Explained: How to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah this Ramadan

Explained: How to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah this Ramadan
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Muslim worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in Makkah's Grand Mosque con April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2021

Explained: How to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah this Ramadan

Explained: How to visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah this Ramadan
  • Dr. Amr Al-Maddah of Ministry of Hajj & Umrah addresses frequently answered questions about the ritual
  • Operational capacity of Grand Mosque is determined on the basis of Health Ministry COVID-19 measures

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced guidelines for issuing Umrah and prayer permits for the month of Ramadan. Vaccinations are at the top of the priority list, with no worshippers allowed into either Makkah’s Grand Mosque or the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah without having received at least one dose of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

Additionally, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance has highlighted the need to follow all precautionary measures to ensure the safety, health and security of those visiting the two holy mosques. Millions of worshippers have visited the mosques while wearing masks and maintaining physical distance since a seven-month suspension of prayers and Umrah was lifted last October.

An estimated 1.5 million worshippers have been to the Grand Mosque in the first 10 days of Ramadan alone. In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, deputy minister for Hajj and Umrah services at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, answered all possible questions of pilgrims and worshippers who wish to perform the Islamic ritual this Ramadan.

What is the operational capacity of Makkah’s Grand Mosque?

The Grand Mosque can welcome up to 50,000 pilgrims and 100,000 worshippers every day.

Are pilgrims from outside the Kingdom allowed to perform the Umrah during Ramadan?

Yes, pilgrims from several countries will be performing the Umrah.

Do the same health requirements apply to domestic and foreign pilgrims and worshippers?

A royal decree issued on Aug. 20, 2020, stated that all those wishing to enter the Grand Mosque are required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Visitors and pilgrims coming from abroad must hold certificates that show they have been vaccinated.

Are there any acceptable vaccines other than the ones approved by Saudi Arabia, notably the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots?

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah operates based on the approved vaccines and reports of the Ministry of Health. The vaccine approval process is regularly updated on the basis of the reports provided by the health ministry.

The ministry’s assessment process takes into consideration the World Health Organization’s evaluation, the evaluation of the risks of new vaccines and the health ministry’s evaluation of the effectiveness of these vaccines.

As a service provider, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah totally depends on the information it receives from the government bodies capable of evaluating the vaccines and their efficacy. While the health certificate of every country follows a specific system, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah handles the matter based on the input from the health ministry and issues permits accordingly.




Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, deputy minister for Hajj and Umrah services. (Supplied)

How is the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah dealing with pilgrims from countries experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases?

The Kingdom has stopped flights from the countries from which entry for Umrah or any other purpose has been halted due to the rising number of coronavirus cases.

Flights from other countries have not been suspended despite an increase in coronavirus cases there because vaccines can prevent the transmission of the virus, mitigate the pandemic’s impacts and reduce the possibility of spreading the virus to other people. If the incoming pilgrim has already received a COVID-19 vaccine, the risk is assumed to be much lower.

How does a pilgrim’s journey go from the moment of arrival in Saudi Arabia to completion of the Umrah?

It is important to bear in mind that the operational capacity of the Grand Mosque is predetermined on the basis of the preventive measures adopted by the Ministry of Health. A pilgrim’s spot can be reserved using the Eatmarna app and the Tawakkalna app. Once a spot has been reserved, an entry permit is issued to the worshipper or pilgrim, who can show credentials to a reception center.

At the reception center, the date and validity of the permit are checked and the immunization status of the permit holder is verified. Before arriving in Makkah, the pilgrim must pay the charge for transportation services to licensed transport companies that ensure a safe transit by disinfecting vehicles and leaving spaces between the seats. Then the pilgrims are transported to designated bus stops at the Grand Mosque.

For example, pilgrims at the Kudai Center are transported to the King Abdul Aziz Gate, while those at the Al-Zahir Center are transported to Al-Shabika Gate. Pilgrims are dropped off according to their designated centers. Their permits are then checked once again for security reasons before they are allowed to perform the Umrah and pray during the time allotted to them.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has provided another path for pilgrims to perform the Umrah. This is done by booking a room at any hotel overlooking the Grand Mosque and the central area. Hotels can now assist individuals with room bookings to apply for performing Umrah during the course of their stay. Worshippers interested in this service can initiate the process by making a reservation at a hotel, which can then help the guest reserve a spot within the predetermined capacity of the Grand Mosque.

As for pilgrims coming from abroad, if their health status has not been entered into the Tawakkalna system, they will need to visit a healthcare center where they will receive all the help they need. Their health status will be updated according to the vaccination certificate provided by their home country. A suitable date is then reserved for the visitor to perform Umrah in accordance with the Grand Mosque’s operational capacity.

What provision has been made for the safe transportation of foreign pilgrims arriving via Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport and Madinah’s Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport?

