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MAKKAH: The UK Consul General has expressed satisfaction with the return of British pilgrims to holy sites in Saudi Arabia after a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that one million pilgrims, including those from abroad, would be allowed to perform Hajj.

For the past two years, Hajj and Umrah have been restricted to those in Saudi Arabia.

UK Consul General Seif Usher, who spoke to Arab News at an iftar in Mecca, hailed the department’s decision as British Muslims could once again experience religious rituals in Arabia saudi.

“It’s very good to be back in Makkah after a while,” he said. “Mashallah, the haram is very busy. As we see, the pilgrims have returned to the Kingdom from the United Kingdom. The opening of the electronic visa, in particular, has allowed many thousands of British pilgrims to come to Mecca and visit Medina, to come here and to perform Umrah generally during Ramadan.

“Certainly before COVID-19, we expected tens of thousands of British nationals to come to Makkah during Ramadan. So, inchallah, we will see an increasing number of pilgrims from the UK coming to Makkah.

The previous iftar organized by the consul general was in 2019.

British Consul General in Jeddah Seifeldin Usher. (A photo by Huda Bashatah)

Saudi Arabia and the UK enjoy a long-standing friendship, strong bilateral ties and value cooperation on economic and cultural fronts. But there is also religious cooperation.

“In the UK we have over two and a half million Muslims, around 5% of the population. Thus, several tens of thousands of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia every year. Typically, pilgrims coming for Umrah, there will be more than 100,000 per year. For Hajj pilgrims, there will be more than 25,000.

“So the numbers are important. Saudi Arabia’s role in welcoming pilgrims and looking after them during their stay is extremely important and highly valued both by the pilgrims themselves and by us in terms of the UK government. So we are very grateful for all the work of the authorities every year and inshallah we will see an increase as we move forward now after the very difficult years of COVID.

In 2019, over 130,000 UK pilgrims performed Hajj and Umrah. But the past two Hajj seasons have seen an unprecedented drop in the number of international pilgrims due to travel restrictions and other lockdowns in Saudi Arabia and around the world.

Usher said he did not know how many British pilgrims would come for this Hajj season, but he estimated there would be between 8,000 and 10,000.

“We are awaiting an official announcement from the Saudi authorities, and we look forward to welcoming British pilgrims here to Mecca this summer.”

Saudi Arabia’s role in welcoming pilgrims and looking after them during their stay is extremely important and highly valued both by the pilgrims themselves and by us in terms of the UK government.

Seif Usher, Consul General of the United Kingdom

Usher, who converted to Islam 25 years ago, has worked in Sudan, Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

His first Ramadan in Saudi Arabia was in 2019, although he arrived in the country in September 2018 to oversee the Hajj journey for British pilgrims.

This year will be his fourth life in Saudi Arabia.

“I think Ramadan is the most special time of the year for all Muslims. It is a month where we can find some spiritual peace. We can enjoy going to the mosque for Tarawih prayers , and it is especially special when we have the opportunity to do so in Makkah.

“So I feel very lucky to have this opportunity. It’s been a return to normal a bit after the difficult years of COVID, Alhamdulillah, and it’s very good to be here.

Monday’s iftar hosted members of the British Armed Forces performing Umrah.

Naveed Mohammed, the British Army liaison officer responsible for improving links with British Muslim communities, traveled to Saudi Arabia with 10 other Muslims for Umrah.

He told Arab News: “The level of care and organization I have seen is exceptional. Our host in the Saudi Armed Forces took very good care of us. When we walk around, we have tours of the different sites in Makkah and Jeddah. All we can see is the highest level of organization, the highest level of preparation and the way the Saudi authorities are looking after all the pilgrims.

“It doesn’t matter if someone came from one part of the world or someone came from another part of the world. Everyone is treated like a guest which is wonderful to see.

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