Thousands of Muslims from across Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, departed Thursday for Saudi Arabia on the annual hajj pilgrimage. Minister of Religious Affairs Muhammad Maftuh Basyuni waved off 445 pilgrims, all dressed in white robes and with their passports hung on string around their necks, from a special Hajj Terminal at Jakarta's Sukarno-Hatta Airport.
"Hopefully you are all prepared to face the extreme cold weather in Saudi Arabia," Basyuni told the pilgrims before they left. "Take good care of yourselves and do not separate from your group." The hajj pilgrimage to the holy sites Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia is required of able-bodied Muslims at least once in a lifetime, if they can afford it.
Muslims believe the hajj is a spiritual journey that cleanses the soul and wipes away sins. A total of 205,000 Indonesian Muslims will perform the hajj this year, 4,825 of whom left Thursday from eight of nine assigned embarkment points across the country, said Toto Sugiarto, a spokesman at the religious ministry.
For many Indonesians, traveling on the hajj is the only foreign trip of their lifetime. On their return home, they enjoy a higher social standing and are often referred to with the honorific "Haji" before their names.
The hajj season starts now and will climax in the 10th day of Zulhijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, or January 10 in the Western calendar, reports the AP. I.L.