Hajj Ministry hails success of tech-driven pilgrim tracking

How Saudi Arabia’s Mecca Route Initiative Made Asian Pilgrims’ Hajj Journey Easier

DHAKA/ISLAMABAD/JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR: Hundreds of thousands of Asian pilgrims perform Hajj in Islam’s holiest cities, many under the Mecca Route initiative, which offers them ease of travel and relief after two difficult years of pandemic.

One of the five pillars of the faith of Islam, the Hajj has been limited due to coronavirus fears to just 1,000 Saudis in 2020. In 2021, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, down from 2 .5 million before the pandemic.

But this year, having already lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions, Saudi Arabia is welcoming nearly 900,000 domestic and foreign pilgrims. About a third of foreigners arriving for Hajj come from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Indonesian pilgrims depart from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. (AFP)

These Asian countries, along with Morocco, are the five Muslim-majority countries where Saudi Arabia launched the Mecca Route initiative in 2019, allowing their nationals to meet all Hajj requirements at the place of departure and departure. save hours of waiting before and on arrival. , the kingdom.

Saudi immigration staff worked at major airports in those countries to help facilitate the travels of pilgrims, thousands of whom arrived wrapped in white robes to begin their hour-long journeys from remote parts of the world.

At the Bangladeshi capital’s Shah Jalal International Airport, dozens of Saudi officers worked around the clock to streamline the departure process for Bangladeshi travellers.

Bangladeshi pilgrims during pre-immigration procedures in Dhaka under the Makkah Route initiative. (Courtesy of the Saudi Embassy in Dhaka)

“It’s a new thing that has opened up a new horizon,” Saiful Islam, director of Dhaka’s Hajj office, told Arab News. “Our deepest gratitude to the Saudi authorities.”

The initiative includes visa issuance, customs and passport procedures, and facilitation of health requirements. This also involves transportation to Makkah and Madinah as well as baggage and accommodation arrangements.

For Mohammad Mozammel Huq, who was leaving Dhaka, the pre-immigration process went “very well”.

“We are very satisfied with the Hajj management system,” he said.

Huq has dreamed of doing Hajj since he saw his father embark on the Hajj decades ago. When the pandemic upended his plans in 2020, he wasn’t sure he’d get another chance.

“I am happy to be able to travel to the Kingdom this time,” he told Arab News as he and his wife completed the Mecca Route process. “It was my life’s dream.”

For the family of Rokeya Khatun Lata, a housewife traveling with four family members, the process was also very quick.

Bangladeshi pilgrim Rokeya Khatun Lata speaks to Arab News at Shah Jalal International Airport in Dhaka on June 26, 2022. (AN Photo)

“It took me less than 30 minutes to complete the immigration process,” she told Arab News. “I feel very happy from the start of the journey.”

Huq, Lata and their families are among 60,000 Bangladeshis arriving for the pilgrimage this year.

The number of people from another Muslim-majority South Asian country, Pakistan, is even higher, with 83,300 people set to perform the rituals, which include walking in a circle around the Kaaba, the site the holiest in Islam at the center of the Grand Mosque.

INNUMBERS

Foreigners who have obtained electronic visas for Hajj:

102,178 Indonesia

83,433 Pakistanis

80,772 India

60,354 Bangladeshi

45,201 Nigeria

45,086 Turkey

39,635 Iranians

22,189 Egypt

18,970 Algeria

Source: Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Those who departed from the Pakistani capital were received at a dedicated Makkah Route lounge at Islamabad International Airport.

“The arrangements at the airport are very good and we don’t face any difficulty during the whole process,” Muhammad Akhtar, a pilgrim who arrived in Islamabad from Faisalabad, told Arab News.

The first group of Hajj 2022 pilgrims from Pakistan arrive in Medina, Saudi Arabia on June 8, 2022 via a dedicated “Makkah Route” lounge at Islamabad Airport. (Provided)

“I applied for Hajj for the past four years and got the approval this year. I am grateful to Allah Almighty for granting me this opportunity.

