Muslims have their blood pressure checked before setting off on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca from Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Xinjiang health authorities have provided checkups, vaccinations and medical assistance to pilgrims. [Photo/Xinhua]
Arrangements for Muslims in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region who wish to take part in State-organized visits to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage are being enhanced by the local authorities.
Aisha Imish, a senior religious leader in Baicheng in the south of the region, participated in one of the official trips in 2013.
"Before, I was respected for my religious knowledge, but I had even more authority after I came back from Mecca," the 50-year-old said.
"I still remember everything that happened during the one-month trip. We were accompanied by a translator, a doctor, a chef and other staff members, and enjoyed life in Islam's most holy city.
"We stayed in the best rooms with air conditioners, and didn't need to worry about anything."
All able-bodied Muslims who can afford to go on the hajj are required to do so at least once in their lifetime. This year's pilgrimage is expected to run from Sept 21 to 26.
Last year, trips were organized to Mecca for 14,000 pilgrims from China, 3,200 of whom came from Xinjiang.
The region, with more than 13 million Muslims, has a long waiting list for the government-organized visits.
Wei Xinhui, Party chief and deputy director of the Xinjiang Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, said, "The quota is almost the same every year, far short of the number of applicants in the region."
Aisha had wanted to take part in the pilgrimage since becoming a councilor at his local Mosque many years ago.
Yu Jinhua, deputy director of Baicheng's ethnic and religious committee, said: "We make an initial examination of the applicants. An important part of the examination is to ensure they can afford the trip and have no debts."
Applications are submitted to the State Administration of Religious Affairs. Applicants can see the waiting list on the administration's website and check how many people are ahead of them.
A new regional regulation that took effect on Jan 1 requires Muslims who wish to travel to Mecca to do so as part of a State-organized tour.
The regulation is part of efforts to prevent corruption, Wei said. In January, 32 officials were investigated and punished for arranging pilgrimages for people who were not authorized to travel.
They violated the Party's discipline rules and were guilty of dereliction of duty and abuse of power for personal gain, according to the Xinjiang anti-graft watchdog.