24k pilgrims perform Umrah after Grand Mosque reopening with no reported virus cases

Time: 08 October 2020  

Strict health and safety measures had been introduced to protect pilgrims and help stop the spread of the virus. (AFP)
  • Tens of thousands of Zamzam bottles have been distributed among pilgrims on a daily
  • Air-conditioning systems and filters were receiving nine daily cleans using ultraviolet sanitizing technology

JEDDAH: At least 24,000 pilgrims have performed Umrah since the Grand Mosque in Makkah reopened its doors to worshippers on Saturday, with no reported cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), figures have revealed.

The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques on Wednesday said that strict health and safety measures had been introduced to protect pilgrims and help stop the spread of the virus.

“Our precautionary measures plan for Umrah with COVID-19 is based on protection, sanitization, crowd management, and raising awareness,” said presidency spokesperson Hani Haider.

“We have prepared four isolation sites for pilgrims with suspicious symptoms. However, no suspected COVID-19 case has yet been reported.”

In order to ensure social distancing, the presidency has designated special pathways for elderly and disabled people to help them safely perform Umrah rituals.

Haider pointed out that efforts were being concentrated on the sanitization of the Grand Mosque and its arenas with 4,000 workers doing an average 10 cleans a day. More than 1,800 liters of eco-friendly disinfectants and sanitizers were also being used to clean toilets six times each day.

Air-conditioning systems and filters were receiving nine daily cleans using ultraviolet sanitizing technology, and more than 200 hand-sanitizing devices had been distributed around the Grand Mosque.

A ban on food and drinks at the Grand Mosque remained in place but the presidency was looking to employ the latest technology to redistribute Zamzam water containers again while maintaining precautionary measures and preventing contact between pilgrims, added Haider.

Meanwhile, the presidency has been distributing tens of thousands of Zamzam bottles among pilgrims on a daily basis and its dedicated 1966 hotline was available around the clock to answer calls from worshippers.

The Saudi Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday 468 new cases of COVID-19 in the country, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the Kingdom to 337,711. There were currently 9,556 active cases, 913 of which were receiving medical care.

Madinah recorded the highest number of newly confirmed cases at 71, with Makkah reporting 53, Yanbu 31, and Al-Hofuf 29.

In addition, 596 patients had recovered from COVID-19, raising the total number of recoveries to 323,208. The death toll reached 4,947 with 24 new deaths reported.

Madinah was the Saudi city that witnessed the highest number of recoveries at 118, with Jeddah and Riyadh recording 43 each, and Makkah 34 recoveries in the past 24 hours.

Ministry spokesman, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, pointed out the importance of people adhering to rules about wearing face masks.

“Face masks are extremely important to maintain health in these circumstances and no harm will result from wearing them on a daily basis. Some people have been wearing them for years due to their work necessities without any harm coming to them,” he said.

Al-Aly noted that the Kingdom’s success in curbing the spread of infection was chiefly due to public diligence on the wearing of masks, adding that some countries were witnessing a second wave of COVID-19 partly as a result of people going too far in relaxing their commitment to preventive behaviors.

The ministry has so far conducted 6,828,117 polymerase chain reaction tests since the virus outbreak in the country in early March, with 52,184 carried out in the latest 24-hour period.

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First pilgrims arrive at Grand Mosque after six-month curb

04/10/20

The first group of pilgrims are checked for signs of coronavirus as they arrive in Jeddah on Saturday, before proceeding to Makkah. (Supplied)

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Umrah app will increase competition, enrich pilgrim experience, says a Saudi official

Time: 24 September 2020

The first phase of the gradual return will include allowing citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30% from Oct. 4. (Supplied)
  • External agents who used to control everything will no longer do so

