Umrah pilgrims perform prayers around the Holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Image Credit: Courtesy: Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah

Cairo: Saudi Arabia has designated a circumambulation courtyard housing the Holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, Islam’s most sacred site, for Muslims performing Umrah or minor pilgrimage only.

The General Authority for Care of the Two Holy Mosques, in charge of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, said the move comes to ensure safety of pilgrims and enable them to perform their rites with ease and comfort.

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The state agency urged other worshippers to use designated places for prayers at the sprawling mosque. Muslims directs the Holy Kaaba in their prayers.

The move was unveiled in the lead-up to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when the Umrah season usually peaks. The fasting month of Ramadan, the ninth in the lunar Islamic calendar, is expected this year to begin on March 11.

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Muslims, who cannot physically or financially afford the annual Hajj pilgrimage, go to Saudi Arabia to undertake Umrah at the Grand Mosque.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has unveiled a slew of facilities for overseas Muslims to come to the country to perform Umrah. Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as personal, visit and tourist visas are allowed to undertake Umrah and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is located at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina after booking an e-appointment.

Saudi authorities have extended the Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets and leave from any airport. Women pilgrims are no longer required to be escorted by male guardians.

The kingdom has also said that expatriates residing in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are eligible to apply for a tourist visa, regardless of their profession, and be able to perform Umrah.