JEDDAH – As many as two million Muslims from across the globe are swamping Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.
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Hajj is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in a lifetime provided they are well enough physically and financially to do so.
This year’s Hajj might be a matter of routine for the hydrocarbon powerhouse but it is special for Iran, a Shia majority country whose pilgrims would land in the holiest city after missing the religious journey last year.
A horrific stampede in 2015 led to the martyrdom of nearly 2,300 pilgrims with a staggering 464 people from Iran, a country engaged in a long-standing rift with Saudi kingdom that became intense after the incident.
But as the boycott has now ended, 86,500 Iranians would be reciting ‘Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik’ this year in Saudi Arabia.
Apart from Iran, the diplomatic relations of now Muhammad Bin Salman led state turned sour with Qatar in June over accusations of supporting terrorism, however, Riyadh announced that it would relax certain restrictions for pilgrims.
Indonesia, being the world’s most populous Muslim nation, would provide the largest number 221,000 of pilgrims for the Hajj.
Pakistan, an ally of Saudi Arabia, started its Hajj operation in last week of July as the first Hajj flight embarked on July 28 with a total four airlines – PIA, Saudi Airline, Air Blue, and Shaheen Air – to deputed wind up the operation.
The Saudi administration had once again turned down Pakistan’s request for increasing its Hajj quota for 2017 season.
Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yusuf had asked Saudi Hajj Ministry last week for an increase in Hajj quota from the current 179,210 to 194,210.
Out of the received 386,096 applications, around 107,000 people would perform the annual pilgrimage through the government scheme, while nearly 72,000 would perform the ritual through private scheme.
On the other hand, 170,000 indians would flock to Makkah to perform Hajj this year. Interestingly, India also mulled over reviving sea route to send pilgrims to Jeddah and the plan would likely be executed next year.
The practice of ferrying devotees between Mumbai and Jeddah by waterways was stopped from 1995 on account of MV Akbari, the ship which would transport pilgrims, growing old.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had issued the vaccination and health requirements for pilgrims applying for Hajj visas, according to the Saudi health ministry.
The requirements for this year focused on Zika virus, dengue, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS), yellow fever, cholera, meningitis, polio and vaccination against seasonal influenza.
Vaccination against meningitis was mandatory for all local and foreign pilgrims, the International Islamic News Agency reported. The flu vaccine was not compulsory, but it was desirable to take it considering the climate and susceptibility of pilgrims, the IINA added.