Wednesday, 2 October 2013

King Abdullah Expansion of the Grand Mosque for the Comfort of Pilgrims

King Abdullah Expansion of the Grand
Mosque for the comfort of pilgrims

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Hajj is a spiritual journey about which I wrote two weeks ago. The training for this journey starts at the very early stage with the act of Salah (prayer), Saum (fasting) and Zakah (alms-giving) and charities, the culmination of which comes in the performing of Hajj, the highest spiritual attainment. A pilgrim should be aware of the greatness of the rites of the pilgrimage in the sight of God and should therefore make a solemn intention, in his heart or verbally, to the effect that he is carrying out Divine injunctions for the pleasure of God only. The ultimate goal, the summum bonum of life is to respond to the call of Allah the Almighty.

That’s why the pilgrims as soon as they enter into Ihram and landed in Makkah, they begin talbiya, chanting in Arabic, Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik, Labbaik la Sharika laka Labbaik;- Innal-hamda wan-nimata laka walmulk, La Sharika Lak. (I am at Your Service, O God, I am at Your service; You have no partner; All praise, favours and domination are Yours; You have no partner.).

So pilgrims are in Makkah, neither for material gain nor for assessing the material development or construction of multi-storied building; they are not there for picnic or holidaying; or to see how many tallest buildings have been built or whether the city of Makkah has been turned into Las Vegas. The pilgrims go there at the call of Allah the Almighty to fulfil their spiritual and religious obligation; to respond to the call of  Allah and fulfil their spiritual journey.

Remember what Allah Subhanahu wa Taala said in the Holy Qur’an: “The Hajj (pilgrimage) is (in) the well-known (lunar year) months (i.e. the 10th month, the 11th month and the first ten days of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, i.e. the two months and ten days). So whoever intends to perform Hajj therein (by assuming Ihram), then he should not have sexual relations (with his wife), nor commit sin, nor dispute unjustly during the Hajj. And whatever good you do, (be sure) Allah knows it. And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best provision is At-Taqwa (piety, righteousness). So fear Me, O men of understanding.” (Al-Qur’an 2:197)

So once in Ihram and in the Holy sites, pilgrims must not hunt, kill any animal or cut any plant. Pilgrims must also refrain from indecent speech, misbehaviour and quarrelling. Devote your time in the remembrance of Allah as long as you are in Ihram and as long as you are within the holy sites of .Makkah, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah.

Remember your journey is a spiritual journey, a religious journey, a journey to reach the highest spiritual attainment. Do not indulge in things prohibited by Allah. This is with regards to pilgrims who will be seeking Allah’s pleasure.

Similarly, the authorities in Saudi Arabia, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the Government and the people of Saudi Arabia seek Allah’s pleasure by providing all those services which will help pilgrims to perform their rituals with ease and comfort. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah region, said that the Kingdom does not seek any economic benefits from the development projects it has implemented and will implement in the Two Holy Mosques. Saudi Government provides these services because of its responsibilities toward the guests of Allah.

Haramain Development Projects
not for profit
The current expansion projects of the Grand Mosque under the leadership of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz was the largest of its kind with an area covering 400,000 square metres. Once completed, it will accommodate two million Muslims. The expansion projects consist of courtyards, bridges, health centres, a civil defence centre, and a polyclinic.

The expansion of Al-Masaa can now accommodate 188,000 Muslims per hour and the Mataf area can accommodate 105,000 Muslims an hour. King Abdullah Construction Project focuses on crowd management and the development of public transport networks. Prince Khaled said this gigantic public transport project for Makkah will cost SR69 billion and will be implemented in three phases.

Al-Jamarat Bridges has now five floors and can admit 300,000 pilgrims per hour and another seven floors will be built in the future to accommodate five million pilgrims. Around SR300 billion has been allocated for Makkah’s road projects.

The Kingdom under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and his Crown Prince Salman is making all these efforts to serve the guests of Allah for the sake of Allah. It expects rewards from Allah only, Prince Khaled said and added the Kingdom has mobilised all its potential to help pilgrims perform their rituals in as much comfort as possible.

Haramain Expansion Project:
Project of the Century
The Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah are currently witnessing the largest-ever expansions in their history, and that will increase their capacity to more than two million worshippers each. Tipped as the “Project of the Century”, the King Abdullah Expansion of the Grand Mosque is estimated to cost more than SR100 billion. The total area of the existing mosque is 356,000 square metres with a capacity to accommodate 770,000 worshippers while the new expansion of Mataf will accommodate an additional 1.2 million. The project includes expansion of Mataf in order to increase its capacity from 48,000 to 130,000 per hour.

Mataf expansion: Mataf capacity now
70,000 per hour
The Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs plans to open the newly constructed levels of the “MATAF” (area for circumambulating the House of God) on the ground and first floors to worshippers during the current Hajj season, bringing the Mataf capacity to nearly 70,000 per hour.

The first phase of the project to enhance the capacity of the Mataf will be fully opened for worshippers during Hajj. The width of the area parallel to the ‘Masaa’ on this level has been increased to 51 metres.

Director General of Projects and Studies at the Presidency, Abdul Mohsen bin Homaid said in a statement, since the upper level of the temporary Mataf had been allocated to disabled worshippers since Ramadan, the lower level will now be linked to the ground floor of the Mosque to facilitate the movement of the worshippers on the ground floor. It will ensure smooth movement between the first area of expansion and the areas coveted in the first phase of the current project.

