Medical help on the road to Mecca 

Updated: 2011-09-17 07:26

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China will offer more medical help to Muslims during the upcoming pilgrimage to Mecca to reduce the number of people who die on the annual religious journey.

The 13,700 Chinese pilgrims who are making their way to Saudi Arabia from October to December this year will be taken care of by 55 doctors and nurses, said Yang Zhibo, vice-president of China's Islamic Association.

Twenty-one Chinese Muslims died during the pilgrimage last year, Yang said, prompting authorities to reinforce medical assistance.

A 70-year old Muslim surnamed Han from Northeast China's Heilongjiang province told China Daily that he kept exercising for a whole year before the journey, which he found to be "very necessary."

"It was energy consuming to complete the pilgrimage, since we have to walk seven times and to kiss the Black Stone on each circuit. It was so crowded and people around kept stomping on my feet," Han said.

"But I have to go, since it is one of the five pillars for Muslims. I got up at six in the morning and walked around the compound where I lived in preparation for the walk to Mecca," he said.

The number of Muslims in China going to Mecca each year has increased from about 200 in the early 1980s, according to the Islamic Department of the State Administration of Religious Affairs.

About 2 million people from around the world make the pilgrimage to Mecca every year.

All Muslims, except those unable to because of age, poverty or illness, are expected to make the journey at least once.

"When I was in Mecca, I strictly followed the procedure of the ritual, and when the pilgrimage ended, I felt a sense of fulfillment," Han said.

China is home to about 22 million Muslims, 70 percent of whom live in the western provinces, according to the census in 2000.

Muslims can either apply online or through local Islamic associations, Yang said.

It costs about 17,000 yuan ($2,600) for each trip, including transportation and accommodation.

Saudi Arabia does not accept individual applications, and unofficial pilgrimages are not allowed in China.