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Along the road to Mecca, Malaysian pilgrims experience the ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysian pilgrims arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the flight to Saudi Arabia, they are greeted by Saudi officials helping tens of thousands depart for Hajj.
The welcome is a pre-departure preview of Saudi hospitality.
Malaysia is among five Muslim-majority countries – including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco – where Saudi Arabia has opened its Mecca Road initiative.
The program, launched in 2019, is dedicated to Hajj pilgrims, allowing them to meet all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, thus avoiding long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter the Kingdom without waiting, having already cleared visa and customs formalities at home.
Those departing from Kuala Lumpur airport are met by dozens of Saudi immigration officers working around the clock to facilitate their journey.
“We’re not even in Saudi Arabia yet, but I can feel the heat already. It’s very welcoming,” Ariff Abdullah, who left on one of the last Hajj flights this week, told Arab News as he and his wife prepared to board their flight to Jeddah.
“Today I was joking with the guy at the immigration counter,” Abdullah said. “He even knew a few Malay words!”
This year, 14,306 Malaysian pilgrims will participate in the Hajj. The number represents half of the quota Malaysia received in 2019, the last Hajj season before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the total number of pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom this year has also been halved.
The Hajj was limited to just 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020 and limited to just 60,000 domestic participants in 2021.
As COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted this year, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims, up from 2.5 million before the pandemic.
Makkah Route officials help streamline their arrival.

“The initiative aims to facilitate the immigration process for pilgrims to their home countries, including fingerprinting and finalizing entry (to Saudi Arabia) and delivering luggage to accommodation. of their choice on a very short notice,” said Sgt. Major Anas Muhammad, who arrived from Jeddah to help Malaysian pilgrims, told Arab News.
His colleague, Sgt. Kholoud Al-Ahmadi, is “honored to be part of the Makkah Route initiative in Malaysia”.
She said, “I am very happy to be part of this initiative, especially since this is my first time to Malaysia.
Combined with other procedures under the Makkah route, the immigration process from the Malaysian and Saudi sides takes an average of 10 minutes per pilgrim.
For those who need more assistance, including people with disabilities, the program is a welcome relief.
“When we arrive in Jeddah, we are all cleared and there is no need to wait and queue for immigration there,” said Zainab Binti Awang, a wheelchair user accompanied by her sister. .
Upon arriving in the Kingdom, pilgrims are met at the airport and taken to their hotels in Mecca and Medina. They can focus on their spiritual journeys, as all the practical aspects of the pilgrimage are taken care of.
“The route to Makkah is very convenient,” said Johar Yusof, another pilgrim departing from Kuala Lumpur. “There’s no need to go through the hassle – I love it.”