MAKKAH: The Kingdom’s new Umrah app will create a competitive business environment that will improve pilgrim services and enrich the pilgrim experience, according to a senior ministry official.
I’tamarna is aimed at enforcing health standards amid the COVID-19 pandemic and making it easier for people to book their journeys. It also offers booking services that pilgrims can use ahead of their arrival in Makkah for accommodation, transport and recreation.
Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said that the app’s launch should push companies to provide people with a broader and better range of services.
“When we provide high quality services at competitive prices, the pilgrim will find himself drawn to these companies, especially when companies work hard to provide the best services at a competitive price to local pilgrims,” Al-Maddah told Arab News.
He added that external agents who used to control everything related to Umrah will no longer do so as they were just agents and did not own facilities. Their job was to represent and market Umrah companies abroad.
According to Al-Maddah, new measures had fixed this problem and organized the relation between Umrah companies and their external agents to be strictly marketing-based.
“The newly adopted measures will free Umrah companies and motivate them, especially at a time when bookings are being performed through several electronic platforms. This allows foreign pilgrims to directly deal with Umrah companies through the phone, the app and additional means other than the external agents. This will liberate the Umrah companies and improve their performance, allowing them to market their services inside and outside the Kingdom.”
Saudi Arabia said earlier this week that it would start allowing pilgrims to perform Umrah in phased return, while taking the necessary precautions. The decision was made after assessing the developments of the pandemic and in response to the desire of Muslims around the world to perform the ritual.

FASTFACT

I’tamarna offers booking services that pilgrims can use ahead of their arrival in Makkah for accommodation, transport and recreation. Pilgrims can download the app on Sept. 28.

“The launch of the app came due to the coronavirus pandemic, its repercussions and preventive measures that require specifying the number of pilgrims,” Al-Maddah said. “There is a capacity that should not be exceeded. This is what prevents the overcrowding of holy sites and limits the spread of the virus among pilgrims.”
He said that the operational capacity was calculated through the Ministry of Health’s Tawakkalna app, with the pilgrim using I’tamarna to book an Umrah appointment that was time-specific and accompanied by anti-coronavirus preventive measures.
The first phase of the gradual return will include allowing citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30 percent from Oct. 4, the equivalent of 6,000 pilgrims per day.
The second will increase the capacity of the Grand Mosque to 75 percent, which would include 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 worshippers a day from Oct. 18.
In the third phase, pilgrims from abroad would be allowed to perform Umrah from Nov. 1 with a capacity of 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshippers per day.
The fourth stage will see the Grand Mosque return to normal, when all COVID-19 risks have gone away. Pilgrims can download the app on Sept. 28.

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Saudis’ love of volunteering on full display during Hajj

Time: 31 July, 2020

The Saudi government made volunteering an important axis in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan. Volunteers have played an important role in contributing to facing the COVID-19 pandemic and reducing its negative effects. (SPA)

MAKKAH: Though the coronavirus pandemic has affected many things, the culture of volunteering continues to remain strong in Saudi Arabia, as citizens serve the Kingdom’s visitors from all over the world.

Mashael Al-Mubarak, the general director of volunteering at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, told Arab News the Kingdom had paid special attention to the issue of volunteerism, as well as its organization and stimulation, despite the crisis.

“Voluntary work carries new horizons, hopes and aspirations in light of the pandemic. Doing voluntary work . . . symbolizes solidarity and cooperation between members of society,” she said.

“Voluntary work’s importance stems from its active role in developing societies by strengthening the belonging of citizens, investing human energies and directing them towards serving the society by relying on the principle of cooperation, partnership and creativity. The goal of volunteering is to grasp positive effects that contribute efficiently to collective efforts, in order to serve the issues that affect the different segments of Saudi society,” she added.

The Saudi government made volunteering an important axis in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan, and it was included in three important programs: The National Transformation Program 2020, the National Character Enrichment Vision Realization Program, and the Doyof Al-Rahman Program.

“Volunteers played a very important role in contributing to facing the COVID-19 pandemic that invaded the whole world and reducing its negative effects with several services, the most important of which was the Volunteer Work Platform,” Al-Mubarak said.

“This platform is designed to be a pioneer in volunteer work to face the pandemic’s repercussions. It is characterized as a Saudi incubator for volunteer work that provides a safe environment, which serves and organizes the association between agencies providing volunteering opportunities and volunteers in the Kingdom.”

The number of registered beneficiaries on the platform has exceeded 228,000 with more than 2,600 organizations.

Al-Mubarak noted that the ministry had also launched a volunteering manual in crises and disasters using COVID-19 as a model, and a practical guide to help entities and individuals direct volunteering efforts to overcome the resulting repercussions.

“This guide . . . focuses on the pandemic in the Kingdom and how to reach the official authorities with whom they can volunteer during this period,” said Al-Mubarak.

