Union Minister of Minority Affairs Smriti Irani and Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan with Saudi Minister of Haj and Umrah Affairs Tawfiq Al Rabiah during signing of the Bilateral Haj Agreement 2024 between India and Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah.

By S A H Rizvi
Bureau Chief
The Times Kuwait
New Delhi

India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement under which New Delhi has been allocated a quota of 1,75,025 pilgrims for this year’s annual Haj pilgrimage. The Bilateral Haj Agreement 2024 was signed with Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah, the Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah during the visit of Union Minister for Women and Child Development and Minority Affairs Smriti Zubin Irani and Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs, Shri V. Muraleedharan at Jeddah..

The visit of the Indian delegation led by Minister Irani also made a ‘historic’ visit to the holy city of Madinah, making the first Indian non-Muslim Minister to visit the Holy City.

A press release said the delegation visited the perimeter of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al Masjid Al Nabwi) in the Markazia area of Madinah. This was followed by a visit to the mountain of Uhud and a visit to the Quba Mosque. Quba Mosque is the first Mosque of Islam while Uhud Mountain is the final resting place of a number early Islamic martyrs.

In a post published on social media platform X, Irani called the visit a “historic journey”. “The significance of the visit to these sites courtesy of Saudi officials, intertwined with early Islamic history, underscores the depth of our cultural and spiritual engagement,” she wrote.

The delegation interacted with Indian volunteers who provide dedicated and selfless service to Indian Haj pilgrims, including during Haj 2023.They also interacted with the Umrah pilgrims from India.

Union Minister Smriti Irani travelled to Madinah on Monday along with Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan.

The visit shall help provide a first hand insight into the arrangements required to be made for ensuring a comfortable Haj 2024 for the Indian pilgrims, the release stated.

An official spokesperson said in a statement that this was a landmark development and the “unprecedented visit marked the first time a non-Muslim delegation had been welcomed in Medina, underscoring the exceptional nature of India-Saudi Arabia bilateral relations.”

Irani was joined by several senior officials during the visit, including the minister of state for external affairs. During the visit, Irani also met with Saudi and Indian business professionals to explore investment opportunities and foster stronger bilateral relations between the states.

There is a total ban on non-Muslims entering Mecca as well as parts of the holy city of Medina. Attempting to enter can result in penalties, including fines or deportation. Prior to entering Mecca, documentation is checked, with anyone who is not Muslim denied access to the holy sites.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage, which Muslims are required to do at least once in their lifetime, forms the fifth pillar of Islam. Around 2.5 million people took part in the event in 2019, but numbers were limited in the following years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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