Saudi Arabia is getting ready to host millions of Muslims this August for Hajj, which is set to begin Aug. 9 and end Aug. 14. In the days leading up to the season, King Salman issued a directive to host 200 pilgrims, the families of the victims of the tragic terror attack that shook Christchurch, New Zealand, to perform the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
The directive was announced on Tuesday by the Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh. The gesture is part of Saudi Arabia's efforts to "confront and defeat terrorism," reported Arab News.
The ministry is working closely with the Saudi embassy in New Zealand to ensure all arrangements have been made for the invitees. Pilgrims from New Zealand normally pay $15,000 to perform Hajj. King Salman has relieved these families from that financial burden.
Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be carried out by all Muslims at least once in their lifetime if physically and financially capable.
In March, gunmen opened fire "for ten to 15 minutes" in two New Zealand mosques - Linwood mosque on Linwood Avenue and Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue - leaving over 50 people dead and 20 others seriously injured. The attack, which was described as the country's worse mass shooting, took place during Friday prayers in the city of Christchurch.
In solidarity with all those affected by the horrific attacks, women across New Zealand donned the hijab to tell Muslims they are with them. It seems King Salman wants the victims' families to know that the holy city of Mecca awaits them this Hajj season.
One victim - who survived the shooting in Al Noor mosque - is among those invited to perform Hajj this year. Temel Atacocugu was shot nine times in the shooting. He told Stuff.co that he really appreciates King Salman's offer and believes the trip to Mecca will help with his mental recovery.
"It is going to help me, to go to Hajj, spiritually and mentally as well."
Just hours after the Christchurch shooting, Saudi Arabia condemned the attacks and said terrorism "has no religion and homeland, stressing the kingdom's position that all religions should be respected."