BEIRUT: The number of Lebanese who got a visa to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage this year has more than doubled compared to 2014, the head of the Hajj Affairs Committee said Tuesday.
“There are 7,200 Lebanese pilgrims who got visas this year, compared to 3,200 last year,” Ibrahim Itani told The Daily Star.
He added, however, that while the official number was 7,200, there were additional visas which the Saudi Embassy provided to Lebanese officials “out of courtesy.”
Itani attributed the bigger quota of hajj visas which Lebanon received this year to “an act of generosity by Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz.”
He explained that the 7,200 visas were equally divided among Shiites and Sunnis.
Itani said that around 20,000 Lebanese have applied for a visa to perform hajj this year.
He said that an applicant who has already performed the hajj pilgrimage before is usually denied a visa and that older applicants had a priority.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims began to flock to Mecca to perform hajj. They begin practicing the annual ritual on Sept. 22, lasting until Sept. 26. Hajj reaches its climax on Sept. 23, one day ahead of Eid al-Adha.
Eid al-Adha honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ismail, his promised son, as an act of submission to God’s will.
It is celebrated more than two months after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. In Lebanon, both Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country and the Higher Shiite Council have announced that Sept. 24 will be the first day of Eid al-Adha.
Itani said that every year, the number of Shiite applicants for a hajj visa ranged between 12,000 and 14,000, while that of Sunnis between 6,000 and 10,000.
The Hajj Affairs Committee is under the authority of the prime minister and is supervised by the Cabinet’s secretary-general.