Saudi Arabia welcomed on Saturday its first group of Haj pilgrims since the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed the authorities to severely restrict the annual ritual.
The Indonesian group landed in the city of Madina and was scheduled to go south of Makkah in the weeks ahead in preparation for the Haj next month, according to state media.
Today we welcomed the first group of Indonesian pilgrims this year and flights will continue from Malaysia and India,’ said Mohammed al-Bijawi of the Ministry of Haj to the state-owned Al-Ekhbariya.
“Today we are glad to welcome God’s hosts from outside the kingdom after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic,” he said, calling Saudi Arabia “fully prepared” to welcome them.
Traditionally one of the biggest religious gatherings in the world, around 2.5 million people participated in the pilgrimage in 2019.
But after the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the Saudi authorities announced that they would only allow the participation of 1,000 pilgrims.
The following year, they expanded the total to 60,000 fully vaccinated Saudi citizens and residents selected through a lottery.
The exclusion of overseas pilgrims led to deep disappointment among Muslims all over the world, who generally save years to participate.
In April, the kingdom announced that it would allow a million Muslims from inside and outside the country to participate in this year’s Haj, which will be held in July.