She added that the ministry would take practical steps to promote volunteer work during crises and disasters, managing risks and identifying priority interventions for each target segment, and presenting a set of national initiatives, international experiences and pioneering initiatives in various countries of the world during crises and disasters to benefit from them. “The General Administration of Voluntary Work of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development . . . have confidence in their ability to reach one million volunteers annually by 2030, to contribute to the advancement and reconstruction of the country. In 2020, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of volunteers reached 61,753, implementing 2,279,182 volunteer hours through 22,665 opportunities,” said Al-Mubarak.

For his part, the volunteer community’s CEO, Raed Al-Maliki, told Arab News: “Volunteering is the only work that reflects the giving nature of people, as it is carried out with the selfless desire of volunteers to serve their community.”

“In Saudi Arabia, volunteer work has become a subject of the leadership’s interest and trust in the last ten years. Our leadership has faith in volunteers, of both genders, as some government sectors have launched a series of initiatives that have contributed to empowering and involving volunteers, especially in the field of serving the pilgrims, which every Saudi and expat on this Earth considers as a great honor.”

Al-Maliki said that every year, before the Hajj season, a flow of volunteers who wish to help during the season come forward. However, 2020 may be different due to COVID-19, and would require new and different initiatives, such as sterilization initiatives, social distancing measures and education for pilgrims about safety.

“I believe that a platform that brings together all initiatives related to the service of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque’s visitors should be launched, in order to organize volunteer efforts in the Hajj and Umrah season. It will be supervised by a program serving God’s guests, which was inaugurated by King Salman in 2019 and is one of the Saudi Vision 2020 programs,” said Al-Maliki. “This program analyzes and identifies the need for volunteers, by engaging them in voluntary opportunities belonging to non-profit organizations in order to provide an opportunity to participate in serving the pilgrims and achieving the development goals of the program.”

It is through this organization that volunteers can carry out their work easily and effortlessly, without the trouble of searching for their voluntary needs, he said. They will not be exposed to exploitation or loss of rights, as this platform will be the link and guarantor for all parties and the coordinator of their relationship.

“We in the volunteer community have contributed over the past two years to empowering more than 3,500 volunteers through the ‘Tamkeen’ projects aimed at qualifying volunteer leaders. We also launched the volunteer counseling service, which provided 1,200 voluntary counseling sessions in one year,”  said Al-Maliki.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ghada Al-Ghunaim, a member of the Board of Trustees of the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue, said: “Saudis are passionate about volunteer work and have extensive experience and expertise, whether within the Kingdom or abroad.”

Al-Ghunaim added that the most important thing that governs volunteerism is the presence of an official body that shields this work, organizes it and ensures its reliability, to reassure parents that their children are under a governmental administration that is properly enhancing and qualifying their capabilities, and immunize them against extremism, and some agendas that function outside of the volunteering framework.

She said that volunteers have become more aware of their responsibilities, the parties they join, their rights, and what they are supposed to offer. The relationship between volunteers and the organizations they work with is more like a contract characterized by commitment, transparency and professionalism, in addition to having great benefits on self-control and preparation.

On her personal experience, Al-Ghunaim said that she spent nine years volunteering inside Saudi Arabia and abroad, which prepared her for the labor market, adding that it was a rehabilitative culture, filling free time and meeting needs.

The pilgrimage this year would not neglect the importance of organizing volunteerism, despite the small numbers of pilgrims, she added. “Volunteers are expected to be trained on how to act, on precautionary measures, and on requirements, in addition to acting cautiously and responsibly.”

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Hajj 2020: Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel runs solo this year for the first time in history

26/07/20

A Miqat Mosque in Dhul Hulayfa. (SPA)

  • The number of pilgrims performing this year’s annual pilgrimage is low given the exceptional circumstances brought about by the coronavirus disease pandemic

