By Courtney Trenwith
Saudi Arabia's Haj Ministry says number of pilgrims to Islam’s holiest city has soared compared to last season
The number of Muslims travelling to the holy city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia has soared 14 percent this Umrah season, according to the Ministry of Haj.
The significant growth comes despite the kingdom cutting religious visa quotas during the $21.3bn redevelopment and expansion of the Grand Mosque.
Ministry spokesperson Ali Al Ghamdi said about 2m pilgrims already had visited Madinah during the current Umrah season, which started on December 9, Arab News reported. That was 14 percent more than last year.
The ministry had announced in November it expected 6m Umrah pilgrims this year, compared to 5m the year before.
Pakistanis so far have made up the largest proportion, followed by Indonesians, Iranians and Indians.
Al Ghamdi said authorities were carrying out inspections to ensure pilgrims’ housing met health and safety standards and to monitor visa fraud or scams.
About 152 violations of safety regulations already had been detected in the city.
Umrah is a pilgrimage to the holy city of Madinah performed by Muslims.
Every Muslim is expected to perform the Haj pilgrimage each year.
Saudi Arabia is undertaking the largest ever expansion and upgrade of the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, to increase its capacity to 1.5m pilgrims.