Cairo: Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz has agreed to host 1,000 Muslims from all countries of the world in 2024 to perform Umrah or minor pilgrimage.
The invitations are made under an Umrah and Hajj programme named after the Saudi king and undertaken by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
The first group numbering 250 invitees started Thursday arriving in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi news agency SPA reported. They come from 14 Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdul Latif Al Sheikh said the 1,000 invitees will be prominent Islamic figures from around the world including scholars, clerics, influential personalities and university professors.
They will be hosted under the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Guests Programme to perform Umrah at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and offer prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina – both are Islam’s two holiest sites.
The Ministry is fully prepared to host the 1,000 pilgrims, another official said.
“Integrated itineraries have been readies and all preparations made to meet their needs,” the ministry’s undersecretary Awwad Al Enazi told Saudi Al Ekhbariya radio without giving details.
Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, has in recent months unveiled a host of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country for Umrah.
Visa holders are allowed to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets.
In yet a new facilitating step, Saudi Arabia has allowed its citizens to apply for inviting their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah. 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.