Hajj preparations begin with arrival of 935,000 pilgrims in Makkah

The pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, must be undertaken by all faithful who have the means at least once in their lives

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Muslim pilgrims have begun arriving in Makkah two weeks before the annual Hajj as Saudi authorities put their preparations into high gear.

The holy city on Saudi Arabia’s west coast opened its doors to 935,966 pilgrims from abroad who travelled by air, land and sea as of Monday, according to the General Directorate of Passports.

Saudi Arabia said it will allow up to two million pilgrims from abroad this year and has expanded capacity several years after the coronavirus pandemic limited access to the holy sites. Last year, nearly 1.8 million Muslims from around the world performed the Hajj.

The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, must be undertaken by all Muslims who have the means at least once in their lives. It is usually one of the world's largest religious gatherings.

Return of pilgrims from Syria

Among the faithful to arrive in Makkah were some of the 17,500 Syrian pilgrims flying from Damascus on the first direct air services to Saudi Arabia in almost 12 years, the Syrian Ministry of Transport said.

The development is part of a thaw in relations between Damascus and Riyadh, which last week appointed Saudi Arabia's first ambassador to war-torn Syria since 2012.

Syria was readmitted to the 22-member Arab League in 2023, after it had been suspended from the group for more than a decade over President Bashar Al Assad’s crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2011. Most countries in the Arab world have since restored diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Early preparations

Earlier this week, the Saudi Ministry of Interior began its practice of allowing only those with permits to perform the Hajj pilgrimage into the holy sites in Makkah. Breaking the decree between June 2 and June 20 risks fines of 10,000 Saudi riyals ($2,666).

Ahead of the pilgrimage, Saudi authorities said they have expanded resources to ensure the smooth transition for the 2.5 million pilgrims who will take part this year.

This year, the Hajj is scheduled to begin on the evening of June 14.

“One hundred and twenty-three bridges in Makkah and 20 bridges at other holy sites underwent maintenance, and 58 tunnels – 48 for vehicles and 10 for pedestrians – spanning 34,000 metres have been completed,” the Holy Makkah Municipality said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

The Saudi Transport Authority also confirmed that more than 27,000 buses will take pilgrims from various regions to Makkah, whether at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah or other ports of entry. More than 5,000 taxis are ready to carry pilgrims from Saudi cities towards holy sites.

Authorities in Makkah have also reviewed the readiness levels of 18 hospitals and 126 health centres in Makkah and the holy sites.

“All capabilities have been harnessed to train personnel and provide the required needs to ensure the continuation of work in all outpatient clinics in all hospitals and centres, as 3,944 beds were allocated in various health facilities, including 654 beds for intensive care,” said the Makkah Health Cluster authority.

Updated: June 05, 2024, 5:53 AM