MAKKAH: For the first time in history, pilgrims performing this year’s Hajj are to pass through just one Miqat (pilgrim station).
Miqat is a term that refers to the boundary from which pilgrims must adorn the Ihram garments, two pieces of white unseamed sheets, in order to perform the annual Hajj or Umrah. Four boundaries were chosen by the Prophet Muhammad for pilgrims arriving from different areas of the world to perform the Hajj and Umrah rituals, while the fifth was chosen by the second Islamic caliph, Omar bin Al-Khattab.
The five boundaries, or Mawaqeet, represent the first ritual of the Hajj pilgrimage. Located northeast of Makkah, Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel, considered by historians as the Miqat of the people of Najd, is also usually a Miqat for pilgrims traveling from Gulf countries and East Asia today. The term refers to a small mountain that extends to the north and the south with water running on both sides, the reason why it is also known as Al-Sail Al-Kabir (the great flood).
The number of pilgrims performing this year’s annual pilgrimage is low given the exceptional circumstances brought about by the coronavirus disease pandemic. The pilgrims are expected to head to Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel as it is the nearest Miqat to Makkah.

FASTFACT

Located northeast of Makkah, Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel, considered by historians as the Miqat of the people of Najd, is also usually a Miqat for pilgrims traveling from Gulf countries and East Asia today.

Al-Sail Al-Kabir Mosque inside Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel is considered one of the biggest in the Kingdom, equipped with modern services for pilgrims.
Dr. Adnan Al-Sharif, professor of history and civilization at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said of the Miqat: “The place was linked to the Prophet’s life, as the Prophet passed by it during the Siege of Taif. According to several historical novels, the Prophet passed by ‘Qarn’ which means Qarn Al-Manazel.”
Al-Sharif said the Saudi state had taken good care of Miqat Qarn Al-Manazel, and provided it with facilities for pilgrims who visit it to perform Umrah and Hajj.
Throughout history, different meanings were behind the naming of Qarn Al-Manazel, according to journalist and historian Hamad Al-Salimi.  It was said that Al-Asmai, a philologist and one of three Arabic grammarians of the Basra school in Iraq, described the Miqat as a mountain in Arafat.
Meanwhile, historians believed that it had also served people coming from other directions throughout history. Al-Ghuri, the 45th sultan of the Mamluk dynasty, said it was the Miqat of the people of Yemen and Taif, while Qadi Ayyad, a famous scholar of Maliki law in the Islamic Golden Age (800-1258) said it was Qarn Al-Thaalib that served as the Miqat of the people of Najd. Some people pronounce it “Qaran”, which is wrong, as Qaran is a tribe in Yemen, according to Al-Salimi.

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Then and now: the shifting role of the pilgrims’ guide in Makkah

Time: 22 July, 2020

  • While the services guides provide are as important as ever, the nature of their relationship with pilgrims has, by necessity, changed

MAKKAH: When the pilgrimage season begins, pilgrims’ guides temporarily leave behind their regular jobs and professional titles to serve visitors of all nationalities. It is a solemn and blessed role that many Makkans inherited from their parents and grandparents.

The male and female guides find comfort and pleasure in serving pilgrims, despite the lack of financial reward. They consider their service an honor they are granted each year.

Dr. Talal Qutub, for example, normally works as an internal medicine consultant. He said that he has been blessed to serve pilgrims since early childhood, inheriting the job from his family. They cultivated within him the love of pilgrims and caring for them, from the moment they arrive in Makkah until they depart.

He said that there is a mutual love, appreciation and respect between pilgrims and their guides, and to the guides those feelings are like the oxygen they breathe.

Qutub stated started out in 1973 as an independent guide, before becoming a member of the board of directors of the Institution of Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides and then serving as its president for many years.

“I became the head of the coordinating body of the institutions of the sects’ leaders, during which I was able to complete my studies in medicine and obtain my Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree in Pakistan without interruption to the service of pilgrims,” he said. “Then I joined Saudi Airlines as a doctor in medical services and became general manager of the medical services.

“I was practicing my profession as a doctor and obtained a doctorate in the field of the digestive system and liver while studying Austria, but continued serving pilgrims during my studies there by coming to the Kingdom during the pilgrimage season.”

He said that serving pilgrims is an important part of his life and he could not give it up. It is also a calling that he has passed on to the next generation.

“My son, Dr. Hadi, has inherited the profession from me,” he said. “He is a digestive and liver disease consultant, and a member of the board of directors of the Institution of the Iranian Pilgrims’ Guides.”

Guide Ahmed Halabi, a journalist who specializes in pilgrimage services, said: “Pilgrimage guidance has been linked since its inception in 683 AH/1284 AD to providing special services to the pilgrims of the sacred house of God, including reception, circumambulation and supplications.

