ISLAMABAD: Pakistani banks have received over 26,000 Hajj applications from March 16 to 22, the country's religious affairs ministry said on Thursday, as the deadline to apply for the spiritual pilgrimage nears.
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 sound of mind and financially and physically able to do so. It is one of the important five pillars of the Islamic faith.
The deadline to apply for the Hajj pilgrimage will expire on March 31. This year, 179,210 pilgrims from Pakistan are expected to travel to the kingdom after Riyadh restored Pakistan's pre-pandemic Hajj quota and also scrapped the upper age limit of 65 years to perform the pilgrimage.
"Banks have received over 26,000 [Hajj] applications till March 22," Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony said in a statement. It added that the government would issue further directives to banks to facilitate pilgrims in the process after receiving their feedback.
The ministry added that overseas Pakistanis would also be able to submit their medical fitness certificates that they received abroad. It said Hajj pilgrims who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus, can submit their applications after receiving a single dose of any of the vaccines approved by the kingdom.
"However, they will have to get themselves fully vaccinated before departure and submit their certificates," the ministry said. "Apart from NADRA, any foreign vaccine certificate will also be accepted."
The ministry said that to accept Hajj applications, specified branches of designated banks would remain open on Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26.
It said that pilgrims would have to buy the "Qurbani" [sacrifice] coupons in Saudi Arabia themselves, adding that the Pakistani Hajj Mission in the kingdom would facilitate them in doing so.
"The Qurbani coupon costs between SR700-1,000," the religion ministry said, adding that Hajj pilgrims would be informed when they would be required to submit their passports or get their biometric for the journey done.
"Hajj applications will only be processed through selected banks," it added.