SHAFAQNA- More than 1.4 million Muslims have arrived so far in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage slated to begin next week, with this year’s rituals featuring the return of tens of thousands of Iranians.
“So far 1,313,946 pilgrims have arrived by air, 79,501 by land, and 12,477 by sea,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Thursday, citing passport officials.
The arrivals showed an increase of 33 percent compared with the same period last year, the SPA said, adding that the total number could surpass two million.
This year’s rituals will begin next Wednesday and continue until the following Monday. Muslims can also perform the Umrah or Lesser Pilgrimage during the rest of the year, but that is no substitute for the obligatory rituals, known as Tumattu Pilgrimage.
Based on the Islamic rules, every Muslim possessing the relevant physical and financial capability is obligated to perform the rituals once in his or her lifetime over a five-day period from the eighth to the 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month on the lunar calendar.
The total number of arrivals in 2016 stood at more than 1.8 million amid the absence of roughly 64,000 Iranian nationals, who did not attend due to Saudi Arabia’s failure to offer the cooperation needed to enable their travel and ensure the pilgrims security.
The kingdom withheld the assistance after cutting off ties with Iran in January 2016 in response to angry protests in front of its Iran-based diplomatic premises against the execution of notable Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
This January, however, it forwarded an invite to the Islamic Republic to send over the Iranian pilgrims. Tehran decided to send pilgrims to Saudi Arabia after Riyadh accepted its conditions.