First Bangladeshi pilgrims ready to leave for Hajj

DHAKA: Thousands of Bangladeshis will be among the first Hajj pilgrims to arrive in Saudi Arabia this year, with the first group expected to fly to Jeddah on Thursday.

This year, Hajj is scheduled to begin on June 14 and end on June 19.

Although the pilgrimage itself can take place over five or six days, pilgrims often arrive early, knowing that it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill their religious duty.

The first Hajj flight carrying 419 pilgrims is expected to take off on Thursday morning for Jeddah from Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

“Our pilgrims will be the first group of Hajj pilgrims from around the world to arrive in the Kingdom,” Mohammad Matiul Islam, additional secretary at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, told Arab News.

“Some pilgrims choose to go to the Holy Land earlier because it gives them spiritual peace. It is the choice of the pilgrims to determine the time of their journey.

This year, Saudi Arabia granted Bangladesh a quota of 127,000 pilgrims to undertake the spiritual journey that forms one of the five pillars of Islam. Due to rising airfares to the Middle East, fewer Bangladeshis than expected will be able to travel there.

Bangladesh, one of the most populous Muslim-majority countries, also struggled to meet the quota in 2023, when the minimum government fare for the Hajj was $6,000.

To avoid the same scenario in the 2024 pilgrimage season, the Bangladeshi government reduced the cost by $1,000, but high national inflation has prevented a third of potential pilgrims from registering.

“As we did not reach this figure, a quota of 41,000 was given to Saudi Arabia,” Islam said. “Waiving these (remaining slots) will not affect obtaining our quota for Hajj next year.”

Saudi visa registration for Bangladeshis will end on Saturday and most of them will depart from Dhaka over the next few weeks, where they will be assisted by Saudi authorities under the flagship Route to Mecca initiative .

The pre-travel program was launched by the Kingdom in 2019 to help pilgrims meet all visa, customs and health requirements at their home airport, and avoid long hours of waiting before and upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Starting Wednesday, those flying in the coming days will be able to wait for their departure at a special Hajj camp near Dhaka airport.

“During their stay at the Hajj camp, the pilgrims complete their part of Bangladeshi immigration. In addition, some Saudi immigration takes place here, with pilgrims leaving their luggage with Mecca road authorities there,” Islam said.

“Air-conditioned accommodation here is free for pilgrims… We suggest pilgrims from outside Dhaka to reach the Hajj camp two days before their flight. The camp can accommodate more than 5,000 pilgrims at a time.