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More than 2,700 Xinjiang Muslims to make pilgrimage to Mecca
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About 2,760 Muslims from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region will make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam's holiest site, this year, local officials said Tuesday.

The pilgrims from regional capital Urumqi, Yili, Kashi, Hotan and other areas, would form 10 travel groups later in the year, said Enwaer Turdi, an official in charge of pilgrimages in the regional ethnic affairs commission.

The regional Islamic association would teach the pilgrims about the ritual and Saudi Arabia. The group leaders would learn Arabic for a week.

The regional government will also send translators and doctors to accompany the pilgrims.

More than 30,000 people have made the pilgrimage to Mecca in the last 20 years, including 2,800 last year, five times more than the number nearly two decades ago, which reflected a sharp increase in per capita income of local farmers, Enwaer Turdi said.

A pilgrimage to Mecca is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.

"A Muslim from Xinjiang usually spends 40,000 yuan (US$5,856) making the pilgrimage," said Tuohan A'gyi, a farmer who went to Mecca in 2005.

"More and more people in my hometown can afford to go to Mecca as our incomes have been increasing since the reform and opening-up policy was adopted 30 years ago."

The direct air service from Xinjiang to Medina launched in 2006 shortens the journey to seven hours compared with more than 30 hours previously, said an official in the regional ethnic affairs commission.

(Xinhua News Agency July 21, 2009)

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