Umrah pilgrims pack the courtyard of the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the Friday noon prayers. Image Credit: The General authority for Care of the Two Holy Mosques

Cairo: The number of Muslim worshippers allowed to perform the Islamic ritual of Itikaf or seclusion at the Grand Mosque this Ramadan has doubled to reach 6,000, a Saudi official has said.

Itikaf means a Muslim stays at a mosque for the sole purpose of worshipping and coming closer to Allah, following the example of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

The ritual is usually performed in the final 10 days of the lunar month of Ramadan, which began in Saudi Arabia this year on March 11.

This year, authorities in charge of the Grand Mosque in Mecca have allocated three floors for the Itikaf performers, said Abdulmohsen Al Ghamdi, the head of the Guidance and Consulting Department at the mosque.

Compared to last year, the permitted number is two times higher at 6,000 including 1,000 women, he told Saudi TV Al Ekhbariya.

“Last year, the number was 3,000. But this year, directives and planning have brought about a 100% increase,” he added.

Registration for Itikaf at the Grand Mosque opened on the 7th of Ramadan corresponding to March 17.

The General Authority for Care of the Two Holy Mosques said registration will continue until the places designated for Itikaf at the mosque are filled.

Registration is conducted via the website of the state agency, which said the procedure is necessary for regular Itikaf and smooth worshipping in a “stable, spiritual atmosphere”.

Applicants must meet certain requirements. They have to consent to abidance by the pledges and regulations at the Grand Mosque, start Itikaf at a fixed time on Ramadan 20 and be at least 18 years old.