- Özgür Töre
Starting next year, a Turkish cruise company will start umrah pilgrimage voyages from the historic city of Istanbul to Mecca, a company official announced.
"We’re planning to start umrah journeys via ship by 2023,” Ay Cruise CEO Cetin Ay told Anadolu Agency.
“With the Istanbul-Jeddah voyage, many people from the Muslim world will come to Istanbul and have the opportunity to go to umrah by ship. They will be able to do both a cruise ship voyage and umrah.”
Saying that Turkiye has a serious cruise ship tourism potential, Ay underlined they are taking a major step forward on this with the new Istanbul-Jeddah tours.
Spain boasts 6.5 million cruise ship passengers annually, he said, adding: "We’ve been developing this project for a year-and-a-half. In 2023, our Istanbul-Jeddah tours will start under halal (Muslim approved) tourism."
"During the Ottoman era, visits were made to the holy land by train. So this has been an unfulfilled desire for me," he added.
The cruise voyage is expected to take 7 days from Istanbul, he said, adding that those who have fulfilled their umrah or hajj pilgrimages will have the option to either return to Istanbul or continue onto other countries.
Umrah is a voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims can perform at any time of the year. They were suspended in February 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Saudi Arabia has also limited the hajj to domestic pilgrims for the past two years due to the pandemic. A total of 60,000 pilgrims performed hajj last year compared to around 2.5 million in 2019.
The pilgrimage to Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba in the city of Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam.
A Muslim is required to perform the hajj at least once if they have the means.