RIYADH – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry has announced an extension of the Umrah season by one month, allowing more Muslims to perform the religious ritual.
The Saudi ministry stated that the new extension ends on Shawwal 15 instead of Ramadan 15, Gulf News reported on Tuesday, April 4.
It has been a regular habit that Muslim pilgrims often perform Umrah during the 9th Hijri month, Ramadan, which is associated with pious and charitable activities.
Umrah is a minor pilgrimage to Mecca that is performed by Muslims at any time of the year, in contrast to the Hajj.
The word Umrah in Arabic language means “to visit a populated place.” In Islamic Shari`ah, Umrah means performing Tawaf around the Kaa`ba and Sa`i between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, after assuming Ihram (a sacred state), either from a Miqat.
According to official figures, the Saudi authorities issued 6.4 million visas for Umrah last year.
The figure was 7% higher than 2015 when about six million visas were given. Saudi governmental data shows that Egyptians topped the list in 2016 with 1,303,067 visas with a 17% increase in comparison to 2015.
Pakistan came second with 991,337 visa – 287,024 individuals more than 2015, while Indonesia was third with a 7.2% increase since the previous, bringing the number to a grand total of 699,612 Indonesian pilgrims.
These official Saudi figures don’t include nationals from the Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council because they don’t require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.
This new regulation comes after Saudi Arabia has introduced last month a package of new laws for both Hajj and Umrah.
On March 13, 2017, the Saudi government proposed with immediate effect some heavy punishments and fines for those staying after expiry of visas, private news channel reported.
Some penalties of US$6,600 for over-stay on first time, US$13,000 on second time and US$26,600 on third time has been endorsed.
Moreover, Umrah travel companies would also be punished or blacklisted upon violation of the new laws. Similarly, Saudi citizens recruiting illegal immigrants who over-stay will be punished strictly.