BEIJING, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- The first of two remaining charter flights carrying Chinese Muslims heading to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for an annual pilgrimage left Beijing on Thursday morning.
The last charter flight is scheduled to leave Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, late Thursday.
The flights mark the last phase of a government-organized pilgrimage tour that will help a total of 13,800 Chinese Muslims visit the holy city this year.
Authorities have strived to make the pilgrimage safe and enhance overseas services, said Zhang Lebin, deputy director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, while seeing the Muslims off at the Beijing Capital International Airport. [ Zhang said authorities have taken appropriate measures regarding the emergence of a novel coronavirus in Saudi Arabia.
The Mecca pilgrimage, also known as the Hajj, is a Muslim religious tradition that specifies that all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to travel to Saudi Arabia must visit Mecca at least once in their lives.
China has more than 20 million Muslims, about half of whom are from the Hui ethnic group. In addition to Ningxia, Chinese Muslims mainly live in the western provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan, as well as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.