Makkah welcomes domestic Hajj pilgrims amidst pandemic

Agencies
July 26, 2020

Jeddah, Jul 26: The city of Makkah is opening its arms again to welcome pilgrims for the annual Hajj — although only a handful compared with previous years.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event is limited to about 1,000 pilgrims, all from inside Saudi Arabia, about 700 of whom are expatriates.

Abdullah Al-Kathiri, an Emirati and a recovered COVID-19 patient, postponed his pilgrimage last year because it coincided with his wedding plans. “I’ve heard from many who’ve performed the pilgrimage in past years that it was always a smooth process, even with the massive numbers,” he said. “So you could imagine how it would be with the limited number of pilgrims this year. Surely it will be a great experience.”

Khadija, a Bulgarian expatriate, was overcome with tears when she heard she would be performing Hajj this year. “I didn’t expect they’d accept,” she said. “I’m sure this year’s Hajj will be an exceptional one in all respects.”

Dr. Haifa Yousef Hamdoon, a Tunisian physician in Qassim, is another who did not expect to be accepted because of the low numbers this year. “When I received confirmation of my request, I was overjoyed and couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Mu’taz Mohamed, a Sudanese pilgrim who also lives in Qassim region, praised the preventive and precautionary health measures taken in order to ensure his safety and that of other pilgrims, to enable them to perform the rituals safely.

After completing their arrival procedures, the pilgrims were taken to their accommodation in Makkah, supervised by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. They will stay there for four days before beginning their pilgrimage on July 30.

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Agencies
September 23,2020

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Saudi Arabia celebrates its National Day on Wednesday this year, with concerts and other events, while adhering to COVID-19 precautionary measures, to commemorate the Kingdom’s unification under its founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90 years ago.

Celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic

This year, the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) organized a string of concerts that will take place from September 22-26 to celebrate the national holiday, in accordance with GEA guidelines that were put in place to ensure everyone’s safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines emphasize the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, reducing the duration of social contact, in addition to other preventative measures.

However, authorities in the Kingdom have reduced the number of attendees expected to attend the concerts as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus, according to Rotana Music, a record label company involved in organizing the concerts.

Also happening this year, Saudi designer Omaima Kindassa is staging a fashion show in Jeddah to showcase traditional clothing from regions around the Kingdom, inspired by the traditions of the diverse tribal communities in the country.

On Wednesday, more than 60 military and civilian aircrafts will participate in a live show that will air on Saudi TV 1, GEA said in a tweet, adding that it will be the largest air show in the history of Saudi Arabia’s National Day celebrations.

Additionally, GEA has set up an online platform for free National Day-themed printables that includes logos, images, and illustrations that users could download and print at home to use for decorative purposes.

Sense of unity

Saudis feel “a sense of unity” every year on National Day, 30-year-old Sultan al-Osaimi from Riyadh told Al Arabiya English.

“I feel like people are united on National Day, you can feel it in the air. Everyone feels a sense of belonging, this is especially heightened on national holidays,” al-Osaimi said.

“Everybody gets excited, people dress up in green [the color of the Saudi flag].”

“I am proud to be from this country. May our country always stay safe,” al-Osaimi added.

Al Anoud bin Juma, a 23-year-old, echoed al-Osaimi’s remarks.

“Although many people will stay home due to COVID-19, I really feel like Saudis have a genuine feeling of belonging and unity, this year more than ever.”

Bin Juma, who lives in Riyadh but is a Qassim native, explained that this feeling of unity comes from the safety and security the Kingdom provides, even during a global pandemic. “I feel safe here [in Saudi] and I appreciate the efforts of the country during the coronavirus crisis.”

“Saudi Arabia always puts its citizens and residents first, and I am very thankful to be from this country,” Bin Juma said, adding that she loves to celebrate its National Day.

Previous National Day celebrations

In 2005, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz made September 23 a national holiday in the Kingdom.

Since then, the country celebrated its national day in various ways. Last year, Saudi Arabia’s 89th National Day featured over 70 entertainment events across the Kingdom, including light shows, fireworks, and music performances, organized by the country’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) for a five-day National Day Season.

In 2018, more than 900,000 fireworks lit up the sky simultaneously from over 58 sites across the Kingdom in celebration of its 88th National Day.

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News Network
September 23,2020

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Jeddah, Sept 23: Saudi Arabia has announced the gradual resumption of Umrah and visits to the Two Holy Mosques with a limited number of pilgrims, starting from Oct. 4, 2020, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday citing a source at the Ministry of Interior.

The ministry source said that based on the reports of the competent authorities regarding coronavirus developments and in response to the aspirations of many Muslims at home and abroad to perform Umrah, and based on the leadership's keenness on the health and safety of the visitors the Two Holy Mosques, a royal approval has been given to allow the performance of Umrah and visits to the Two Holy Mosques gradually while taking the necessary health preventative measures.

In the first phase, citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30 percent from Oct. 4 that translates to 6,000 pilgrims per day following the health precautionary measures of the Grand Mosque.

