Umrah seasons begins Sunday; 8,000 personnel ready to serve pilgrims

Makkah : The Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques is ready to receive more than six million pilgrims with the beginning of the new Umrah season next Sunday.

Sheikh Abdurahman Al-Sudais, head of the presidency, said that the presidency has completed all preparations and arrangements to implement its Umrah Plan of 1436. “The presidency has mobilized around 8,000 personnel, including women, in addition to cleaning staff to extend the best possible services to the pilgrims at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah during the Umrah season which will begin on Nov. 23 (Safar 1) and end on July 30 (Shawwal 14),” the Saudi Press Agency reported, quoting him as saying. Last year, a total of 6.15 million pilgrims from outside the Kingdom performed Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage.

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Al-Sudais said the presidency’s plan is aimed at realizing a number of goals, most import of which is extending all kinds of services and facilities to the Umrah pilgrims and visitors to the holy mosques. “All arrangements are well in place and the presidency is making the arrangements in coordination with the concerned government departments and security agencies, including the governorates of Makkah and Madinah. The presidency will also provide services with regard to enlightening pilgrims on the rituals of Umrah and the related religious topics,” he said. Al-Sudais said prominent Islamic scholars will deliver lectures on Islamic topics, Friday sermons at the holy mosques will be translated into different languages, including sign language for people with special needs, new arrangements have been made for visiting Al-Rawda Sharif and the grave of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah with three timings for women during day and night.

The presidency chief said that the arrangements also include increasing Zamzam drinking areas, providing wheelchairs for the disabled, and golf cart for carrying elderly pilgrims and worshipers. Al-Sudais said new arrangements have been made for entry to the Grand Mosque with the beginning of the third and final phase of the expansion of the mataf (circumambulation area around the Kaaba). The entry for worshipers from the western side will be through the ground floor of King Fahd expansion area and the entry from the eastern side will be through Al-Salam Gate in the basement area of masa (running area between Safa and Marwah). He said that all the floors of the first phase of mataf expansion will be open for pilgrims. Minister of Haj Bandar Hajjar has said the arrangements made during 2012 to restrict the number of pilgrims because of space constraints due to the ongoing expansion of the Grand Mosque will continue in the coming season also.

The ministry made 20 percent and 50 percent cuts in the number of foreign and domestic Haj pilgrims respectively while the period of Umrah visas was reduced from one month to 14 days. The e-tracking system is the major highlight of the e-regulations introduced by the ministry for Umrah service. The ministry is receiving Umrah visa applications through its global electronic network, which is linked directly to the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and other government agencies.