Umrah Packages Galore, as Ramadan Nears

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By IINA

masjid_al_haram-300x224RIYADH, Shaaban 18/July 19 (IINA)-With two weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, attractive weekend Umrah packages starting from SR100 are being offered by travel operators in the capital.

The beginning of the Umrah season on June 29 this year coincided with the summer holidays, triggering a large rush of people including Saudis to do the pilgrimage.

An official from Al-Rushd, a leading Hajj and Umrah travel operator in the city, said the Umrah season is to continue until two weeks after Ramadan.

He predicted that the current fee of SR100 per pilgrim will increase by 50 percent as Ramadan approaches and will be hiked even further during the latter part of the holy month. “Budget conscious families are currently taking advantage of this offer,” he said.

A return fare from Riyadh to Makkah by luxury coach including accommodation in the holy city will cost SR100 per pilgrim and the charges remain the same even if the pilgrim opts to visit the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah en route to Makkah.

For an additional payment of SR30 per pilgrim, accommodation can be upgraded to four-star hotels in the holy city.

The itinerary for the weekend package to Makkah and Madinah starts at 4 p.m. from Riyadh on Wednesday and finishes on Friday midnight.  Each family is given a large room while the bachelors are accommodated on a sharing basis with three pilgrims in one room. Children under 12 pay half the fare.

A five-day package to Makkah and Madinah including travel and accommodation will cost SR150 per pilgrim. The offer includes a two-day stay in a three-star hotel in Madinah and another two days in similar accommodation in Makkah.

The journey begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The pilgrims will leave the holy city of Makkah after Friday prayers so that they reach Riyadh around midnight. Pilgrims are given an option to stay in a five-star hotel for an additional premium.

There are more than 100 Umrah travel operators spread out across the capital, but most are concentrated in the city center of Batha.

During the journey, coaches stop for Maghreb, Isha and dinner and at the meeqat point in Taif to allow pilgrims to don ihrams. Pilgrims are given half an hour to put their ihrams on to ensure that they reach Makkah in time for Fajr.

A leading hotelier in Makkah told Arab News that the majority of the pilgrims are from all parts of the Kingdom and others have come from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“This year, there are less people from Arab countries such as Egypt and Morocco, possibly due to unrest in the region,” he noted. The occupancy rate in Makkah hotels has been recorded at 88 percent during weekdays and 100 percent during the weekends, he added.

The local hotels in cooperation with local tour operators have arranged city tours to historical sites for the benefit of those pilgrims who come to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

The places of interest include Quba Mosque, the first mosque built by the Holy Prophet (s) in Madinah; the Qiblatain Mosque where the Qibla was shifted from Baitul Muqaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to the Holy Kaaba; and the graveyard on the foothills of Mount Uhud where soldiers who died in battle during the prophetic period were buried.

AH/IINA

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Clinton Backs Saudi Drivers

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Quinn

2011-06-22T173003Z_1967305151_GM1E76N047F01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI-DRIVING

Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh June 22, 2011. Saudi Arabia has no formal ban on women driving. But as citizens must use only Saudi-issued licences in the country, and as these are issued only to men, women drivers are anathema.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday praised “brave” Saudi women demanding the right to drive, but she tried to avoid an open breach with a close U.S. ally by saying the Saudis themselves should determine the way forward.

The Saudi driving ban has been publicly challenged in recent weeks by women who have risked arrest to get behind the wheel. Clinton, one of the world’s best-known advocates for women’s rights, has come under mounting pressure to take a stand.

“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them,” Clinton said in her first public comments on the issue.

Clinton’s carefully phrased remarks appeared to be an attempt to balance her deep-held beliefs with the need to keep smooth relations with Riyadh in an era of huge political changes sweeping the Middle East and concern about oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have seen their traditionally close ties strained in recent months as popular protests erupted in a number of Arab countries including Bahrain, where Saudi security forces were called in to restore order.

Prior to her remarks, the State Department had said that Clinton was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” on the driving ban — drawing a fresh appeal from one Saudi women’s group for a more forceful U.S. stance.

“Secretary Clinton: quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now. What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple and public statement supporting our right to drive,” the group, Saudi Women for Driving, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Clinton did just that on Tuesday, although she repeatedly added the caveat that the issue was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia to sort out.

“This is not about the United States, it is not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government,” she said.

Clinton raised the issue in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Friday and said the United States would continue to support full universal rights for women around the world.

Clinton said mobility was important for women to both find jobs and help care for their families.

“We will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential,” she said.

Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. security ally and important oil supplier — is an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. Religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Besides a ban on driving, women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

Riyadh is also an important factor in both Yemen and Syria, where protests have challenged autocratic leaders and left Washington trying to balance its support for democratic reform with concerns over stability and security in the region.

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