Chinese Muslims board planes to Saudi Arabia at Beijing Capital International Airport. Photo: Islamic Association of China

Tens of thousands of Chinese Muslims are embarking on their hajj trip, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and Chinese newspapers have reported that those who join groups organized by the government and the Islamic Association of China will be given “special positioning cards” to make their trip easier and safer.

It’s said that more than 11,000 Chinese Muslims will be guided in such groups for the month-long hajj this year, and some of them can expect to get a portable. cellphone-like GPS device for free that contains a photo of the pilgrim, his passport number, his name and other contact information in both Chinese and English.

There is a QR code on the back of the GPS devices issued to some Chinese pilgrims heading for Mecca. Photo: Global Times

The device also bears a QR (quick response) code on its back and a quick scan leads to a WeChat-based mini-application maintained by the Islamic Association of China that contains a bulletin board, an event calendar, tips for pilgrims, and emergency contacts, among others.

The device also has an SOS button and when it is pressed, organizers with the association will receive an instant alarm and real-time location of those seeking help.

An official with the association told People’s Daily that the app could also help government organizers track the real-time location and flow of Chinese pilgrims to facilitate management and enhance safety during the 40-day worship event to be held at the massive Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and in Medina.

She said 3,300 pilgrims – mainly from provinces other than Muslim-dense Xinjiang, Ningxia and Gansu – would take part in the pilot scheme to trial the device and provide feedback. Ultimately, all Chinese pilgrims who join government-organized hajj groups will need to register online, activate the device they are given and report on a daily basis their activities and whereabouts in Mecca and elsewhere.

Taking the pilgrimage to the holiest of all Islamic sites is one of the five tasks all Muslims are meant to undertake.

About 500 Chinese Muslims were seen on Sunday waiting to board a charter plane from Beijing to Saudi Arabia. This year more than 10,000 Chinese Muslims are expected to travel to Mecca for the hajj.

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