In the second phase, citizens and expatriates inside the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Umrah, visit the Rawdah in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and pray in Two Holy Mosques, starting from Oct. 18, with a 75 percent capacity limit that is equivalent of nearly 15,000 pilgrims per day and 40,000 worshippers per day following the health precautionary measures for the Grand Mosque, as well as 75 percent of the capacity in line with the health precautionary measures for the Rawdah in the Prophet’s Mosque.

In the third phase, pilgrims from abroad would be allowed to perform Umrah as of Nov. 1 with a full capacity of 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshipers per day and it will continue until the official end of the coronavirus pandemic or the official announcement that the danger is over. The arrival of Umrah performers and visitors from outside the Kingdom shall be gradual from the countries that are free from health risks related to the coronavirus pandemic, the source added.

The fourth phase will allow the performance of Umrah, visit and prayers by citizens and expatriates from inside and outside the Kingdom, at 100 percent of the normal capacity of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque, when the competent authority decides that the risks of the pandemic has disappeared.

Meanwhile, the entry of pilgrims, worshipers and visitors shall be regulated through the application (Etamarna), which will be launched by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, with the aim of implementing the health standards and controls approved by the Ministry of Health and the competent authorities.

The source called upon pilgrims, worshipers and visitors to adhere to preventive measures and apply the health instructions and requirements, including wearing face masks, keeping a safe distance, and avoiding a physical contact.

The source affirmed the Kingdom's keenness to enable the pilgrims from inside and outside the Kingdom to perform the rituals in a safe and healthy manner fulfilling the preventative requirements and spatial distancing in order to ensure human safety and protection from the threats of this pandemic, and achieve the objectives of the Islamic law in preserving human lives.

The source explained that the stages announced in this statement will be subjected to continuous evaluation, according to the developments of the pandemic.

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News Network
September 23,2020

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Sharjah, Sep 23: An Indian expatriate cannot believe that he can finally go home after 20 years, with Dh750,000 of fine waived off by Sharjah authorities.

What's in a name? Even a letter matters, says Thanavel Mathiazhaagan, an Indian worker in the UAE who is set to return home after being granted a waiver of nearly Dh750,000 in overstay fines, reports Gulf News.

The man from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu claims that he could not avail amnesty opportunities in the UAE in the last 20 years as his identity verification was not cleared from India due to a mismatch in his father's name in documents back home and that shown in his passport. As it turns out, there was a spelling error in his father's name in the documents in India.

Mathiazhaagan, 56, said he himself realised this (the reason for not getting the clearance) only after his latest request for repatriation was taken up by two social workers in the UAE after he sought their help to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told media that he had landed in the UAE in 2000 after paying Rs 120,000 (Dh6,048) to a recruitment agent for a job in Abu Dhabi. This could be verified from the stamp on his employment visa entry permit -- the only document that Mathiazhaagan has preserved, apart from a copy of the last page of his passport.

He said the agent had taken his original passport, claiming that his residence visa would be stamped in the passport once he gets the medical fitness certificate issued.

"I took the medical test and waited for my employment visa. But, the agent kept delaying it and later I got to know that the company, which was supposed to hire me, had shut down." Eventually, he said, the agent stopped answering his calls and could not be traced at all later.

"I stayed in a room with some people from my native place. I lived there for eight months with no job. After that I came to Sharjah and started doing odd jobs."

Mathiazhaagan said he illegally stayed in the UAE to feed his family by doing part-time jobs for various households and companies.

He claimed that he did try for returning home during the previous visa amnesty offers in the UAE and lost more than Dh10,000 to people who promised to help him with clearance of his documents that never came through.

Prior to the fine waiver announced till November 17 this year for people with expired visas or who had their visas cancelled before March 1 during the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE government had granted visa amnesties in 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2018.

Gulf News could not independently verify if Mathiazhaagan had indeed applied for an emergency certificate (EC), a one-way travel document issued to Indians without a valid passport, in order to facilitate their return home, during the earlier instances of amnesty.

However, A. K. Mahadevan and Chandra Prakash. P, who helped Mathiazhaagan get an EC through the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said he had failed to get identity clearance from India during the pandemic. They said they found out the reason behind the rejection only after Mathiazhaagan met Mahadevan, seeking help to return home.

"His name is Thanavel Mathiazhaagan as per the copy of the last page of his lost passport and the UAE entry permit," said Prakash, the Vice-President of Indian People's Forum, a community organisation that also pitched to get a travel clearance for Mathiazhaagan.

"Unfortunately, the documents sent by Trichy Regional Passport Office to the Senthurai Police Station for his identity verification showed his father's name as Thangavel whereas his father's actual name is Thanavel -- according to all other records. The additional letter 'g' in the name created the problem," said Prakash.

The duo said they approached the Indian Embassy and the local departments in Mathiazhaagan's village to rectify the mistake and process his documents. "Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor took special interest in solving this case after the issue was taken up with him," said Prakash.

Mahadevan said he was happy that Mathiazhaagan would be flying home soon and meeting his youngest daughter, who had not even been born when he left India for the UAE.

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