Manama: The number of foreign Muslims who arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj (pilgrimage) was 1,752,392, a Saudi official has said.
“The would-be pilgrims have come from 189 countries,” Prince Khalid Al Faisal, the governor of Makkah and the head of the central pilgrimage commission, said at a press conference.
However, Prince Khalid said that he was not aware of the total number of Saudi Arabia-based people, both Saudi nationals and expatriates, who would be performing Haj.
“I cannot give you the figure because, regretfully, there are many people who enter the Haj areas without licences or permits,” Prince Khalid said at the conference, wearing the plain white Ihram cloth required for the men performing Haj.
Saudi authorities have been facing a formidable task in dealing with would-be pilgrims arriving, knowingly or unintentionally, in the Haj areas without valid Haj permits.
Under Saudi rules, no-one, including Saudi nationals, can perform Haj without special permits given to Haj agencies or operators. However, thousands of people have been tricked by bogus agencies into paying them fees for fake permits or for promises that they would be allowed to enter Makkah without problems.
According to local Arabic daily Al Sharq, more than 80,000 people were this year denied entry to Makkah for holding fake permits.
“The authorities have seized 345 vehicles, including 33 buses for breaking the rules and carrying people without valid permits,” an official said. “We have discovered more than 1,700 fake permits.”
Figures indicate that the number of Saudi-based would-be pilgrims with proper documents is around 1.5 million people, taking the total number of men and women performing Haj to more than three million.
The rituals of the Haj started on Wednesday when the pilgrims spent the day in Mina, a tent city outside of Makkah.
On Thursday, they will move to Mount Arafat, also in the outskirts of Makkah, for a day of prayers and devotion. After sunset, they are to move to the nearby area of Muzdalifah before they go back to Makkah on Eid day.
They spend the next two or three days moving back and forth or staying in Mena for further prayers.
According to the Saudi interior ministry figures, men, with 951,806, made up 54 per cent of the total figure while the 801,126 women constituted 46 per cent.
Statistics indicated that 1,621,982 arrived by air, 113,020 on land and 17,930 by sea.
However, the interior minister said that the figures mean that the number of foreigners who arrived to perform Haj this year dropped by 77,968 (4 per cent) over last year.