Rising number of pilgrims from W. China heads to Mecca
About 14,500 Chinese Muslims have begun to travel to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for their annual pilgrimage.
Carrying 297 pilgrims, the first flight took off from Lanzhou, capital of Northwest China's Gansu Province, and arrived in Medina on Saturday.
"All pilgrims will arrive at Medina before September 4 and they will first visit the city's Islamic monuments for five days before proceeding to Mecca for about 20 days of religious rituals," Ma Xiubang, the person in charge of pilgrimage work at the China Islamic Association, told the Global Times.
According to Ma, pilgrims will board 47 chartered flights at airports in Beijing, Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Yinchuan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Kunming in Yunnan Province and Lanzhou.
In 2014, more than 14,000 Chinese pilgrims went to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage, over 3,000 of who came from Xinjiang, media reported.
This year, the number of pilgrims from Xinjiang topped the list at 3,420. Pilgrims from Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan provinces also exceeded 1,000, said Ma, adding that the average expense for each pilgrim is about 38,000 yuan ($5,935).
A Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca is seen as one of the five pillars of Islam and it is a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.
In China, Muslims are not allowed to go to the pilgrimage alone but with government-organized tours. They must submit an application to the government's pilgrimage department and should also meet other requirements. A limited number of pilgrims are allowed to visit Mecca each year.
Turgunjan Tursun, an expert at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said that potential pilgrims have to meet government age, health and income requirements.
Because the Saudi government is renovating Mecca's mosque, Ma said it has reduced the number of pilgrims by 20 percent this year and Saudi Arabia may see a rising number of Chinese pilgrims following the renovation.
Some pilgrims have resorted to bribing officials in charge of pilgrimage work over strict regulations and long wait time. In January, 32 officials from Xinjiang were investigated and punished for legal and disciplinary violations related to Muslim pilgrimages, media reported.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human