Muslim Travellers: The best route option for SA's Umrah and Hajj pilgrims is via wondrous Istanbul

2018-08-01 10:30 - Saara Mowlana
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SA pilgrims might want to consider the wondrous city of Istanbul en route to Hajj or Umrah. (Photo: iStock)

Each year around this time, South Africa sees a limited amount of 3 500 Muslim pilgrims off on a journey of Hajj. 'Hajj' - an Arabic word which means 'to intend a journey' - is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime - if they have the means, of course.

The pilgrimage takes place in the Islamic holy city of Mecca or Makkah in Saudi Arabia where the 'Kabah' (which is the house of God or 'Allah') is located. Its name is Arabic for 'cube' - given its cloth-draped shape.

READ: SA Hajj quota re-instated as stricter accreditation process outlined

This year, the Hajj period kicks off on 9 August and the airport is already seeing a number of lucky pilgrims headed off to partake in the religious experience and sacred practice.  

The limited number, while seeing an increase of about a thousand since 2017, still falls short of the growing demand from every South African wishing to undertake the mandatory pilgrimage. 

Saudi authorities are under immense pressure from Muslims across the globe to allow greater access for pilgrims, but for safety and security reasons, they maintain strict controls and national quotas - as the city is constantly flowing with pilgrims both partaking in their mandatory Hajj as well as optional Umrah. 

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The difference between Hajj and Umrah is that Umrah - unlike Hajj - is not set upon any specific date in the Islamic calendar year and can be completed at any time - it is also optional and not mandatory. 

While there are no official access limitations placed on Umrah as much as on Hajj, Umrah pilgrims can select a less crowded time to visit the holy city should they not make the Hajj list, making Umrah an increasingly popular journey option for Capetonians.

CHECK OUT THIS Quick guide to Turkey: Easy eVisa travel for South Africans

Turkish Airlines is offering access to Mecca for SA pilgrims seeking flight route deals. The airline operates five flights a week from Cape Town to Istanbul - with connections to four different airports in the Mecca area.

During the dense flying period of Hajj, extra flights will be supplied from Istanbul to supplement a regular schedule - this includes three flights a day to Jeddah, which is the biggest airport in the Mecca region and is just about 75 kilometres or a 90-minute drive from Mecca.

Taif is also said to be a very convenient destination with six Turkish Airlines flights per week. 

Other arrival destination options include Medina, with three flights per day, and Yanbu with one daily flight.

Turkish Airlines also fly to three other Saudi cities:

  • Riyadh,
  • Dammam and
  • Buraydah (El-Qassim)

SEE: Minaret Memoirs - A secret love affair with Istanbul

SA pilgrims who do decide to stopover in the wondrous Istanbul can explore the city's variety of holy sites, indulge in world-class halaal cuisine and take in spectacular beauty and sites as well as spread their purse strings over unrivalled shopping experiences at great value for the rand.

SA travellers on Turkish Airlines who have a 6 - 24 hour layover can take a complimentary tour of Istanbul during that time and if you have a longer connection period, they also offer a free night's accommodation in the city. 

30-day Turkish visas are free for South Africans - you can apply online here.

For more information, visit the Turkish Airlines website.

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