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Saudi security forces guard worshippers arriving at the Grand Mosque in Mecca for the morning prayer on the first day of Eid on April 21. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: The number of Muslims going to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah or lesser pilgrimage and visitors has increased this year so far by 25 per cent compared to previous years, Saudi media quoted Interior Minister Abdul Aziz bin Saud as saying.

At a meeting with the ministry’s senior officials in Mecca, the minister expected the numbers to further increase in the next years. No specific figures were given.

“With the increase in numbers, there is an increase in professionalism, reliance on technology and attention to beforehand planning,” he said.

The meeting came after the end of Ramadan, which saw record numbers of Umrah pilgrims and worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

The Saudi Ministry of Umrah and Hajj said the Umrah season in Ramadan was successful.

Ramadan, which ended Thursday, usually marks the peak of Umrah season at the Grand Mosque.

The number of worshippers at the site reached more than 22 million in the first 20 days of this past Ramadan, according to official Saudi figures.

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In recent months, the kingdom has unveiled a host of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country to perform Umrah.

Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as the personal, visit and tourism visas are allowed to undertake Umrah and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is located at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudi authorities have also 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.

As part of facilities, Saudi Arabia has said its citizens can apply for visas inviting their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah.

The kingdom has also announced 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.

Millions of Muslims, who cannot afford the annual Hajj rituals physically or financially, flock to Saudi Arabia to undertake Umrah.