Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow pilgrims travelling from India to arrive by sea, according to reports on Tuesday.
India’s Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that the Saudi government had responded positively to India’s request which will substantially reduce the expense of undertaking Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
The decision was reached as part of a bilateral annual Haj 2018 agreement between the two countries, signed in Makkah by Naqvi and Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Minister, Dr Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten.
Haj pilgrims were able to travel from Mumbai to Jeddah by ship, a 4,260kmh journey that took up to 15 days, until 1995 when the passage was stopped. Using modern, well-equipped ferries able to accommodate up to 5,000 people, the journey ought to take no more than four days and offer a substantially cheaper alternative than chartered and scheduled flights.
Another agreement reached by the two countries for 2018 allows women – as long as they are in groups of four or more – to undertake Hajj without a “mahram” or male companion.
India is home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population, with 189 million Muslims in a nation of more than 1.35 billion people. The current quota set by Saudi for pilgrims from India stands at 170,000, which was increased last year from 136,000.
Details about the cost of a ticket and the number of ferries servicing the route have yet to be announced. This year, Haj is due to take place between August 19-24.
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