YINCHUAN, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- A charter flight with 297 Chinese Muslims on Friday morning left Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, heading to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for an annual pilgrimage.
They are the first group among more than 14,000 Chinese pilgrims who will go to Mecca on a government-organized trip this year.
A total of 2,833 people are scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia via nine Air China charter flights between Sept. 5 and 9, and return to Ningxia on Oct. 15, said Jin Pu, of the Ningxia Regional Administration of Religious Affairs.
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.
"My parents had no chance to go to Mecca in their lifetime as the family was poor. Now, we are living in good conditions and the wish is coming true," said Na Changjun, from Yongning County in Yinchuan.
The 68-year-old will travel along with his wife.
"Government officials have made thoughtful arrangements for our journey. All we need to do is to follow the imam," said Na.
Jin said that religious authorities in Ningxia have sent more than 100 people to provide various services for the Muslims, including translation, accommodation, medical treatment, transportation and security.
"We also drafted a contingency plan on the novel coronavirus and the Ebola virus," he added.
China has more than 20 million Muslims, about half of whom are from the Hui ethnic group. Chinese Muslims mainly live in the western provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
More than 2.32 million Hui live in Ningxia, accounting for more than one-third of the total population there.