Saudi Arabia opens up for Umrah pilgrims on tour

Saudi Arabia opens up for Umrah pilgrims on tour
Worshippers visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina will be allowed to venture to other parts of the kingdom for the first time under a new tourist visa programme.
2 min read
25 Apr, 2016
The move opens doors to pilgrims wanting to visit other parts of the kingdom [Getty]
Worshippers heading off for Umrah - the "minor" Muslim pilgrimage - in Saudi Arabia will be allowed, for the first time, to step out of the holy cities to tour the rest of the kingdom, it has emerged.

Muslims with Umrah visas will have the option to convert them into tourist passes, allowing them to roam around the kingdom upon completion of the pilgrimage, in a Post-Umrah Programme launched by tourism chief Prince Sultan bin Salman.

Historically, pilgrims visiting the kingdom for both the major and minor pilgrimages, Hajj and Umrah, are not permitted to leave the borders of Mecca and Medina - Islam's holiest sites situated within Saudi Arabia.

But The Kingdom is Muslims' Destination initiative aims to showcase the country's landmarks, Islamic historical sites and shopping centres - among other tourist hotspots.

In recent years, Saudi authorities have faced widespread scrutiny over their alleged carelessness towards Islamic heritage sites.

Figures suggest 98 percent of Islam's heritage within the kingdom - including homes of the religion's earliest figures, among whom is the Prophet Muhammad - have been destroyed to pave way for developments, including the $21 billion expansion of the Holy Mosque, new shopping centres and hotels as well as public toilets.

But authorities maintain the developments are necessary to accommodate and ensure the safety of the millions of visitors arriving in the kingdom every year.

Last year, a major stampede during the annual Hajj pilgrimage left more than 2,400 foreign pilgrims dead and hundreds more missing.

While Umrah can be taken all year-round, this year's Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca - a trip that all able-bodied Muslims are expected to perform at least once - is due to take place in September.