Saudi Arabia to issue 10 million Umrah e-visas this year

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Saudi officials welcomed pilgrims arrived in Madinah on July 24, 2019. (SPA)
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The target number of pilgrims in 2021 will be 15 million, according to officials. (SPA) Saudi Arabia to issue 10 million Umrah e-visas this year
Updated 18 August 2019
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Saudi Arabia to issue 10 million Umrah e-visas this year

  • Pakistanis top list of pilgrims performing Umrah at 1.6 million this year
  • By 2021, target number of Umrah performers is 15 million: official

ISLAMABAD: The chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, said that as of Saturday, August 17, the ministry is seeking to issue 10 million visas for this year’s Umrah season.
The visas will be issued electronically without the need to visit embassies and consulates for the stamp, he said.
According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs Spokesman, Imran Siddiqui, Pakistanis top the list of pilgrims performing Umrah. “This year alone, more than 1.6 million Pakistanis performed Umrah,” Siddiqui said.
Last month, Saudi Arabia’s cabinet decided to allow millions of Umrah pilgrims to travel to other cities in the country, instead of being restricted to Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah.
“I believe this is another gift from the Kingdom. Now, any Pakistani who travels to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah can avail this opportunity to meet their family members and friends living in different parts of the Kingdom,” Siddiqui told Arab News last month after the Kingdom’s decision, and added that this would bring ease to Pakistani nationals who perform Umrah in the greatest numbers. 
By 2030, Al-Maddah said the ministry is seeking to issue Umrah visas for 30 million pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia had the capacity for these numbers, he said, and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah aims to remove obstacles for businesses offering services to pilgrims.
Al-Maddah said: “The target number of pilgrims in 1442 AH (2021) will be 15 million. The ministry is well-prepared for these cumulative numbers, and pilgrims now have several e-booking platforms that continue to increase and are no longer limited to external agents.”
“The central reservation platform is a reservation engine that serves as a link connecting all Umrah service providers, including housing, Umrah, reception, transport, experience enrichment, and cultural trips associated with online booking platforms like Agoda, Booking, Musafir and others.”
He added: “This way, the ministry ensures that all services are available to pilgrims inside and outside the Kingdom through the Internet and reliable websites, which pilgrims are accustomed to using when making their bookings. The ministry will ensure that all offers adhere to the set standards and regulatory requirements.”
Al-Maddah explained that this will also guarantee that the ministry receives the pilgrims’ correct information.
He said: “This is a mechanism through which the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah organizes the process of purchasing services and packages, which were previously purchased from tourist offices with insufficient information, through the Internet and with comprehensive surveillance.”
“Pilgrims will be provided with a reference number when they buy a package from these online platforms. This will allow them to obtain an e-visa without the need to visit embassies and consulates to get a stamp because their visas are now electronic, which has been prepared since the last month of the previous Hajj season.”
According to Al-Maddah, there are certain cases that will require pilgrims to visit embassies and consulates, but most applicants will complete their procedures electronically.
He explained that pilgrims will have to access online platforms such as Agoda, Booking, Holiday Inn or Maqam, and select the suitable package offered by tour operators and Umrah companies, or they can design their own program, including the time of arrival and the rest of the bookings and services. When completed, they can enter their data and online payment details to receive the reference number to obtain the e-visa immediately. 


Blasphemy accusation in Pakistan sparks ransacking of Hindu temple, school

Updated 16 September 2019

Blasphemy accusation in Pakistan sparks ransacking of Hindu temple, school

  • The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: A crowd in Pakistan ransacked a school and Hindu temple after a Hindu principal was accused of blasphemy, police said on Monday, the latest case to raise concern about the fate of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country.
The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy in comments about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The enraged crowd ransacked the school and damaged a nearby temple, a district police chief said.
The principal had been taken into protective custody and police were investigating both the alleged blasphemy and the rioters, he added.
“It seems the principal had not done anything intentionally,” the district police chief, Furrukh Ali, told Reuters.
Insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which is about 95 percent Muslim and has among the harshest blasphemy laws in the world.
No executions for blasphemy have been carried out in Pakistan but enraged mobs sometimes kill people accused of it.
Rights groups say the blasphemy law is often exploited by religious hard-liners as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle scores.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the weekend violence, footage of which was recorded in a video and circulated on social media. It called on authorities should take prompt action.
“The video ... is chilling: mob violence against a member of a religious minority is barbaric, unacceptable,” the commission said in a post on Twitter.
Hindus make up about 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population of 208 million, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.
In January, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of a Christian women who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy in a case that had drawn alarm from religious and human rights advocates.
In March, Pakistan’s government sacked a provincial minister for making offensive comments about Hindus as tension between Pakistan and Hindu-majority neighbor India ran high after a militant attack in the Indian-controlled portion of the contested Kashmir region.