Saudi Arabia welcomes growing number of pilgrims for umrah
RIYADH - A growing number of pilgrims have been travelling to Saudi Arabia each year to perform umrah, Islam’s minor pilgrimage, the Saudi Centre for International Communications announced.
Over the past eight months, more than 6.1 million pilgrims travelled to Mecca to take part in the ritual, up from 5.7 million during the same period in the last Islamic year.
The increase comes as Saudi Arabia looks to expand capacity in Mecca to accommodate more than 30 million visitors per year, part of the Vision 2030 strategy to advance growth and tourism.
The kingdom implemented directives from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to accommodate pilgrims from Sudan after political instability in Khartoum forced the closure of some flights to and from the country.
“His (King Salman’s) guidance was not limited to providing services,” said Sudanese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Abdul-Azim Al-Karouri. “Saudi Arabia is trying to exert efforts and help the Sudanese people amid the ebb and flow of changes and events.
“This position is not strange to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. It is always a race to provide good and help the needy under such circumstances.”
This year, the largest number of pilgrims, of whom more than 50% were women, were from Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Turkey and Yemen. Many visitors were also registered from Algeria, Malaysia, Iraq and Jordan.
Separate from the haj, umrah is a general Islamic pilgrimage that may be undertaken any time of the year. While not compulsory, it is deemed a way to strengthen faith and ensure a more complete haj experience.
Umrah rites are especially popular during Ramadan, when able-bodied Muslims fast during daylight hours as one of the five pillars of Islam.
Leading up to Ramadan, Saudi officials said the country had taken security precautions to ensure pilgrims could complete the ritual in “safety, security and comfort” and the kingdom’s Ministry of Haj and Umrah introduced an interactive website to provide services for pilgrims.
King Salman urged the kingdom to redouble efforts to “provide the best services and facilities to Umrah pilgrims, visitors and worshipers during the blessed month of Ramadan,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.