Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hajj is much easier and comfortable due to expansion

Hajj is now easy and comfortable due to
Expansion of Holy Mosques and other holy sites

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Expansion of the Two Holy Mosques was given top priority by King Abdul Aziz and his successors for the service of Islam and Muslims. They were aware that Holy Mosque could not support the growing numbers of worshippers and also overseeing the well-being of the pilgrims undertaking the annual Hajj. The implementation of the expansion projects aimed at enabling pilgrims, Umrah performers and visitors of the Holy Places to perform their rituals in comfort and ease. A long and glorious tradition of expansion surrounds the Haram Mosque, dating back to 638 AD, when the increasing number of conversions to Islam led the second Caliph, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, to develop the site.

When King Abdul Aziz established the modern Saudi State, one of his primary concerns, like that of the early Caliphs, was his role in overseeing the well-being of the pilgrims undertaking the annual Hajj. He initiated a refurbishment and expansion programme. The achievements of King Abdul Aziz were unparalleled since the last expansion of the Holy Haram 1,096 years ago in the era of the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Muqtadir Billah. Efforts of the Ottoman Sultan, Saleem and his son Sultan Murad (1576) were confined to refurbishing the Mosque, not expanding it.

The expansion begun by King Abdul Aziz and completed during the reign of King Saud, was aimed at building a path 394 meters long and 20 metres (65 ft) wide close to the Masaa, and a 9-metre (30 ft) high second floor over the Masaa, in addition to a 2-way barrier and a path for disabled people in wheelchairs in the Masaa. The Masaa has 16 gates on the eastern side in addition to two entrances for the second floor, one at Al Safa and the other at Al Marwa.

The expansion of the Two Holy Mosques was given priority by King Abdul Aziz, Saud, Faisal and Khalid and totaled 131,041 square metres (157,250 square yards), compared to the Mosque’s previous area of 29,127 square metres (34,800 sq. yards.). This raised the total area to 160,168 sqaure metres (192,000 sq.yds.)

The King Fahd’s expansion of the Haramein project had a number of aims primarily the improvement, redecoration and expansion of the Holy Mosque, its courtyards and facilities, so that it can accommodate the largest possible number of worshippers. The most advanced technical innovations were used to facilitate movement and prayer for pilgrims and visitors to the Haram and access to the cooled, pure water of "Zamzam".

Work on the project began on September 13, 1988 when the King laid the foundation stone. The project included the addition of a new part to the Mosque from the Western side between the Umrah Gate and the King’s Gate. The area of the expansion floors totaled 76,000 square metres including the ground, first and basement floors, accommodating some 152,000 worshippers. The projects also include furnishing the mosque’s outer yards for prayer, an area totaling 85,000 sq. metres and accommodating 130,000 worshippers.

This raised the Sacred Mosque’s total area to about 365,000 square meters, accommodating 773,000 worshippers on normal days and more than one million during Hajj season and the holy month of Ramadan. The project also included the construction of a 750-metre long, 24 to 36 metre wide basement under the prayer area to the east of the Masaa.

A new air-conditioning system was devised. For that purpose, a station was setup in Ajiad with a total capacity of 13,500 cooling tons. A new 2-storied toilet building covering an area of 14,000 sq. metres was built to the north of Masaa area. It contains 1440 toilets, 1091 ablution points and 162 drinking water taps. Separate toilets have been set aside for women complete with separate entrances.

The area of the basement totaled 20,000 squares, accommodating 33,000 worshippers. The area of the first floor totaled 47,000 square metres, accommodating 77,000 worshippers, the area of the roof after improvements totaled 42,000 square metres, accommodating 90,000 worshippers. There are 56 escalators.

The Tawaf area was tiled with heat-dissipating marble, doors were renewed and the Mosque’s library was established at a total cost of SR. 80 million. There are 55,000 lighting lamps connected by wires, whose combined length totaled 35,000 metres.

Haramain Expansion Projects by King Abdullah
To further improve both Hajj services and pilgrims’ facilities, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah ordered additional expansions to the Grand Mosque.

Described as the largest in Muslim history, the project will create additional prayer space for nearly a million worshippers. More than 1,000 properties in the areas of Shamiya and Shubaika have been demolished in order to make room for the expansion.

Masaa, the area between Safa and Marwa, which is located inside the mosque has been expanded to help pilgrims perform the sa’ie ritual more easily and comfortably.

King Abdullah allocated SR10 billion for the new projects at the Grand Mosque and the holy sites.

He also ordered another expansion at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah at a cost of more than SR4 billion. It includes the installation of 182 sunshades in courtyards around the mosque for the benefit of 200,000 worshippers. The mosque’s eastern courtyard has been expanded, creating additional prayer place for 70,000 worshippers.

With the completion of the new expansion project, all residential areas of old Madinah will become part the mosque complex. As part of the government’s efforts in the service of pilgrims, several projects have been carried out in Makkah and also at the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa.

Projects for comfort and ease
at Tawaf, Masa’a and Jamarat

With the increasingly overcrowded during Hajj in Tawaf and Masa’a area and also in Jamarat, the Saudi authorities took many projects to find solution in these areas.

Tawaf area and Maqam Ibrahim
Tawaf (circumambulation around Ka’ba) has now become more comfortable because of the Tawaf area being tiled with heat dissipating marble. But from a long time, the area of Tawaf (circumambulation around Ka’ba) was getting increasingly overcrowded during Hajj and other seasons. A solution had to be found requiring the removal of buildings close to Ka’ba such as the building over Zamzam well, the pulpit and the building over Maqam Ibrahim (the stone over which Prophet Abraham stood while raising the walls of Ka’ba).

To achieve this, the building over Zamzam was removed leaving the well beneath the ground with pilgrims descending to it using stairs leading to the chamber housing the Well below the Tawaf area. The pulpit was relocated eastward.