There is a high level of coordination between the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and the Ministry of Health as well as security and service providers, namely the Public Transport Authority, the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites and the Madinah Region Development Authority. There are unified standards and protocols for transportation. This includes pilgrims traveling between cities or within the city or accommodations for pilgrims who need to be quarantined after testing.




Worshippers circumambulate the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in Makkah on October 4, 2020, amid extensive health precautions to fight the spread of COVID-19. (AFP file photo) 

All these standards and protocols have been formulated and clarified to ensure the safety of both local and foreign pilgrims and provide them with an uninterrupted experience. The risk-control measures are aimed at reducing incidents that might lead to a reduction in the number of pilgrims or a possible suspension of Umrah.

Have any permit violations been recorded since the beginning of the Umrah season?

Some violations have been committed. Every system will witness violations and all such cases are being dealt with on site in a timely manner. Security and service bodies are heavily deployed at the Grand Mosque, service centers and gathering points to monitor the situation.

Violators will be fined SR10,000 ($2,666) for performing Umrah without a permit and SR1,000 ($267) for worshipping at the Grand Mosque without a permit. This shows that the formal mechanisms to punish violators have been established and are being used when required. However, most people are observing the current regulations and health protocols.

What is the objective of the fines for Umrah permit violations?

The fines system was developed so the Grand Mosque, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and Makkah, as a whole, do not become a source for the spread of the virus. That is why there is a predetermined pilgrim-handling capacity at each site.

The desire to perform Umrah, Tarawih prayers or night prayers at the Grand Mosque is understandable. However, the world is witnessing an exceptional situation and everyone should come together under these circumstances. Simply put, the fines are meant to prevent people from committing violations that would pose a danger both to pilgrims and those working at the Grand Mosque.




All the protocols have been formulated and clarified to ensure the safety of both local and foreign pilgrims and provide them with an uninterrupted experience. (AFP File photo0

Can a pilgrim’s compliance with the coronavirus transmission-prevention protocols be monitored and assessed?

There are field teams working around the clock to follow up on the condition of pilgrims and their adherence to the health protocols and requirements. The security bodies are cooperating with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in this regard. Raising awareness is continuously made by all the bodies concerned.

Is the steady increase in the number of immunized people being taken into account in determining the number of permits?

The predetermined operational capacity is being updated every day. It has now reached between two and a half and three times what it used to be and will continue to increase in the coming days.

What will be taken into account is the overall health situation. The operational capacity is bound to increase in tandem with the increase in people’s awareness of the exceptional circumstances the world is facing. These circumstances require exceptional measures to be taken.

The more people get vaccinated, the lower the risk. Soon people will be able to go back to normal life and all will be welcome to visit the Grand Mosque.

Disinfection operations are currently taking place at the Grand Mosque. Are the buses for transporting worshippers and other facilities getting disinfected as well?

All buses, ticket counters, along with sorting and gathering points, are regularly being disinfected. The process was studied by companies and a specialized team has set the disinfection and sterilization intervals. The buses are disinfected after every cycle while the reception centers are disinfected every half hour as these are considered essential safety measures.

Will the vaccination requirement continue into this year’s Hajj season?

No royal decree has been issued yet on this matter. Once such a decree has been issued, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will take action accordingly.

Could the experience of organizing the Umrah prompt the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to increase the number of Hajj pilgrims this year compared with last year?

Last year, the risk was high during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. However, the methods of dealing with the pandemic have changed and the situation is completely different this time around.




A general view of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, with the Clock Tower in the background.  (AFP file photo)

The dates for the holding of the founding assemblies of the Arbab Al-Tawaif Establishments have been announced. How will these entities contribute to an improvement in the services provided to pilgrims and worshippers this year?

The holding of the founding assemblies and the transformation of these establishments into companies will open doors for qualified people from outside of the system, which in turn will contribute to turning these entities into massive national entities.

The hope is they will become “national champions” in serving the pilgrims. These companies, by virtue of their anticipated institutional reforms, will become huge entities that operate by widening the range of their services, acquiring assets and raising the profitability rates of their shareholders and employees.

They will, at the same time, start developing the existing local content of the service industry, from developing the capabilities and cadres working in this area to improving the quality of the services they deliver by adopting international standards instead of relying on just practice and experience.

A quantitative and qualitative transformation of these entities will ensure high-quality services. The transformation of the Arbab Al-Tawaif Establishments into Arbab Al-Tawaif Companies are expected to create the conditions for attracting the finest minds and skilled workers while providing pilgrims with better services and shareholders with higher profits.

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Twitter: @md_sulami


Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19

Saudi Arabia warns against travel to destinations on ban list amid COVID-19

DUBAI: The Saudi Arabian government has warned against travel to destinations on the Kingdom’s ban list amid COVID-19.

