Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabian authorities had imposed sharp restriction on the annual Hajj pilgrimage owing to the Covid19 pandemic. This year they have opened their doors to allow pilgrims into the country. The first batch of Hajj pilgrims were welcomed by the country on Saturday.
The state media has reported that the group from Indonesia landed in the city of Medina, and will go to Makkah in the next weeks in preparation for the hajj that starts next month.
Mohammed al-Bijawi of the country's Hajj Ministry spoke to the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel and said, "Today we received the first group of this year's pilgrims from Indonesia, and the flights will continue from Malaysia and India".
He added that the country was "fully prepared" to accept them, "Today we are happy to receive the guests of God from outside the kingdom, after a two-year interruption due to the pandemic".
In 2019 about 2.5 million people attended Hajj which is usually one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. But after the outbreak began in 2020, Saudi officials announced that only 1,000 pilgrims would be allowed to attend.
The next year, they raised the number to 60,000 who were fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and resident selected by lot. It has caused great frustration among Muslims around the world that has been saving years to attend, as foreigners were not allowed to take part.
The country announced in April that it would allow one million Muslims from inside and outside the country to attend this year's Hajj in July.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam which must be undertaken by Muslims at least once in their lives, if they have the means. It is a series of religious ceremonies in the holy city of Makkah and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia that are completed over a period of five days.
It is a matter of honor for the Saudi rulers to host the Hajj as the custodianship of the holiest places of Islam is the strongest source of their political legitimacy.
Prior to the Pandemic, Muslim pilgrimages were the main source of income for the country, bringing in $ 12 billion a year, according to NDTV.
The Ministry of Hajj has announced that this year's pilgrimage will be restricted to Muslims under the age of 65, who are fully vaccinated.
Travelers from outside the country are required to apply for Hajj visas and submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test performed within 72 hours of travel.