“This is what Al-Qasim Bin Youssef Al-Sabti refers to in his book ‘The Beneficiary of Expedition and Expatriation.’ He quotes the traveler Ibn Rashid, who performed pilgrimage in 683 AH/1284 AD: ‘The people of Makkah and their children receive pilgrims and teach them rituals. They train their boys on that, so they teach pilgrims prayers and supplications.’”

Halabi added: “We find many guides who have inherited the profession from their fathers and grandfathers, and are proud of it because it was limited to the judges and scholars in the beginning.”

He said that beautiful words of praise and gratitude increase the sense of pride that guides take in their work. Swiss traveler and historian Jean Louis Burckhardt, for example, said: “The guides are the leaders of the pilgrims during the rituals of pilgrimage and while visiting the holy places in the Prophet’s city.”

In his book ‘The Gentle Pleasures in the Mind of the Pilgrim to the Holiest Place,’ Shakib Arslan wrote: “There are two groups in the honorable Hejaz that visitors of Hijaz need and must have a relationship with: Guides in Makkah and Madinah.”

Lady Evelyn Cobbold, a convert to Islam who in 1933 became the first British Muslim woman to perform Hajj, describes in her book “Pilgrimage to Mecca” the details of her visit.

“Time will not erase from my mind and my memory the scenes that I saw in Mecca and Medina, and the strength of faith, beauty of loyalty, and love of good, for both people and enemies alike, which I felt in the Holy Land,” she wrote.

A number of prominent people have served as guides through the years.

“There are many personalities,” said Halabi. “Perhaps the most prominent of them is Dr. Hamid Al-Harsani, who held the position of Minister of Health during the period from (1961 to 1962). He was not only a guide but a leader of guides.

“There was also the late Sheikh Saleh Kamel. His family worked in guidance and his father worked in the Cabinet Office, but he was keen to attend the pilgrimage season to serve the pilgrims coming from Africa. Their office was located in Al-Shabika.”

Faten Hussein, a reporter and specialist in pilgrimage guidance, said the job of guide is inherited by many Makkans by virtue of their proximity to the Holy Sites, their close relationship with the pilgrims, and knowledge of their languages and culture.

She that many begin their work as guides at a very young age, and that the most important thing that distinguishes them is their moral values. A spirit of sacrifice and unlimited benevolence in serving the needs of pilgrims have instilled in them a unique religious identity built on strong belief. They are religious role models for pilgrims, she added.

However, as times have changed, and the number of pilgrims has increased dramatically, so too has the nature of the relationship between guide and pilgrim. What was once a close, almost familial relationship, is now, by necessity, more businesslike.

“Pilgrimage guidance was initially an individual profession, in the sense that the individual and his family carried the burdens and responsibilities of guidance, from the pilgrims’ arrival in Makkah until they departed,” said Hussein.

“But the increase in the number of pilgrims (created a lot of challenges) in performing the profession as it was based on randomness and personal diligence and the individual’s ability to perform all tasks with the required accuracy. This situation led to the emergence of the guidance institutions in (1982), which are based on organized, collective work to intensify efforts and unify procedures to upgrade the services provided to the pilgrims.

“But this in turn led to a cooling in the relationship between pilgrims and guides because pilgrims were placed in distant residences completely separate from the residences of guides and their families, which formed barriers in communication and human relations and led to the shrinking or fading of the close relationship that used to exist between them in the past.”

In the old days, Hussein said, pilgrims and their families used to spend six months or more in Makkah. Female guides worked in roles such as reception and hospitality, preparing locations, accompanying female pilgrims to the holy places, looking after their valuables, providing health care or religious awareness, and even caring for their children.

“In recent years, female guides have worked in a more advanced way and performed high-quality services for female pilgrims,” she said. “Cultural- and religious-awareness meetings are provided for female pilgrims, the content of which is determined according to the needs of the targeted groups. Female guides are also trained in the art of dealing with female pilgrims, the art of speech, and in first aid and other courses.”

Sami Al-Muabber, the chief of Russeifa neighborhood in Makkah, recalled the relationship that developed between guides and pilgrims in years gone by, from their arrival on ships until their departure after spending six or seven months among Makkans. He compared the moment of parting with saying farewell to close family members.