The Interior Ministry said citizens who have traveled to banned countries will be barred from traveling for three years, state news agency SPA reported.

Saudi citizens have been earlier prohibited from traveling to Indonesia over coronavirus disease concerns. Saudi citizens currently in the Asian nation have been told to exercise caution, and stay away from areas with high infection rates.

Saudi authorities have also banned travel, without prior permission, to and from the UAE, Ethiopia and Vietnam, over concerns about the spread of more-infectious variants of the coronavirus.

– More to follow –


Saudi FM arrives in Islamabad, discuses with Pakistani counterpart bilateral relations

Saudi FM arrives in Islamabad, discuses with Pakistani counterpart bilateral relations
Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi FM arrives in Islamabad, discuses with Pakistani counterpart bilateral relations

Saudi FM arrives in Islamabad, discuses with Pakistani counterpart bilateral relations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, arrived in Islamabad on an official visit that Pakistan said provided a ‘timely opportunity’ to deepen bilateral cooperation. 

This will be Prince Faisal’s second state visit to Pakistan in a year. He was last in Islamabad in December 2020.
The foreign office has said the Saudi foreign minister was visiting Pakistan on the invitation of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
The visit by the Saudi FM “holds significance” in the backdrop of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Qureshi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2021, the foreign office said on Twitter, adding:
“It will provide a timely opportunity to review progress in bilateral coop. in line with vision of the leadership of the two countries.”

“The visit of the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia will further strengthen the ongoing positive momentum in high-level contacts and deepen bilateral cooperation in various fields,” the foreign office said in a separate statement, saying Prince Faisal and the Pakistani foreign minister would meet at the Foreign Ministry shortly.
“After the meeting between the two Foreign Ministers, there will be delegation level talks between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In addition to all aspects of bilateral relations, important regional and global issues will be discussed during the talks,” the foreign office said. “The Saudi Foreign Minister will also meet with senior government officials during his visit.”
Prior to the arrival of the Saudi foreign minister, senior delegation-level talks were held in Pakistan between officials of the two nations.
“Key focus was on Saudi-Pak Supreme Coordination Council, highest level platform to provide strategic direction to bilateral ties,” the foreign office said.

Related


US condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, calls for Iran-backed group to return to negotiations

US condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, calls for Iran-backed group to return to negotiations
Updated 27 July 2021

US condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, calls for Iran-backed group to return to negotiations

US condemns latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, calls for Iran-backed group to return to negotiations
  • ‘We condemn the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia following the calm over Eid Al-Adha’
  • ‘Time to return to negotiations and end the conflict’

DUBAI: The US has condemned the latest Houthi attack against Saudi Arabia as the Iran-backed group targeting the Kingdom’s southern region with a ballistic missile and three explosive-laden drones.

The US State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs also called for the Houthis to cease its military actions and commit to a ceasefire that would end the conflict in Yemen.

“We condemn the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia following the calm over Eid Al-Adha. The Houthis must stop their destabilizing actions and commit to an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire to help end the Yemen war. Time to return to negotiations and end the conflict,” the US government agency posted on Twitter.

Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, earlier emphasized the importance of resolving the conflict in the war-torn country.

“The US is in this effort to help Yemen truly turn the corner toward peace and security. A ceasefire is only one step. We must continue to build from there,” the envoy said during one of the forums on Middle Eastern security.

Yemeni government troops and allied tribesmen, backed by Arab coalition jets, on Sunday repelled the “biggest and most fierce” Houthi assault of Marib since February.

More than 200 Houthi militants were killed in clashes during recent days or in Arab coalition strikes during recent days, a Yemeni army commander said.


Saudi online platforms bridge gap between creatives, inquisitive minds

 These two platforms helped local entrepreneurs to work in the creative sector to achieve their goals. This will ultimately contribute to the Kingdom’s goals for the private sector. (Supplied)
These two platforms helped local entrepreneurs to work in the creative sector to achieve their goals. This will ultimately contribute to the Kingdom’s goals for the private sector. (Supplied)
Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi online platforms bridge gap between creatives, inquisitive minds

 These two platforms helped local entrepreneurs to work in the creative sector to achieve their goals. This will ultimately contribute to the Kingdom’s goals for the private sector. (Supplied)
  • Offering people easy ways to learn new skills, explore methods to promote self, business

JEDDAH: Online platforms are helping smaller creative businesses to pass on their knowledge to interested parties. Two such platforms that have been attracting attention from Saudi locals are Suplift and Upgrade.

These online platforms began popping up on social media a few years ago with experiences and activities offered with a registration fee.
Fadi Yahya, the founder of Suplift, told Arab News that the question that inspired Suplift was “How can I ask people with skills to share them with other people who are interested in learning?”

I started noticing that people here didn’t have easy access to activities and workshops or a platform to access these activities.