Homaid also said the first phase of the Mataf ground floor was the most significant since there were frequent bottlenecks hindering the movement of pilgrims. A new bridge project would minimize bottlenecks occurring in the southern square between the royal palace walls and the walls of the southern Al-Safa dome. It will double the space available for movement with the addition of an upper level to it linking with the first floor, giving flexibility needed for crowd management and separation of crowd movement in opposite directions.

Completion of the bridge on the southern square will enable smooth crowd movement from the eastern square to the first floor through four entrances, including Al-Arqam Escalator, Safa Round, upper part of the Bab Ismail and the Ajyad Bridge, said Homaid.

Cut in Hajj Quota due to vast Expansion
There is a 20 percent cut in the quota of foreign pilgrims and 50 percent cut on domestic pilgrims. The cut in quotas has been ordered due to the vast expansion projects in the Two Holy Mosques and other ritual sites. The Saudi Minister of Hajj Bandar Hajjar said all countries have been informed of the 20 percent cut in their pilgrim quotas and have gracefully accepted the move. The quota reductions were announced due to ongoing expansion projects at the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah, especially the Mataf (circumambulation) area in the Grand Mosque.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia had allocated a quota of 170,000 pilgrims from India for Hajj this year, but as a result of 20 percent cut in quota later, now a total of 120,303 pilgrims have finally been selected for performing Hajj under the Central Hajj Committee plus 14,600 pilgrims through 265 private tour operators (PTOs).

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to host
1,400 Hajjis from Abroad
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has instructed authorities to host 1,400 pilgrims from different parts of the world to perform Hajj this year at the government’s expense.

More than 22,000 pilgrims from across the world have performed Hajj under this programme during recent years. “We’ll do everything in our power to host the pilgrims and arrange their pilgrimage,” the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Saleh Al-Asheikh said, adding that Muslims all over the world have appreciated the king’s gesture. 

Two holy mosques ready for pilgrims,
Says Presidency of Holy Mosques
Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, head of the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, said recently that the services include education and counselling for pilgrims. He said the Prophet’s Mosque and surrounding squares are currently furnished with 10,000 carpets, covering an area of 265,000 square meters. They also include 10,000 spotlights spread over three floors in all directions.

Sheikh Al-Sudais said 5,300 men and women seasonal workers were hired this year to provide support at the Prophet's Mosque. There would be shifts 24 hours a day. He said he has appointed a separate department to ensure completion of the work and attention to any issues that may arise, in coordination with various government departments.

Sheikh Al-Sudais said several sheikhs, scholars and teachers would help pilgrims with their rituals. The authorities would distribute Qur’ans, pamphlets and manuals, overseen by various government agencies including the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He said girl scouts would also be deployed to help pilgrims.

Zamzam distributions points have been established inside and outside the Grand Mosque, he said. Al-Sudais said vehicles would be available to help persons with special needs. And officers would monitor the entrances of the two mosques to ensure that food is kept out and hygiene standards maintained.

Permanent Fireproof Tents in Arafat
Studies are under way to establish permanent fireproof tents in Arafat, said Director of projects at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. He said Arafat tents would be constructed on a par with the designs of the Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport, adding that it would accommodate about seven million pilgrims. “There have been proposals to construct tents to increase Arafat’s capacity by 71 percent and thus to accommodate 8.5 million pilgrims,” he said. The project will cover 8 million square metres.

In another development, it is learnt that the undersecretary at the Ministry of Hajj, Saudi Arabia, unveiled plans to set up fireproof tents in Arafat. Earlier in April this year, Saudi Minister of Interior and Chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee Prince Muhammad bin Naif ordered to carry out studies on setting up 60,000 permanent fireproof tents in Arafat.

Pilgrims’ city in Makkah and Madinah
The Ministry of Hajj, Hajjar, said that King Abdullah has approved setting up of a full-fledged pilgrims’ city in Madinah. The city will have all the facilities to accommodate the pilgrims from their arrival up to their departure from Madinah, in addition to facilities for the concerned government departments. The Saudi Ministry of Finance is currently implementing the project, he said, adding that the design work for a similar pilgrims’ city in Makkah has already been prepared.

Special university for Hajj & Umrah to boost the
Government’s efforts to extend services to pilgrims
Prince Khaled al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah region and Chairman of the Central Hajj Committee, called for the establishment of a university specialized in Hajj and Umrah affairs in order to boost the government’s efforts to extend better services to pilgrims. “Such a university can shoulder the responsibilities of researches, studies, training and empowerment with regard to Hajj and Umrah in view of the fact that the Hajj and Umrah seasons have stretched to the entire year,” Emir of Makkah region told reporters.

Prince Khaled suggested that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj Researches and the Makkah Haram Institute can serve as the nucleus of the university. He hoped that the Ministry of Higher Education would pay the needed attention to study the proposal and translate it into action.

Mohammed Badahdah, Assistant Secretary General of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) said a team of experts should be formed under the new university to develop an advanced curriculum for Hajj courses. “This curriculum, approved by prominent scholars around the world, can be distributed through Saudi cultural attaches,” he told Arab News and also added the new university should train teachers to conduct such courses in different countries.

UK Embassy helpline opens on 6 October
The British Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, announced that it will extend assistance to British nationals visiting the Kingdom for Hajj. “The British Embassy’s consular Hajj team will be based at the Movenpick hotel in Makkah between October 6 and October 19 to assist British nationals in performing Hajj,” read an official statement reported in the press.

The British Embassy has also provided helpline numbers. British nationals seeking assistance during Hajj can call 00966 (0) 501 004 268 or 00966 (0) 1257 17171 for help from the consular Hajj team.

An estimated 25,000 UK nationals travel annually for Hajj. The UK is the first Western non-Muslim country to send a Hajj delegation to help pilgrims.

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