Saudi Arabia receives first foreign pilgrims in 7 months

02/11/20

Mohammed Saleh Benten (2nd-L), Minister of Hajj and Umrah, welcomes Pakistani travellers arriving in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah on Sunday. (AFP)

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10k foreign pilgrims arrive on first day of Umrah resumption

01/11/20

As per protocol, 500 groups of international pilgrims are dispersed throughout the day, each with 20 pilgrims. (SPA/file)

They can stay for up to 10 days, three of which are in isolation
MAKKAH: Some 10,000 international pilgrims are arriving in Saudi Arabia after a seven-month hiatus to perform Umrah and visit the Prophet’s mosque on the first day of the third stage of the resumption of Umrah.

According to Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, the 10,000 pilgrims arriving from abroad must first obtain a permit. Upon arrival, pilgrims must isolate for three days before being transported to Miqat sites, principle boundaries at which pilgrims intending to perform Umrah must change into Ihrams.
They can stay in the Kingdom for up to 10 days, three of which are in isolation. As per protocol, 500 groups of international pilgrims are dispersed throughout the day, each with 20 pilgrims. The maximum age limit for international pilgrims is set at 50.
The deputy minister added that countries are subject to continuous evaluation by the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the Ministry of Health as part of the government’s approved standards and protocols. Visas for pilgrims arriving from countries that are seeing a noticeable increase in numbers will be placed on hold until further assessment.

FASTFACT
More than 1.4 million are using the Eatmarna app as downloads near 3 million. One million permits have been issued for performing prayers and Umrah.

With the start of the third stage, the holy mosques will be working at 100 percent operation, a pivotal stage for companies in the sector. Al-Maddah added that if at any stage there is a cause for concern or danger to pilgrims, the ministry will evaluate the situation and return to previous stages and decrease capacity.
Currently, Saudia is the only certified airline allowed to transport pilgrims to and from the Kingdom. Pilgrims arriving from countries from which the carrier does not operate must arrange through a third party, accounted for by the Kingdom.
Pilgrims must have a health guide provided by Umrah companies to monitor each group throughout their visit. Pilgrims must also have full health insurance that includes emergency treatment if infected and a possible PCR test.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Around 10,000 foreign pilgrims per week expected for Umrah

26/10/20

  • Pilgrims arriving from abroad will be divided into groups of at least 50 pilgrims

MAKKAH: November will bring relief for the more than 500 Umrah companies in the Kingdom that have been badly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has laid out the guidelines for receiving pilgrims from outside the Kingdom, to be applied from Nov. 1, in its phased resumption of Umrah services.
And now Saudia airline has announced the reopening of 33 travel destinations, most of which are green countries where COVID-19 is not spreading and preventive measures are being successfully implemented.
Ahmed Bajaifer, an investor in Umrah companies, said that an estimated 10,000 pilgrims will arrive each week in Saudi Arabia, adding that the Umrah companies can easily handle this number while applying preventive measures.
The ministry will only allow pilgrims between 18 and 50 years old to come for Umrah, in line with the requirements of the Ministry of Health. They must present a PCR test certificate proving that they have tested negative for COVID-19. The certificate must be issued by a trusted laboratory in the pilgrim’s country no more than 72 hours before departure.

HIGHLIGHT

Pilgrims must book their Umrah and prayers at the Two Holy Mosques, including visits to the Prophet’s Mosque and prayers in the Prophet’s Chamber. All bookings can be done through the Eatmarna app.

Pilgrims must book their Umrah and prayers at the Two Holy Mosques, including visits to the Prophet’s Mosque and prayers in the Prophet’s Chamber. All bookings can be done through the Eatmarna app.
They are also required to have confirmed return flights that suit their Umrah programs.
The mandatory components of the service package for each pilgrim include booking accommodation that provides three full-board meals for the quarantine period, which should be at least three days, and transport from the port to the accommodation. They must also have a comprehensive insurance policy.
Pilgrims arriving from abroad will be divided into groups of at least 50 pilgrims. Unified programs must be booked for the groups, including all services that match the date of their booking to perform Umrah and visit the Two Holy Mosques.
A guide will be appointed for each group, and the Saudi agent will be obliged to provide the contracted service packages.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season

17/10/20

The efforts exerted by the government to ensure a hassle-free Hajj and the facilities provided to pilgrims at different levels were highly praised, most notably the health precautions of social distancing and adhering to health requirements. (SPA)

Kingdom harnesses all its potential to make pilgrims feel at home, prioritizing their safety: Muhammad Saleh Benten
JEDDAH: The Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry has shared some of the secrets behind what made the “exceptional” 2020 Hajj season a success, with zero transmitted cases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said that the government utilized the latest technology to improve the pilgrim experience this season.
Speaking about his ministry’s efforts in preventing the spread of COVID-19, Benten said that it implemented precautionary measures in every phase of the pilgrimage, starting with the pilgrims being quarantined at home.
It also introduced institutional quarantine from the fourth to the eighth day of the Hajj, gave pilgrims electronic bracelets and enforced social distancing.
“For the second consecutive year, the ministry used the electronic platform through the ‘smart card’ application, taking into account the pilgrims’ special needs in terms of the journey’s organization and management,” he said. “The platform is a digital ID granted to the pilgrim that is directly linked with the ‘Smart Hajj’ application supervised by the ministry.”
He added that the digital ID contains the pilgrims’ personal, health and housing information, such as the numbers of their group, and which bus seat and bed has been allocated to them.
“It also enables pilgrims to know their special program, gathering points and times of departure. Moreover, the ministry registered pilgrims electronically by using an interactive platform that links 52 systems and is complemented by 30 governmental and nongovernmental bodies,” he added.
Relying on those services, the minister said, came as part of the ministry’s strategy to establish virtual platforms that reduce procedures, and keep pace with the technical development required to achieve the Saudi Vision 2030 goal to serve pilgrims.
With every Hajj season having its own challenges, the Hajj and Umrah Ministry has enjoyed success after success. However, the 2020 season put the ministry to an unprecedented test.
“As every year, Saudi Arabia harnesses all its potential and energies to make the Hajj season a success, prioritizing the safety and security of the pilgrims.

