Egyptians make their way to hajj despite obstacles

The minimum travel cost this year was $3,635 per person

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More than 60,000 Egyptians have arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites despite obstacles ahead of their trip.

“Ahead of the journey to perform hajj, a large number of Egyptians face many difficulties including financial issues and availabilities to travel,” Mamdouh al-Kadi, an Egyptian citizen who has performed went to perform hajj three times told Al Arabiya News.

“A large number of Egyptians do not have enough money to go to Saudi Arabia for hajj,” Kadi said, adding that the cost of the journey often pushes Egyptians to save ruthlessly or even sell valuable possessions.

The minimum travel cost this year was $3,635 per person, including flight tickets and cost of stay fees, according to Egyptian daily al-Youm al-Sabee.

In Egypt, where the average annual salary is $6,600, a pilgrim pays anything from $2,740 to $4,590 to perform the journey depending on what package he opts for.

“The citizens who are willing to go perform the spiritual journey also face a problem to get a visa as Saudi Arabia limits the number of Muslims it welcomes from each country,” he said.

This year, the kingdom granted Egypt approximately 63,000 hajj visas – a considerable cut from 79,000 given last year, according to Cairo-based news website Daily News Egypt.

Health risks

The lucky pilgrims who manage to get their pass to perform one of the most hotly-awaited spiritual journeys for Muslims are also faced with health risks – including infectious diseases.

However, according to Kadi, some consider that for some, dying during a pilgrimage “becomes a wish.”

This year, at least 15 Egyptians who undertook the pilgrimage have died from natural causes, most above the age of 50, the Egyptian daily reported.

The Ebola virus, which is so far incurable and has killed over 3,300 people this year, is among the most feared diseases during this hajj season.

Saudi Arabia said it has taken stringent measures to prevent an Ebola outbreak during hajj season and assured the safety of the pilgrims.

The World Health Organization is advising pilgrims to maintain good personal hygiene by covering mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, and regularly washing their hands.

However, despite the various obstacles, Egyptians who get the chance to perform what many consider as a “once in a lifetime trip,” get “a chance to reaffirm their faith and root themselves more firmly in their beliefs,” Sheikh Ahmed Turki, a member of the Egypt-based Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs told Al Arabiya News.

The spiritual journey also helps unify Muslims, he said.

“During hajj, all pilgrims dress alike in the same simple way, from the rich to the poor. They all face the same regulations and say the same prayers at the same time,” Turki said.

“There is only humility and devotion during the trip,” he added.

Both men and women dress in white during hajj, marking a state of purity, known as ihram.