Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, holds immense significance that transcends national borders. It is an act of solidarity that breaks down barriers. Last year, after a two-year break due to the onslaught of the pandemic, Indian pilgrims were able to go for Hajj. However, a limited quota was assigned by Saudi Arabia amid the pandemic’s precautionary restrictions. This year, with the world moving to normalcy, India’s Hajj quota was restored to its pre-Covid levels, giving many pilgrims the opportunity to perform the holy pilgrimage.
In the past, and as late as the early decades of the last century, few people were able to make their way to Makkah for the pilgrimage. With modern trains, flights, and smooth highways, the journey to Hajj has become smooth and convenient. We are continuously looking to establish state-of-the-art airports, seaports, roads, accommodations, and various other facilities and services to enhance the experience of the pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia is currently building a new 72-km long Mecca-Jeddah highway, which aims to serve 30 million Umrah pilgrims annually. In the last 40 years alone, the country has invested billions of dollars in enlarging the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s (SAW) Mosque in Madinah.
The Kingdom regards it as a privilege to serve the Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, owing to which we devote considerable human resources and financial means to ensure the pilgrimage is conducted with utmost excellence. This year, Saudi Arabia is deploying a record number of staff members and volunteers to help millions of pilgrims. This is part of the largest-ever Hajj operation plan, which was unveiled recently.
Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, we are implementing paradigm shifts, which will positively impact not just the economy but the society at large. Further, the focus is also on increasing efficiency, ease and convenience. As part of Saudi Arabia’s Pilgrim Experience Programme, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 initiatives, the Ministry of Interior is proceeding with the Mecca Route initiative, which enables pilgrims to complete the necessary travel procedures within their own countries. This includes the issuance of visas, customs and passport procedures.
The Kingdom also pays immense attention to health and is keen to raise the health awareness of not just its citizens and residents, but also its visitors. Health control centres are hence being set up at the ports of entry which will provide preventive and curative services during the Hajj season.
Bringing together people from different corners of the globe, Hajj is also an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange, dialogue, and understanding. Harnessing its digital power, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched the “Proclaim to the People” initiative which is being used as a hashtag in all social media posts. Under this, the ministry is regularly uploading videos on social media to guide and help pilgrims with the etiquette and rituals of Hajj.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and India has experienced a notable evolution in recent years. The strong bond between the two nations is deeply rooted in our shared cultural and civilisational heritage. The Kingdom and India hold a profound mutual respect and appreciation, creating ample opportunities for collaboration and partnership. The diplomatic visits made by leaders from both countries have further solidified and strengthened these ties.
The journey of Hajj is of paramount importance, serving as a unifying force that strengthens the global community and promotes peace, harmony, and mutual respect among all mankind. It is a journey that encompasses social and cultural dimensions, fostering a sense of unity and equality among individuals of diverse backgrounds.
I had the privilege to flag off the first batch of Indian pilgrims from Indira Gandhi International Airport on May 21 in the presence of the Minister of State for External Affairs of India, Meenakshi Lekhi, and officials from the Delhi State Haj Committee. I wish the pilgrims from India a blessed Hajj and a safe journey.