Saudi to retain 20% quota cut on foreign pilgrims

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Authorities in Saudi Arabia will retain a 20 percent cut this year in the maximum number of foreign pilgrims permitted to visit the country’s Islamic holy sites.

The Gulf kingdom, which is home to Islam’s two holiest sites Makkah and Madinah, implemented the reduced quota ahead of last year’s hajj season as a result of major construction and renovation work.

The quota has also seen the number of domestic pilgrims permitted to visit the sites reduced by 50 percent.

“The government will continue to request foreign countries to slash the quota of their Haj pilgrims by 20 percent due to ongoing expansion works in Makkah and the holy sites,” haj minister Bandar Hajjar was quoted as saying by local English daily Arab News.

The Majid Al Haram in Makkah, Islam’s holiest site, is undergoing its largest ever expansion, worth $21.3bn, to increase its capacity to 2m pilgrims.

The first phase of the Grand Mosque’s expansion included the removal of 1,150 properties at a cost of SR33bn, while the second stage also included the removal of 1,150 buildings.

Islam stipulates that all fit and able-bodied Muslims should complete haj during their lifetime, with official figures showing that about 8m pilgrims make the journey to Makkah every year.

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