Saudi Arabia on Saturday welcomed its first group of foreign Hajj pilgrims since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic began, the Middle East Eye news agency reported on Sunday, noting that the Islamic pilgrims were from Indonesia.
According to the Saudi State Press Agency (SPA), on June 4, a militant from Indonesia landed with “358 female and male pilgrims” at Prince Mohamed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Medina.
“The guests of Allah Almighty were greeted and offered bouquets of roses, various fine dates and holy Zamzam drinking water,” explained SPA.
A delegation of government officials, including Under-Secretary of Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Bijawe, and Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Abdulaziz Ahmed, greeted the Indonesian pilgrims as they departed on Saturday.
“Today we received the first group of this year’s pilgrims from Indonesia, and flights will continue from Malaysia and India,” Al-Bijawi told state-run news channel Al-Ekhbariya on June 4.
“Today we are delighted to receive God’s guests from outside the Kingdom after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic,” he added.
Saudi Arabia’s annual Hajj pilgrimage takes place on July 7-12 this year. The Indonesian pilgrims, who arrived in Medina on Saturday, were the first of several such groups from around the world who will land in Saudi Arabia next month in preparation for the event. The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which all Muslims must make once in their lifetime, provided the trip is financially and physically feasible. It is one of the five tenets of Islam along with the creed, prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
The Hajj is traditionally one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. It is extremely lucrative for Saudi Arabia’s economy, bringing the kingdom an average of $12 billion annually. The Saudi government closed the pilgrimage to all foreigners from 2020-2021 citing public health concerns during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. The event grew from 2.5 million participants in 2019 to just 1,000 Saudi citizens and residents in 2020 after the kingdom’s government tightened the attendance limit for the ritual.
“In 2021, the number was increased to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents selected by lottery,” the Middle East Eye recalled June 5.
The government of Saudi Arabia unveiled plans in April to allow 1 million pilgrims to attend this year’s Hajj, including foreigners.
Pilgrims applying to participate in this year’s Hajj must be 65 years of age or younger and hold a valid Saudi residency permit. The Kingdom Hajj Ministry said that “priority will be given to those who have not performed Hajj before and are fully immunized according to their status in the Tawakkalna app [Saudi health ministry app]” Arabic News reported on 4.6.
“To perform the Hajj this year, citizens and residents must have received three doses of COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] Vaccine,” the Riyadh-based newspaper noted.