ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia would increase Pakistan’s quota of pilgrims for next year's Hajj pilgrimage to almost 180,000, as the kingdom seeks to revive the old Hajj quota of countries around the world to pre-pandemic levels, a senior official of Pakistan’s religion ministry confirmed on Wednesday.
The Hajj is a spiritual journey that every Muslim adult must undertake once in his lifetime, to the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, if he is financially and physically able to do so. It is one of the important five pillars of Islamic faith.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 local residents. Last year, the kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-coronavirus pandemic figure of 2.5 million.
For this year’s Hajj, Saudi Arabia allowed 1 million people from both within and outside the kingdom to perform the pilgrimage. These included 83,132 Pakistani pilgrims.
Secretary Religious Affairs, Aftab Akbar Durrani, told Arab News that Pakistan received a “verbal intimation” last week from a Saudi delegation, in a virtual meeting, that Pakistan's quota for Hajj pilgrims would be increased.
The Saudi delegation was led by Dr. Abdulfattah bin Sulaiman Mashat, Saudi deputy minister for Hajj and Umrah.
“They [Saudi officials] have informed us that they are reviving the old Hajj quota for the whole world including Pakistan,” Durrani said.
After the revival of the pre-coronavirus Hajj quota, over 179,210 Pakistanis would be able to perform the pilgrimage next year, he said. However, Durrani added that Pakistan is yet to receive written confirmation from the Saudi authorities.
“The written agreement will be signed in this regard with the Saudi government during a Hajj conference which is taking place next month on January 9 in Jeddah,” Durrani said.
Durrani added that either Pakistan’s religious affairs minister or he would represent Pakistan at the conference where all Hajj-related details would be finalized with the kingdom’s officials.
“We are also trying to reduce Hajj expenses for pilgrims which will also be finalized during the visit,” the official added.