The first group of pilgrims, allowed in the mosque compound by appointment, practice social distancing, as they perform Umrah in the Grand Mosque, after Saudi authorities ease coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, October 3, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Cairo: The minimum age to be issued an official permit to undertake umrah or lesser pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is five years, the kingdom has said.

Millions of Muslims, who cannot afford the Hajj rituals physically or financially, annually flock to Saudi Arabia to perform umrah in the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah noted that the minimum age allowed to undertake Umrah is five years, but said children escorted by parents can have access to the Grand Mosque, which houses the Holy Kaaba.

“The minimum age to book an umrah permit is five years, provided that the child is not infected with or has been in touch with a Coronavirus patient,” the ministry said, according to Saudi news portal Ajel.

Saudi Arabia recently launched an electronic platform, designed to facilitate access to umrah services including visits to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The platform enables Muslims wishing to undertake umrah or visiting the holy sites to obtain the necessary visas and permits as well as to book related packages electronically.

In yet a new facilitating step, Saudi Arabia said earlier this month that its citizens can apply to invite their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake umrah.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said citizens can apply for the personal visit visa via its e-visa platform, allowing the holder to perform umrah and move across the kingdom including the religious and historical sites.