Makkah is the holiest meeting site of the Islamic religion. Pilgrims undertaking Umrah must complete three rituals which symbolise the lives of the Prophet Ibrahim and his second wife Hajar. Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News

Manama: Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Ministry has extended Umrah season by one month in order to give more opportunities to Muslims to perform the ritual.

Under the extension, Umrah season will end on Shawwal 15 (July 10) instead of Ramadan 15 (June 10), the ministry said in a note dispatched to all Saudi companies and establishments involved in providing services related to Umrah.

Muslim pilgrims often perform Umrah during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, because the month is associated with pious and charitable activities.

Umrah and Haj seasons are regulated by authorities to ensure that the holy sites and hotels in Makkah and Madinah are able to accommodate the millions of visitors.

According to official figures, the Saudi authorities last year issued 6.4 million visas to Muslims to perform Umrah.

The figure was seven per cent higher than in 2015 when slightly less than six million visas were issued.

Egyptians topped the list in 2016 with 1,303,067 visas, a 17 per cent increase compared to 2015 figures.

Pakistanis came second with 991,337 visas, up by 287,024 in the previous year, and Indonesians were third with 699,612 visas, a 7.2 per cent increase compared to 2015.

The overall figures do not include nationals from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, who do not require visas to enter Saudi Arabia.

The GCC, established in 1981, is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.