He also highlighted the important role played by the women of Makkah, even many years ago, who went to extraordinary lengths to provide first-class hospitality, from preparing delicious meals to sewing clothes.

Al-Muabber said that pilgrims in the past would spend more time in Makkah and Madinah than in their home countries. As a result, they learned Arabic and taught others their mother tongues. This had a social impact on the way of life of Makkans, who treated the pilgrims as part of their families and essential partners in the social life of the city.

Pilgrims used to arrive at the beginning of the month of Rajab by “Babur” (ship), he added, and stay until Safar, seven months later, which gave plenty of time for them to integrate with Makkans. Pilgrims lived in the homes of their guides. The owner would vacate most of the house, keeping only a room on the roof for himself and his family, with a space in front of it.

The joy of the pilgrims’ arrival was similar to the arrival of Eid, said Al-Muabber. A great feast, called hospitality, was laid on for them, to which all the people of the neighborhood were invited. He added that Makkans would compete with each other to offer hospitality to pilgrims, who would stay, eat and drink as guests of God.

Makkan women shared the same divine rewards as male guides, he said, because they took care of their visitors, accompanied female pilgrims to textile stores and bought them what they needed, and sewed their clothes. Female pilgrims would also buy eyeliners, incense and framed pictures of Makkah and Madinah. Makkan women used to help female pilgrims choose their clothes and prayer mat. Such was the closeness of the relationship that developed over many months between pilgrim and guide, saying goodbye was painful.

“It was like saying goodbye to a family member,” said Al-Muabber. The visitors, he added, became part of the family, sharing moments of happiness and sadness.

Nowadays, the high number of pilgrims and the ways in which the wider world has changed mean that they do not get to know the Makkans in such a deep and meaningful way. Some pilgrims now arrive on the Day of Arafah and leave soon after. They no longer have the opportunity to share with the people of Makkah the beauty of meeting and getting to know each other, or create memories together that will last a lifetime.

Al-Muabber pointed out that at the beginning of the reign of King Saud the number of pilgrims was about 200,000; now there more than two million each year, and they spend much less time in Saudi Arabia. With such sweeping changes, the days when pilgrims and locals could meet, spend time together and form deep bonds that lasted a lifetime are long gone.

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Saudi Arabia: Hajj 2020 to be held with limited number of pilgrims

22/06/20

Pilgrims arrive in Mina during Hajj in 2019. (AFP/File)
  • Decision taken due to the ongoing threat from the coronavirus pandemic
  • Pilgrims will come from various nationalities who already reside in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Hajj will go ahead next month but with a “very limited” number of pilgrims allowed to take part, Saudi Arabia said on Monday.

The decision was taken due to the ongoing threat from the coronavirus pandemic and to preserve “global public health,” the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said.

Pilgrims taking part will be from various nationalities who already reside in Saudi Arabia.

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issued by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah regarding Hajj of 2020

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About 2.5 million pilgrims performed Hajj last year but the ongoing scale and spread of COVID-19 worldwide means people will not be able to travel to the Kingdom to take part.

The ministry said the decision had been made “in light of continuation of the pandemic and the risks of Coronavirus spreading in crowded spaces and large gatherings.”

The statement said: “A very limited number of pilgrims from various nationalities who already reside in Saudi Arabia, would be able to perform it.

Pilgrims travel to Mount Arafat on the second day of Hajj last year. (Arab News/ Ali Khamg)

“This decision is taken to ensure Hajj is performed in a safe manner from a public health perspective while observing all preventative measures and the necessary social distancing protocols.”

Last year, more than 1.8 million pilgrims traveled to Saudi Arabia from abroad to take part. The Hajj ministry said this year the risk of transmitting the disease between countries and the increase in infections globally meant the risk was too high.

The ministry said Saudi Arabia’s top priority is to always enable Muslim pilgrims can  perform Hajj and Umrah safely and securely.

The Council of Senior Scholars said on Monday it supported what the Kingdom’s decision to limit the number of pilgrims in order to preserve their health and safety.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Awqaf, Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, said that in light of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, his country also supports the Kingdom’s decision to limit the number of pilgrims, based on nationalities as well.

