DHAKA: Thousands of Bangladeshis are going to become some of the earliest Hajj pilgrims to arrive in Saudi Arabia this year, with the first batch scheduled to fly to Jeddah on Thursday.

This year, the Hajj is expected to start on June 14 and end on June 19.

While the pilgrimage itself can be performed 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 scheduled to leave for Jeddah from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on Thursday morning.

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

“Some pilgrims opt to travel earlier to the holy land, as it gives them spiritual peace. It’s the pilgrims’ choice to determine their time of travel.”

This year, Saudi Arabia granted Bangladesh a quota of 127,000 pilgrims to perform the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam. Because of the rising cost of airfares to the Middle East, fewer Bangladeshis than expected will be able to go.

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

To prevent the same scenario during the 2024 pilgrimage season, the Bangladeshi government reduced the cost by $1,000, but high inflation at home prevented a third of prospective pilgrims from registering.

“As we fell short of meeting the number, a quota of 41,000 is surrendered to Saudi Arabia,” Islam said. “The surrendering of this (remaining slots) will not affect the receiving of our Hajj quota next year.”

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

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

From Wednesday, those flying in the next few days can wait for departure at a special Hajj camp near the airport in Dhaka.

“While staying at the Hajj camp, the pilgrims have their Bangladeshi immigration part done. Also, a part of Saudi immigration is being done here as the pilgrims leave their luggage here to Makkah Route authorities,” Islam said.

“The air-conditioned accommodation here is free of cost for the pilgrims … We suggest the pilgrims from outside Dhaka be at the Hajj camp two days before their flight. The camp can hold more than 5,000 pilgrims at a time.”

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