Another Pakistani pilgrim, Lubna Asad, was grateful for the cooperation of Mecca Route staff.

“I am very happy and grateful to Saudi Arabia,” she said.

In the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, some were surprised at the welcoming attitude of Saudi officials, many of whom went the extra mile to welcome pilgrims in their native language. A total of 14,300 Malaysian pilgrims will make the Hajj journey this year.

Malaysian Hajj pilgrims go through pre-immigration procedures under the Makkah Route initiative at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on June 28, 2022. (AN Photo)

“We’re not even in Saudi Arabia yet, but I can feel the heat already. It’s very welcoming,” said Ariff Abdullah, who boarded a flight to Jeddah from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“I was joking with the guy at the immigration counter. He even knew a few Malay words!

The pre-immigration process allows pilgrims to focus on their spiritual journey, as all the practical aspects of it are taken care of.

“The Mecca Route is very convenient,” said Johar Yusof, another pilgrim departing from Kuala Lumpur. “I love it.”

Zainab Binti Awang, a wheelchair user accompanied by her sister, was relieved that with the Mecca Route, she would be spared the burden of regular departure and arrival procedures.

Malaysian Hajj pilgrims go through pre-immigration procedures under the Makkah Route initiative at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on June 28, 2022. (AN Photo)

“When we arrive in Jeddah, we are all cleared and there is no need to wait and queue for immigration there,” she said. “We can immediately take the bus and head to our hotel.”

Officers who assisted Abdullah, Yusof, Awang and many others at Kuala Lumpur airport told Arab News that it was an honor for them to be part of the Makkah Road initiative.

“The initiative aims to facilitate the immigration process for pilgrims to their home countries, including fingerprinting and finalizing entry (to Saudi Arabia) and delivering luggage to accommodation. of their choice on a very short notice,” said Sgt. Major Anas Muhammad, who arrived from Jeddah, told Arab News. “I am honored to participate in the Makkah Route initiative.”

Muhammad’s colleague, Sgt. Kholoud Al-Ahmadi, was happy to be able to help the Malaysian pilgrims.

“I am honored to be part of the Makkah Route initiative in Malaysia,” she said. “I am very happy to be part of this initiative, especially since this is my first time in Malaysia.”

In neighboring Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world, 100,000 pilgrims will fulfill their spiritual obligation this year.

Indonesian pilgrims pray upon arrival at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in June 2022. (Photo courtesy of Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs)

Many of these potential pilgrims had to spend long years on waiting lists. Although their country’s quota of pilgrims is still the highest, with a population of over 270 million, it takes time to facilitate them all.

Kamariah, a pilgrim from Aceh who waited for her turn for 12 years, could not find the words to describe how moved she was to be able to pray at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

“I don’t know how to express how happy I am to see the Kaaba,” she told Arab News. “I feel like I’ll never want to leave him again.”

Like other pilgrims, Kamariah prepared for the journey, especially spiritually.

“Before going to the holy land, we must already have cleansed our hearts,” she said. “We hope to become good Hajj pilgrims.”

Indonesian pilgrims prepare to depart from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on June 4, 2022. (Juni Kriswanto / AFP)

The Makkah Route program was available for Indonesians at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta.

Iis Nuraisah, who arrived in the capital from West Java province, said her departure from the airport was overseen by Saudi officials and the process was “very satisfactory”.

“It’s very nice, and it really helps to make things easier and faster so that we don’t have to go through checkpoints once we get to the holy land,” Nuraisah told Arab News.

“It certainly makes things easier. It is very useful for Hajj pilgrims.

Malaysian pilgrim Ariff Abdullah speaks to Arab News at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on June 28, 2022. (AN Photo)

To the satisfaction before departure is added the hospitality with which the pilgrims were received in the Kingdom.

“Whether it’s hotel service, food, laundry, store service or people, everyone has been friendly,” Amalia Sabrina, a doctor from Aceh who arrived in Saudi Arabia last month, told Arab News. last.

“My family and I have never ceased to express our gratitude to Allah, because we have been called this year to perform Hajj.”

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