Saudi Arabia receives 1st foreign Hajj pilgrims since COVID began

A group from Indonesia landed in Medina and is set to travel south to the holy city of Mecca in the coming weeks, reports state media.

Worshippers perform the farewell tawaf
This year, one million pilgrims will be allowed compared with 60,000 vaccinated citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia last year [File: AFP]

A group of Hajj pilgrims from Indonesia has landed in the city of Medina from where they will be travelling to the holy city of Mecca, marking the arrival of the first batch of pilgrims from outside the kingdom after two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to state media.

Saudi Arabia last month announced it would allow one million people – from both inside and outside the kingdom – to perform the Hajj which will take place in July compared with about 60,000 last year and less than 1,000 in 2020.

“Today we received the first group of this year’s pilgrims from Indonesia, and the flights will continue from Malaysia and India,” Mohammed al-Bijawi of the country’s Hajj Ministry told the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel.

“Today we are happy to receive the guests of God from outside the kingdom, after a two-year interruption due to the pandemic,” he added, describing Saudi Arabia as “fully prepared” to accommodate them.

One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj must be undertaken by all Muslims who have the means at least once in their lives.

Usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, about 2.5 million people participated in 2019 – the last Hajj before the coronavirus outbreak.

Barring overseas pilgrims caused deep disappointment among Muslims worldwide, who typically save for years to take part.

The Hajj consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

Hosting the Hajj is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, as the custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is the most powerful source of their political legitimacy.

Before the pandemic, Muslim pilgrimages were major revenue earners for the kingdom, bringing in about $12bn annually.

This year’s pilgrimage will be limited to vaccinated Muslims below 65 years of age, the Hajj Ministry has said.

Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia, who must apply for Hajj visas, are required to submit a negative COVID-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies