MAKKAH – Finalizing expansion work in the holy shrines, Saudi Arabia approved earlier this week a 40 percent increase in the number of pilgrims who could perform the life-time journey of hajj this year.
“The cabinet, following directives from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, approved increasing the number of pilgrims living in Saudi Arabia and abroad in accordance with the regulations,” Adel Al Turaifi, the culture and information minister, said following the meeting of the ministers on Monday, Gulf News reported on Tuesday, January 10.
Last year, 1,862,909 Muslims officially performed hajj in and around Makkah in western Saudi Arabia.
The 800,000 increase, about 42 percent increase, will bring the total number of pilgrims to 2.6 million.
The announcement follows a report last week which said that Saudi Arabia would increase the number of people who could perform hajj this year “as the holy sites are now better prepared to receive more pilgrims”.
The increase is the first since a decision in 2013 reduced hajj quota by 20 per cent for each country as extension work at the Grand Mosque in Makkah restricted the available areas and overcrowded them.
After new expansions, the Grand Mosque could accommodate 48,000 pilgrims per hour. The number was reduced to 20,000 per hour over the past three years due to construction works.
Muslims from around the world pour to Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
A new Haj quota has been imposed on Saudis and all foreigners who lived in the kingdom, reducing their numbers by 50 per cent. The authorities banned anyone from performing Haj more than once in five years.
Every Muslim country has a hajj quota of 1,000 pilgrims per million inhabitants and the biggest contingent comes from Indonesia.