From the news desk

First umrah kicks off

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With the beginning of the first umrah season in the new year, a large influx of mu’tamireen has resulted in the Saudi Embassy imposing a quota of 150 visas per company per day. Local mu’tamireen alerted VOC News of setbacks with their visas this week. South African Travel and Hajj Operators Association chairperson Seddick Steenkamp says the issue has now been dealt with and the umrah season will continue steadily.

“Because of the pressure in the first two weeks, all visas are being processed on a date and time process. All mutamireen have now been sorted and they were able to depart,” Steenkamp said.

Operators are extremely anxious during this time as the festive season brings with it immense pressure. Companies and visas systems are opening for the new year in the Kingdom.

“To get out a fair amount of visas in a short space of time can put pressure on the system,” Steenkamp added.

He says this year, there has been an increase in South Africans who choose to use their time off during the festive season to embark on a spiritual journey. While Steenkamp encouraged this, he appealed to mu’tamireen to be patient and accommodating as minor problems are inevitable.

“It is satisfying to see people now spending money on this journey that will bring them closer to Allah. With this comes a lot of pressure as the construction going on the City of Makkah and Madinah results in there being very little space. This time of the year, prices increase by the day as demand dictates this due to the lack of space,” Steenkamp further added.

“This time of the year, many people are travelling. Mutamireen need to take this into account and ensure that they make enough provision in terms of money as the Saudi Riyal is now trading at R3.23. Lastly, I want to stress that mutamireen need to have a lot of sabr (patience) when embarking on this trip. Due to the large influx and given the time of year, small changes are bound to occur,” Steenkamp said as a word of advice for mu’tamireen. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)

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