spread throughout Indonesia with 11 DPD tries to ensure that the members' efforts can continue. In our new management in this period there is a new division, namely the field of business development and cooperatives.
Our attention to members is how in this pandemic period employees are still employed. That's why we provide ideas and training and so on to be able to do business diversity. Thank God, even though the pandemic has been almost two years, our members have not laid off employees.
What is the average number of employees in each hosting company?
At least 1 company has 10 to more than 30 employees. So it's actually quite a big impact. Not only employees who have offices, but also ustazd and kiai who are involved in guiding the congregation.
What kind of business diversification are members doing during this pandemic?
Not a few of our members are entrepreneurs in other fields such as restaurants. We tried to dig from the members who own the restaurant business to provide training on the restaurant system to other members, so that they can open new branches from other interested members. The average hajj umrah office is a shophouse, it can be converted into a restaurant. We also work with companies like Yamaha, to be part of the sales and workshop. Likewise with the cosmetic manufacturer Wardah, sales collaborations are also carried out and many more with others. This is an effort to ensure that employees can still work.
What else is being done to minimize layoffs?
There are also our members who provide soft loans to their employees to open a business as long as there is no Hajj and Umrah departure. After normalcy returns they can work again and the loan is returned.
On 1 Muharram or 10 August 2021, the Saudi government will reopen Umrah for pilgrims from Indonesia. How do you welcome this?
Hearing the information that the Saudi government will open Umrah from the 1st of Muharram 1443 H, we welcome it with gratitude. They also announced that Umrah would be opened for 11 months until the 30th of Dhul Qo'dah after being closed for so long. This means that Saudi Arabia is optimistic that Umrah can be carried out as normal, because it has been open for 11 months.
They also set a target number of 60 thousand pilgrims per day, 2 million pilgrims per month and 11 months means 22 million pilgrims. Subhanallah they have a target as if umrah in normal times. Lastly, before the pandemic, the Saudi achievement for local congregations in one year, both Saudi and international, was not more than 19 million pilgrims. The target set now is bigger than the previous year's achievement. This is a great hope for us.
So the Saudi targets are huge?
Their target is big to attract the arrival of Umrah pilgrims, therefore it is impossible for them not to consider who the pilgrims will come. Obviously they see the development of COVID-19 in Indonesia, but if the conditions are normal, there is no way they will stop it. Saudi Arabia is really serious about the 2030 vision, working on the Umrah sector is no joke.
Regarding Indonesian congregations that were suspended, which other countries were treated the same way?
Only Indonesian congregations and including the Philippines, but this is also temporary and can be revoked if conditions improve. Actually, this problem can be solved diplomatically. We established diplomacy with NGOs there by building awareness that Indonesia should have the status of the country with the most Umrah sending pilgrims, and those who obey the rules will have priority. The proof is when other countries have not received permission in November 2020 a trial was carried out for Indonesian congregations and it was successful. Even though 10 percent of the pilgrims who were sent tested positive for COVID-19. This can be used as an evaluation material. My guess is that after a long journey, tired, and the change in weather, they have a cold. When checked they are reactive. But of that number, none were seriously treated.
What are your hopes for the government?
After we lobbied with NGOs in Saudi, we hope that the government will also do the same to the Saudi government. Umrah is the dream of people who have waited a long time for the pilgrimage. So the solution is to be able to visit the holy land through Umrah, because the waiting list for Hajj is very long. We encourage the government to actively fight for this. AMPHURI and members are ready to meet the requirements put forward by Saudi. It would be even better if our president also kept in touch with King Salman or the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such diplomacy is very important.
How many congregations did AMPHIRI members send for Umrah?
In 2019, the number of Indonesian pilgrims reached 1.2 million. We shipped about 430,000. For Indonesian Umrah pilgrims, this is the second largest sending country after Pakistan. But Indonesia's potential tends to use four and five star hotels around the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque. The second is that Indonesian congregations are generous in spending. It's no wonder that Indonesian is the language that is often used in business transactions.
The question of vaccines is the main requirement, even though Indonesia is mostly injected with Sinovac and Sinopharm which until now has not become a Saudi standard, what about this?
The reality is that it is still the main requirement to be able to go to the holy land twice, the injection must have been fulfilled because it is different from what is used by the Saudi government which they make the standard for accepting foreign arrivals to Saudi Arabia (Moderna, Pfizer, Astrazaneca and Johnson & Johnson). For those who are vaccinated other than Saudi standards, they provide a solution, namely that anyone who will come to the holy land must fulfill the complete vaccine with 2 x plus 1 x booster. We are establishing communication with the Ministry of Health to immediately prepare an additional type of vaccine as a booster.
What is the minimum fee for Umrah so as not to get caught in a scam?
There is a minimum service standard so the government has set other types of distance hotels, so you are also a reference price, before the pandemic 20 million. When it opened in November, the price evaluation came out with new versions of 26 million. The public must refer to the price so as not to be deceived or choose the wrong travel agency. Hopefully the pandemic will pass soon and we can hold Umrah and Hajj as before.