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Startup of the Week: Offering quality mementos, souvenirs representing the spirit of Two Holy Cities

Time: 14 April, 2020

Photo/Supplied
  • Located in Jeddah, Salam Gifts aspires to reach out internationally to the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia receives millions of foreign pilgrims every year for Hajj and Umrah and many return home bearing gifts for their families and friends.
Salam Gifts (@salamksa) is a Saudi startup that aims its products at the tourist and pilgrim markets with a range of quality mementos and souvenirs that represent the spirit of Makkah and Madinah.
Driven by a passion for design and creativity as well as dissatisfaction with the Kingdom’s Islamic souvenir market, Mahmoud Naseem (@mahmoudnaseem) founded Salam Gifts with the aim of enriching the bond between Muslims and their Islamic culture through products with a unique contemporary design.
The company is named after the word “peace” in Arabic and its products are designed to remind customers of special memories while reflecting on the peacefulness of Islam as a religion and the two holy cities.
“It is also a part of our daily greeting, assalamo alaykum, which is a widely used word even by non-Muslims,” CEO Naseem told Arab News.
The 34-year-old Saudi entrepreneur said that 95 percent of the souvenir market for pilgrims consisted of unorganized shops that offered low-quality goods. “We belong to the 5 percent who are trying to bring Islamic heritage and souvenirs in a funky casual way to be part of users’ daily life.”
Salam Gifts offers a wide range of products to all ages and genders at affordable prices, with most products costing less than SR100 ($27).
Inspired by the sights and scenes of Makkah and Madinah, the venture’s design range includes prayer mats and beads, bracelets, necklaces, bags, keychains, and magnets.
“We offer products with unique design, good quality and affordable price — these are the main factors that distinguish us from competitors,” Naseem added.
The startup is looking to expand its product range with fashion, perfume, dates and luxurious jewelry items and although focused mainly on spiritual tourism it is also working on other products for tourists reflecting Saudi Arabia’s culture and heritage.
“We were criticized when we first began in 2017, because the market depends on cheap merchandise, but we wanted to prove the high potential of our products and offer something that we believe is appropriate to represent this country and these holy places,” he said.
Located in Jeddah, Salam Gifts aspires to reach out internationally to the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. “We are not targeting Saudis or people coming to Saudi Arabia, our focus is much wider and we know that there is a high demand for such products in the international market, especially in places with large Muslim communities such as Malaysia and the UK.”
Naseem and his two partners, Loai and Iyad Naseem, hope to open 20 branches around the Kingdom and internationally within the coming years.

“We believe we are still in our beginning stages, and we have to continue being creative and patient.
“People are looking for innovative and unique products … we noticed that our targeted customers are extremely satisfied with our products — we always receive encouraging comments,” added Naseem.
As a new local brand in a huge market, Salam Gifts faced challenges regarding the local manufacture of its goods and store rental prices.
“We do our best to support local factories, but it is not always available in the quality and price range we need. Although we try, we currently cannot manufacture all of the products 100 percent in Saudi Arabia. Rents are extremely high in holy areas too,” he said.
80 percent of the company’s sales are online, but its products are also available at Virgin Megastores and other concept outlets throughout the Kingdom, as well as at airports, and the opening of an independent store in Madinah is in the pipeline.
Products are available at salamgifts.sa, as well as other platforms such as Dokkan Afkar and shipments can be made worldwide.

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Saudi Hajj Ministry widens plans for Egypt, Sudan pilgrims

14/12/19

Agreement signed with the Sudanese delegation
Saudi Hajj minister Mohammed Salih Bentin signs agreement with a member of the Sudanese delegation. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Hajj ministry has signed agreements with Egypt and Sudan

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has signed agreements with Egypt and Sudan in preparation for next year’s Hajj season.
Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Mohammed Salih Bentin, met Maj. Gen. Ashraf Muslim Gawish, Egypt’s assistant minister of interior and head of pilgrims affairs, and Nasreddine Mufreh Ahmed, Sudan’s minister of religious affairs and endowments, on Thursday to discuss Egyptian and Sudanese pilgrims’ requirements.
The meeting was also attended by the Kingdom’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, and several officials.
Under the agreements, the arrival and needs of pilgrims from Egypt and Sudan will be overseen by service agencies as part of the pilgrims services system.

This article was first published in Arab News

If you want more interesting news or videos of this website click on this link  Arab News Home