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JAKARTA: The lifting of age restrictions for Hajj is being celebrated across Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, where many potential pilgrims must wait many years to embark on the religious journey.

Hajj was restricted to domestic parts in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic fears.

After Saudi Arabia lifted most of its Covid-19 curbs last year, precautions were still in place in 2022, with an age limit of 65 for pilgrims.

But this year, the annual pilgrimage will return to pre-pandemic rules, and Saudi authorities have announced that those older than 65 will also be allowed.

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“This is certainly wonderful news, because first of all, many Hajj pilgrims from Indonesia are over 60 years old, and even older than 65 years old,” said Mizaj Iskandar, a professor at the Faculty of Shariah and Law at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University. Banda Aceh, which in 2022 was given the task of organizing the pilgrimage in Aceh province.

Last year, about 100,000 pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia from Indonesia during the Hajj season. This year, the quota for the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation will return to its pre-pandemic figures.

Indonesian Religious Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas on Sunday signed an agreement on the 2023 quota with Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, who approved the arrival of 221,000 Indonesian pilgrims this year.

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“The Hajj is a long-awaited pilgrimage… on average, the wait is about 25 to 28 years in Indonesia to perform the Hajj,” Iskandar Arab News said, citing data from the Ministry of Religion.

In some regions such as Aceh, South Sulawesi and South Kalimantan, the wait can be longer than 30 years.

Now that the quota is higher and the age restrictions have been lifted, it will help “accelerate the departure of Indonesian pilgrims,” ​​Iskandar added.

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Indonesians also took to social media to celebrate the lifting of restrictions on Hajj, with many writing to express their gratitude.

Indonesian officials are now gearing up to prepare for the upcoming Hajj season, as elderly pilgrims are likely to require more support, including medical assistance.

“Many of our pilgrims are really elderly,” the Indonesian consul general in Jeddah, Eko Hartono, told Arab News.

“For that reason, we consider the need to limit the number of elderly pilgrims so that we can better prepare for Hajj-related matters…

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