Creativity is Muhammad Nur's Word of Surviving in the Pandemic Period
The coronavirus pandemic has limited space for movement. This is also experienced by the Word of Muhammad Nur. Although activities are limited, communication with outside parties remains virtually.
“We have to follow the government's advice not to meet with other people if it's not very important during the PPKM period. Meetings can still be held virtually without having to meet face to face. The impact is more at home, weight tends to increase, “he admitted.
In fact, Firman has a target to lose weight, which doctors consider excessive. This is a challenge for the man who was born in Palembang on February 23, 1972. “I was able to lose weight even a little. Because at home, food intake is more controlled, it's different if we do a lot of activities outside like before the pandemic," said Firman. His body weight had touched the figure of 116kg, now only 93kg left.
What is your weight loss goal? “According to my doctor it should not be lower than 85kg. Because if it's below it's not good. Yes, I have followed the doctor's advice by adjusting the diet and exercising that are suitable for my condition,” continued Firman, who chose to jog around his housing complex while basking in the sun and cycling to balance the doctor's diet program.
In addition, he also maintains the intake of vitamins and foods and drinks that increase endurance. "I really take care of my intake of vitamins and foods and drinks that contain probiotics. Alhamdulillah Allah is still taking care and destiny for me and my family to be in good health. I always pray for good health," he continued.
Firman is also concerned about those who have been exposed to COVID-19. "In my opinion, masks are still a powerful tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in addition to complying with other health protocols, of course. And if you have been exposed, there is no choice, you have to obey the advice from the health care provider who takes care of us," he said, adding that support for healing for our families, relatives and relatives who were exposed to COVID-19 also greatly helped recovery.Opportunity
In every difficulty, there is an opportunity to be seized. That also happened to the Word. He makes a drink that can increase the body's immunity from milk, honey, ajwa dates and habatus-saudah (black cumin).
“In difficulty, it turns out that there is an opportunity there. This is a product that we made to help people increase their immunity, because the ingredients have been proven to be useful and liked by the Prophet. Milk, honey, ajwa dates are dates planted by the Prophet and are around Medina, not other areas. Habatus-sauda has long been a medicine. We mix everything into one package,” he said while hoping that what he had done could be a solution in the midst of difficulties.
Firman sparked making this bottled drink because last Ramadan he sold ajwa dates in large quantities. And what he did turned out to be a lot of interest. “I bought quite a lot of my ajwa dates last month of fasting. However, there is one container left unsold. Then I came up with an idea to make a drink that contains a variety of useful ingredients and helps boost immunity. Be this drink and it turns out someone is interested. Thank God, slowly our dates can run out," he said.
Before the dates ran out, Firman had ordered again. "Because this drink turns out to have fans. Yes, we have ordered again for sustainable production. Actually, there are many people who make processed foods and drinks from dates, but who use our new ajwa dates. Because the price is expensive,” he continued, adding that this is a good potential.
During the pandemic we cannot send pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah, but there are new business opportunities emerging. “AMPHURI friends also did the same thing by changing or adding food and beverage outlets in their offices. The problem is that the average office of our members is on the edge of the highway. That's what we use to expand our business in the culinary field before Umrah and Hajj recover," he continued.
As Chairman of AMPHURI, Firman and his board of directors provide encouragement to take steps that can be a safety valve when Umrah and Hajj businesses are still not as normal as before the pandemic. “The initial intention was to become a new line of business while Umrah and Hajj have not recovered. But if this new business can be a mainstay why not. It can be continued and taken seriously," he said.Alumni
As a travel entrepreneur for Umrah and Hajj, Firman's relationship with the congregation who departed for the holy land continues to exist even though the Umrah and Hajj activities have passed. “What's interesting about our efforts is that our emotional bond with alumni is very strong. Their loyalty to us continues. It's because we're not just doing business, but what we're doing is serving them on their journey of worship. They are middle-to-high economically and have a lot of potential,” he said.
Social activities are often carried out by involving alumni. "We are involved in social matters, recently we carried out a date distribution activity for health workers which was distributed through hospitals that handle COVID-19 patients," he said.
In addition, other social activities are helping flood victims. “We didn't move during the flood, because at that time there were already many social actions. What we did 1 month after the flood. Eh, it turns out that there are still places in Bekasi where the water has not receded either. That's where we distributed groceries. There are 2,500 packages of basic necessities that we distribute by boat,” he said.
During the last Eid al-Adha, we also helped alumni who wanted to distribute their qurban worship. “Yesterday, we carried out the qurbani donation activity by ourselves. Through the Pesantren Education Foundation, which we call Kampung Maghfirah, we can collect around 750 pieces of qurban,” said Firman Muhammad Nur, adding that scholarships were also given to students studying at the pesantren. The action of providing scholarships also involves alumni.
"Saudi has set a target of 60 thousand pilgrims per day, 2 million pilgrims per month and 11 months means 22 million pilgrims. Subhanallah they have a target as if umrah in normal times. Lastly, before the pandemic, Saudi's achievement for local pilgrims in one year, both Saudi and international, was not more than 19 million pilgrims. The target set now is bigger than the previous year. This is a big hope for us."Muhammad Nur's Word
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