FASTFACTS
• When Saudi Arabia took the decision to hold Hajj for a limited number of people, it was keen to comply with all health and precautionary measures.

• This step was taken based on scientific decisions and thorough research studies that would ensure that pilgrims can perform Hajj rituals safely.

• The ministry and all Hajj-related authorities have learned many lessons from the last Hajj experience, where social distancing was implemented.

“However, last year’s Hajj was a little different with the whole world facing the COVID-19 outbreak. During the 2020 Hajj season, the Saudi government faced a rare and unprecedented challenge, and thanks to God, the Kingdom was able to address it,” he said.
He added: “When Saudi Arabia took the decision to hold Hajj for a limited number of people, it was keen to comply with all health and precautionary measures. This step was taken based on scientific decisions and thorough research studies that would ensure that pilgrims could perform Hajj rituals safely.”
He said that the efforts exerted by the Saudi government in this regard and the various facilities provided to pilgrims at different levels were highly praised, most notably the health precautions of social distancing and adhering to health requirements.
The ministry and all Hajj-related authorities have learned many lessons from the last Hajj experience, where social distancing was implemented. The minister shed light on the most notable lessons, and how they can benefit future seasons.
“The ministry implemented social distancing protocols in all phases of the pilgrims moving between the holy sites through limiting the seating capacity of buses to 50 percent,” said Benten.
As for the residence of pilgrims, officials conducted tests for all pilgrims and workers and assigned health observers to ensure guidelines were maintained.
He added: “Moreover, 49-seat buses were assigned to each group of 22 passengers, and Hajj routes were fixed in a way to achieve social distancing. These measures resulted in zero transmission of COVID-19 between pilgrims and their service providers.”
As many government officials have said in the past, preparations for the next Hajj season begin as soon as the previous iteration ends.
One of the advantages of the extraordinary 2020 season was that the ministry could accelerate projects in the holy sites.
Benten told Arab News that his ministry works every year on developing the services provided for pilgrims, to enrich their experience through providing diverse programs and initiatives.
“The ministry always benefits from the accumulated experiences, large-scale projects and personnel to provide the finest services with the best levels for pilgrims,” he said. “One of those initiatives that benefited the ministry, which will continue to implement it in the future, is the preparation and improvement of the holy sites, the preparation of a comprehensive scheme to expand the capacity and receive the largest number of pilgrims in order to achieve comfort, security, safety and environmental dimensions, reduce pollution and study spatial dimensions.”
He added that the ministry aims for a record time reception of pilgrims through the unified center to analyze data, enhancing crowd control efficiency and rapid intervention, reducing time to organize pilgrims, and distributing them equally.
The Hajj and Umrah companies have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; with some failing to meet their obligations towards their employees.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has provided a myriad of facilities to these companies since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic through developing work and encouraging mergers and investments in Umrah companies,” Benten said.
He added that the ministry has also contributed to reducing the value of financial security for nondefaulting active Umrah companies to SR250,000 ($66,666) for six months.
“The ministry also authorized Umrah companies to reduce their capital in the commercial register to SR500,000 ($133,332), close their doors for one year, and postpone payment of nonessential violations for six months,” said Benten.
The ministry launched the business clinics unit, which is one of its programs aimed at helping companies review their mechanisms and operational plans.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will also be organizing many workshops and training programs for Umrah companies on strategies to recover from the COVID-19 crisis and the means of developing their business with efficiency,” he concluded.

This article was first published in Arab News

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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.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia: Requests from 160 nationalities have been screened to select Hajj pilgrims

12/07/20

Requests from people of 160 nationalities in the Kingdom have been screened electronically to select who will perform Hajj this year. (File/AFP)

Of the pilgrims who will receive approval, 70 percent will be non-Saudis and 30 percent will be Saudi citizens
The requests were sorted in accordance with high standards that will ensure the safety and health of pilgrims
RIYADH: Requests from people of 160 nationalities in the Kingdom have been screened electronically to select who will perform Hajj this year, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said on Sunday.

The requests were sorted in accordance with high standards that will ensure the safety and good health of pilgrims.

The deadline for all applications was July 10 and the main criterion for selection is good health.

Of the pilgrims who will receive approval, 70 percent will be non-Saudis residing in the Kingdom and the remaining 30 percent will be Saudi citizens.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to enter the sites of Hajj (Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat) without a permit from Dhul Qadah 28 till the end of Dhu Al-Hijjah 12 will be issued with a fine of SR10,000.

The fine will be doubled if the offence is repeated. It added that security personnel will be posted on roads leading to the holy sites to ensure that anyone who breaks the law will be stopped and fined.

This article was first published in Arab News

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