Fadi Yahya, Founder of Suplift

“I started noticing that people here didn’t have easy access to activities and workshops or a platform to access these activities,” he said. “It was extremely hard for an average person to try any activity they like.”
This led to Yahya giving over a few years of his life to build a business from scratch that allowed profits to be given back to a talented person rather than an organization. “Our job was to make the structure simple.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Suplift extends across 18 cities in Saudi Arabia, with more than 1,000 experiences on offer. This has helped 10,000 people to make money simply by following their passion.

• Upgrade-sa.com’s targeted audience is people who want to learn new hobbies and explore different worlds, as well as business owners who want to build more connections and move toward expanding their work.

He said there were many challenges as the team was building a new market. “We are not running away or finding the easy way out. One thing we had trouble with was the lack of experience.”
Yahya said that to enable the experiences, the team had to find locations, work out the structure, marketing, customer service, technology, management, as well as ways of working with the government.
The aim of Suplift is to promote the idea of having hobbies. “The thing I am most proud of is that we help so many people make money. Many people say that passion can not help you make money, but I think it is needed in order to help the Saudi economy move further.”
Suplift extends across 18 cities in Saudi Arabia, with more than 1,000 experiences on offer. This has helped 10,000 people to make money simply by following their passion.
“Now that people understand that they can make money doing what they love, we will have more artists, golfers, divers, archers and so many more,” he said. “This makes me proud of my team and myself.”

When we started, we were the ones designing the workshops and we used to seek out the trainers — training and being creative are two different things.

Mohammad Mujahid, COO of Upgrade-sa.com

Mohammad Mujahid, COO of Upgrade-sa.com, told Arab News that their platform’s targeted audience is people who want to learn new hobbies and explore different worlds, as well as business owners who want to build more connections and move toward expanding their work.
The early days of the business were very challenging, Mujahid said. “When we started, we were the ones designing the workshops and we used to seek out the trainers — training and being creative are two different things. So now when the trainers or upgraders, as we call them, come to us, we provide them with guidelines so they can spread their knowledge.”
These two platforms helped local entrepreneurs to work in the creative sector to achieve their goals. This will ultimately contribute to the Kingdom’s goals for the private sector — supporting Saudi economic diversification objectives and building a prosperous future.


Virus recoveries pass half-a-million mark in Saudi Arabia

The ministry urged all residents eligible for the vaccine to register and receive it as a necessity to not only protect themselves, but ensure the safety of the community. (SPA)
The ministry urged all residents eligible for the vaccine to register and receive it as a necessity to not only protect themselves, but ensure the safety of the community. (SPA)
Updated 27 July 2021

Virus recoveries pass half-a-million mark in Saudi Arabia

The ministry urged all residents eligible for the vaccine to register and receive it as a necessity to not only protect themselves, but ensure the safety of the community. (SPA)
  • More than 25 million vaccine doses have been administered so far at a rate of 288,858 per day

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has reported 1,299 new recoveries from COVID-19, raising the total number over the course of the pandemic to 500,428, passing the half million mark.

The Kingdom’s recovery rate now stands at 96.3 percent and rising.
Community response in coordination with the Kingdom’s health authorities has helped stabilize the daily confirmed case count through precautionary measures and high immunization rates. As a result, the number of recoveries has continued a steady rise in recent weeks.
On Monday, the Saudi Health Ministry announced 1,252 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of cases over the course of the pandemic to 519,395.
The Makkah region topped the case count with 316 cases, while the Riyadh region reported 265, the Eastern Province 169 and Asir 145. Jouf remains the region with the lowest case count, recording only three cases on Monday.
The number of active cases continues to fluctuate between the 10,000-11,000 mark. With today’s numbers, there are now 10,788 active cases, 1,424 of which are in critical care, a rise of 16 in the past 24 hours.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom’s recovery rate now stands at 96.3 percent and rising.

• On Monday, the Health Ministry recorded 1,252 new COVID-19 cases.

• The number of active cases continues to fluctuate between 10,000 and 11,000.

• There were 12 new COVID-19-related deaths reported on Monday.

There were 12 new COVID-19-related deaths reported on Monday, bringing the Kingdom’s death toll to 8,179.
As part of precautionary measures, 90,510 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, raising the total number completed to more than 24.4 million.
More than 25 million vaccine doses have been administered so far at a rate of 288,858 per day. So far, 71.8 percent of the Kingdom’s population have received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 18 percent have received both doses.
Ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline requiring visitors and employees of government, private and commercial entities and establishments to be immunized by at least one vaccine dose or recovered from an infection, the number of registrations for vaccine appointments has surged.
Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said in Sunday’s press conference that more time slots have been made available for appointments.
The ministry urged all residents eligible for the vaccine to register and receive it as a necessity to not only protect themselves, but ensure the safety of the community.