Interim Minister for Religious Affairs of Pakistan, Aneeq Ahmed, has arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for discussions related to the Road to Makkah Project with Saudi authorities.
This initiative streamlines customs and immigration services for pilgrims at their point of departure, alleviating the need for these procedures upon arrival in Saudi Arabia.
Currently, this service is available to pilgrims departing from Islamabad, but during his visit, Minister Aneeq Ahmed will explore the possibility of extending this convenience to pilgrims from Lahore and Karachi as well.
In addition to these discussions, Minister Aneeq Ahmed is expected to engage with Hajj operators to evaluate preparations for next year’s Hajj pilgrimage. He has previously met with representatives from catering and accommodation companies involved in the Hajj arrangements.
During his visit to Riyadh, Minister Ahmed is scheduled to meet with Saudi Hajj Minister Dr. Taufig bin Fawzan Al-Rabia and Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa, the General Secretary of the Muslim World League.
Minister Aneeq Ahmed has also proposed the use of private airlines to facilitate a smoother and more comfortable Hajj journey for Pakistani pilgrims. He emphasized the government’s commitment to ensuring all necessary facilities, including lodging, transportation, and catering, at affordable rates for pilgrims.
For the previous year’s Hajj, the government had reserved a 50 percent quota for the Sponsorship Scheme, a special facility for pilgrims seeking foreign exchange from abroad. However, the cost of Hajj had increased significantly, reaching Rs1.175 million per pilgrim, a 68 percent increase from the previous year, which deterred many from undertaking the pilgrimage amid rising inflation.
It’s worth noting that the 2022 Hajj season marked a significant return to normalcy for Saudi Arabia, welcoming around 2.3 million pilgrims after the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Only fully vaccinated or immunized individuals aged 18 to 65 without chronic diseases were allowed to participate.
In July, the then Minister for Religious Affairs, Talha Mehmood, announced a plan for pilgrims going to Hajj in 2024 to pay their expenses in US dollars instead of Pakistani rupees. However, there have been no further developments on this front from the religious affairs ministry.
Minister Aneeq Ahmed’s visit to Riyadh reflects Pakistan’s commitment to enhancing the Hajj experience for its citizens and ensuring the safety and convenience of its pilgrims.