Ibn Katheer said: “Maqam Ibrahim is the stone standing at which Imams lead the prayers. It is the stone on which Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) stood while building the House. When the wall went up, Ishmael (peace be upon him) brought it to him to stand on while taking the stones from him and aligning them with his hand to raise the wall. Upon completing one side, he would move to the other, circumambulating around the Ka’ba while still standing on the stone. Upon completing one wall, he would move to the side nearest to it until he finally completed the walls of Ka’ba.”

In 1964, the Constituent Council of the Muslim World League discussed the issue of removing the structure over Maqam Ibrahim and concluded that most of the overcrowding was caused by the unnecessary buildings and that their removal would ease the hardship and greatly help people performing Tawaf and prayers.

In a memorandum to King Faisal the Muslim World League proposed the removal of these structures and that a strong, round-shape crystal box of suitable height be placed over Maqam Ibrahim. This will make this part of Tawaf area more spacious, remove the hardship and enable people to see Maqam Ibrahim, refuting the generally held belief that a tomb of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was inside the existing structure.

The importance of this achievement in facilitating Tawaf and performance of prayers is distinctly evident if one sees that the area of the removed building was 6x3 meters while the area of mosque itself is 40x40 cm.

Expansion of Masa’a
The Sa’i between Safa and Marwah has also become easier and comfortable. Now, the Masa’a area has not only been expanded but there are now four story. You can do Sa’i now in the basement, ground floor, first floor, second floor and on the roof also.

The Masa’a in the first Saudi expansion consisted of two stories, a futuristic approach taking into consideration the annual increase in the number of pilgrims.

It was 394.5 meters long and 20 meters wide. The first story was 12 meters high and the second 9 meters high. This not only made Sa’i easier but also provided wide space accommodating big numbers of worshippers, thus easing the overcrowding in the mosque. The building of the Masa’s upper story was approved by a religious ruling.

A barrier was built to divide the Masa’a into two parallel parts: one for performing Sa’i toward the direction of Safa and the second toward Marwah. A two-way narrow path between the two parts was established for the disabled and those who could not walk or stride.

There are stairs for ascent and descent at both Safa and Marwah.

The Masa’a has 16 gates on its eastern side. At the second floor, two gates, one at Safa and the other at Marwah, lead to the Holy Haram from outside. The two gates are raised above the ground to the level of the praying surface. Inside the mosque, two stairs lead to the second floor, one at Safa Gate and the other at Al-Salam Gate. Below the first floor there is a 3.5 meters high basement with its roof at the level of the ground.

King Abdullah took expansion projects of Masa’a. Masaa, the area between Safa and Marwa, which is located inside the mosque has been expanded to help pilgrims perform the sa’ie ritual more easily and comfortably.

King Abdullah initiated the improvement and development of facilities for pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah. This included the building of a new five-storey Jamarat Bridge in Makkah as well as a Monorail between the key sites of the new Haram Railway.

Stoning at Jamarat
The symbolic stoning of Satan at Jamrat is no longer a nightmarish task for pilgrims. The construction of a four-story high-tech bridge in the area and the expansion of its surroundings have made things much easier for them.

The Jamarat is the area where ritual stoning of Satan takes place during Haj. The building of helicopter landing pads at the highest level of the Al-Jamarat Project, including other construction works, have been completed. The helipads will be used in emergencies.

The company carrying out the Jamarat project started to erect oval tents on its fifth floor a week ago. The project will be finished in October this year and will be used for the next Hajj season. “All floors have been air-conditioned. An advanced cooling system will be installed on the fifth floor through which water will be sprinkled over the main and surrounding areas. This is expected to lower the temperature by about 29 degrees Centigrade,” it is reported..

The Arafat expansion has also been finished, it is also reported that the project, which started last year, provides a capacity for a further 900,000 pilgrims. The additional area is equivalent to about 25 percent of Arafat’s total initial area. The project involved paving main and subsidiary streets, establishing drainage and trimming trees, the deputy minister said.

Makkah Monorail
Monorail will bring remarkable improvements in the transportation of pilgrims between the holy sites of Makkah, Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat.

The Saudi Arabian authorities are working relentlessly on the construction of a Metro project to transport over 70,000 pilgrims in an hour between the holy sites of Makkah, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa during the peak days of Hajj.

The daily Arab News quoted the President of the Saudi Railway Organization (SRO), Abdul Aziz Al-Hoqail, to have said that the “first phase of the Makkah Monorail project is expected to be completed before this year’s Hajj. This will enable Hajj pilgrims to use 35 percent of train service.”

The $1.74 billion monorail project will be ready for use to 35 per cent of its capacity by the Hajj season in November 2010 and should be fully operational in two years. The 18.1 Km railway will transport about 72,000 passengers an hour. It will help withdraw about 53,000 buses and other vehicles being used by pilgrims coming by land from within the kingdom and neighbouring countries. There will be three railway stations in each of the holy sites.

The entire train system, the SRO Chief added, including stations, will be elevated and pilgrims will have access to escalators and staircases to reach it. “Each of the five lines of the monorail project will have an hourly capacity to carry 60,000 to 80,000 passengers between Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah, and later between Mina and Makkah. All trains will have 12 large compartments, each of which will be 23 meters long and 3 meters wide,” said the Chief Executive of this project.

“Thirty-five percent of its capacity would be used during this year’s Hajj season. It will have 20 trains next year when it operates within full capacity. Each train will have 12 carriages,” Hoqail reiterated. The project, he said, includes construction of nine railway stations in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah, each 300 meters long. “One station will be located near the Jamarat Bridge in Mina where the stoning ritual takes place. Pilgrims will be able to board the train from the bridge’s fourth floor,” he concluded.

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