Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Suhel Ajaz Khan, right, shakes hands with an arriving pilgrim from the South Asian country in Madinah. (Indian Haj Mission)
By Ajape Sefiu A.
  • India is sending a total of 175,025 pilgrims in this pilgrimage season
  • Special Hajj flights for Indian pilgrims depart from 10 cities on Thursday

The most populous nation in the world began operating dedicated flights for the yearly Hajj on Thursday, when the first group of Indian pilgrims landed in Saudi Arabia to complete the annual trip.

India, a predominantly Hindu country, is home to more than 200 million Muslims, making it the largest Muslim-minority nation in the world. 175,025 pilgrims will visit Saudi Arabia as part of the 2024 Hajj quota, embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage that is one of Islam’s five pillars.

Hajj is anticipated to start on June 14 and end on June 19 this year. Many pilgrims choose to arrive early for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill their religious duty, even though the trip may be completed in five or six days.

One of the first Hajj flights for Indian pilgrims departed on Thursday from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.
“The flight carrying the first lot of 285 people took off at 2:20 a.m. on Thursday,” Kausar Jahan, chairperson of the Delhi State Hajj Committee, told Arab News.

In Madinah, the pilgrims were welcomed by the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Suhel Ajaz Khan, and his team, as well as the Saudi Minister of Transport and Logistics Service, Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser, and the Saudi Vice Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Abdul Fattah Mashat.

“First flight of Indian Hajj pilgrims arrives in Madinah (and) receives a warm reception,” the Indian Hajj Mission in Jeddah wrote on Facebook. “With the arrival of the first flight, India’s Hajj 2024 has begun.”

A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Hajj Committee of India, said several flights took off from different parts of India on Thursday.
“We have several embarkation points, and on May 9th, the first day of the Hajj flights, several planes will be taking off from at least 10 places across India,” he told Arab News.

The list of cities includes Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur, and Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and rule in part.

India’s Hajj contingent this year includes more than 4,000 women who will perform the Hajj on their own, without a mahram, or male guardian, Abdullakutty said.

They represent a group of women pilgrims who have been able to travel to Saudi Arabia alone since last year, following the Kingdom’s 2022 decision to lift a rule that required women to be accompanied by a mahram.

Those who had no such companion could only travel in large groups of other women.
India’s preparations for this year’s Hajj were overseen by Muktesh K. Pardeshi, secretary of consular, passport, visa and overseas Indian affairs at the Ministry of External Affairs, who concluded an official visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

“During his visit, the secretary conducted a review of preparations for Hajj 2024 in Jeddah and Madinah,” the ministry said in a statement.

“He met with (Saudi) Vice Hajj Minister Dr. Abdul Fattah Mashat, and discussed logistical arrangements and infrastructure developments aimed at the welfare and comfort of pilgrims.”