RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has won global praise for successfully organizing the Hajj pilgrimage this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s Hajj was scaled down to combat the virus, but has served as an example of excellent management skills in exceptional circumstances. Normally, the annual religious gathering draws more than 2 million people from around the world every year.

Since its foundation, the Kingdom has worked to serve pilgrims and ensure high-quality services during Hajj. The expansion of Makkah’s Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah is testament to Saudi keenness to ensure pilgrim comfort and security.

Indian Ambassador Dr. Ausaf Sayeed said that Hajj 2020 is unique because of the pandemic. Each year more than 200,000 pilgrims from India perform Hajj.

The envoy said it was a tough task to make arrangements for Hajj this year while ensuring pilgrim safety.

“We are going through one of the most challenging times in the history of humankind in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected about 15 million people across the globe,” he said.

The ambassador said the call to limit Hajj to domestic pilgrims within Saudi Arabia meant the Indian Hajj mission had a limited role, only welcoming the few Indian worshippers in the Kingdom.

He said the Saudi authorities made elaborate arrangements to protect pilgrims and provide them with a unique experience of spiritual satisfaction.

Arrangements for Hajj began early and diplomatic missions started work on their projects long before the season began.

“Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian Hajj Office had made good progress in making arrangements for Hajj 2020, including hiring of accommodation, buses and transport services, procuring of items for pilgrims and contracting for other services,” Sayeed said.

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“In fact, we started preparations for Hajj 2020 immediately after the last Hajj was completed,” the envoy said.

“We followed the advice of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in light of the pandemic and offered our full cooperation to the Saudi side for whatever decision the leadership may take in the overall interest of the pilgrims.

“Last year, we had a record number of 200,000 Indian pilgrims performing Hajj, thanks to the magnanimous decision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to increase the Hajj quota for India by 30,000, Sayeed said.

“The arrangements for Hajj are complex and require close coordination with different agencies in the Kingdom, particularly the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, which has always been extremely cooperative with us.

“We also receive extraordinary support from the governorates of Makkah and Madinah as well as the Civil Aviation and Security agencies at the Jeddah and Madinah airports, which enables us to make smooth flight arrangements at the time of arrival and departure of pilgrims.

“I have been following Hajj arrangements in the Kingdom since 1995, when I was first posted here as a consul. I have noticed that, progressively, there has been a complete transformation in Hajj-related infrastructure and the facilities that are extended to pilgrims. It is the personal interest taken by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the leadership in the Hajj arrangements that makes all the difference,” Sayeed added.

Indian Hajj pilgrims appreciated arrangements during Hajj 2019, which was reflected in the post-Hajj survey conducted by the Indian Hajj Mission last year, he said.

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Dya-eddine Said Bamakhrama, dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Djibouti’s envoy in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News: “The Saudi authorities imposed precautionary measures in order to keep Hajj safe, preserve the health of the guests of Allah and avoid large gatherings. I believe it was a wise decision and shows that the Kingdom is committed to holding the Hajj rites even in the most difficult circumstances.

“Saudi Arabia had made great achievements through the history in terms of organizing the Hajj.

“I would like to highlight that efforts made by the Saudi government for Hajj and Umrah are highly praised by every Muslim.

“As dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Saudi Arabia, I’d like to express the gratitude and appreciation of Muslims to King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Minister of Interior Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz, Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Saleh Benten for their great efforts in serving Muslims and the Two Holy Mosques.

“There is good coordination between the Hajj Mission at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Culture and Endowments in the Republic of Djibouti and our Consulate-General in Jeddah in organizing pilgrimage and serving pilgrims, but due to the pandemic, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah worked exclusively this year on selecting pilgrims after they applied for the Hajj through the ministry’s website,” the ambassador said.



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