Thursday, 18 August 2016

Revolutionary Changes in Holy Sites & Hajj Facilities

Based on Interviews
Revolutionary Changes in Holy Sites & Hajj Facilities
Since 1976 for Pilgrims’ Safety and Security

Dr. Mozammel Haque

I got the opportunity to perform Hajj last year in 2015 on behalf of my wife. I am grateful to Mr. Abdul Rahman Aneezi, the then head of the Islamic Affairs of the Saudi Embassy in the United Kingdom, London; to Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London and His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, Secretary General of the Cairo-based International Islamic Council for Dawah and Relief (IICDR), and also the President of the Karachi-based World Muslim Congress. Each one of them wrote letter of recommendation for arranging for me to perform Hajj on behalf of my wife who passed away in 2014. I want to thank all of them.

At the 2015 Hajj I have got some new knowledge about Hajjis perception of the Holy sites and Hajj facilities. I noticed those who have performed Hajj previously twice or more times appreciate the Hajj facilities than those who came for the first time obviously ignorant of the earlier situation and the latest development. Lot of development and improvements has been made in the Holy sites and Hajj facilities for the last forty years for the safety, security and welfare of the pilgrims. But unfortunately those who are coming these days have no knowledge and experience of that improvement.

I had the opportunity to meet and discuss about this situation with some of the pilgrims who had performed Hajj previously. They are from Sudan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Nigeria. Following are the interviews conducted by me at the Muslim World League Building in Mina during Hajj.

Dr. Omar Ahmed Fadhlullah
Dr. Omar Ahmed Fadhlullah came from Abu Dhabi. He worked there as Advisor for the Electronic Government System and Project in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Dr. Fadhlullahuh was working in Saudi Arabia before 1980 and during that period he had performed so many Hajj. Then after that he performed Hajj in 1980 and after a decade in 1990, second time and then this is the third time in 2015.

Dr. Fadhlullahuh said, “I started coming for Hajj in 1976 for consequent four years up to 1980, then I went to the United States and stayed there till 1987 when I came back and started coming to Hajj in 1990. I never came back until this year in 2015.”

He said, “Hajj is different every time compared to previous years in 1976 where, for instance, in Mina there was no such organisations and locations for Hajj, whoever comes first, stood up and reserved the place for themselves. Most of the public facilities – men’s toilets, women’s toilets – these type of public facilities were not available in Arafat, Muzdalifah or Mina. Most of the locations in Mina were not there; there was dust everywhere. Pilgrimage was staffed with coughing. For many Hajjis no locations to stay there; they were staying under the flyover, under the bridges. People died when they came rushing to or stoning in the Jamarat and lot of things.”

Dr. Fadhlullahuh continued, “But immediately after that lot of things changed. Starting from 1976 until 1980, many changes have been taken place, but before that time, lots of cars inside Mina; inside Muzdalifah; every pilgrim with his car – one person on his own car – cars were crowded started from Arafat towards Mina and they don’t move hours and hours and hours. In this situation some old people who cannot moce except by car, it was very hard for them during this time.”

Talking about the difference, changes and improvement since 1990, Dr. Fadhlullahuh said, “When I came this year it was amazing because actually Hajj is so organised, lot of facilities is there, everywhere. Wherever you go there is public services, toilets for men and women and all the areas are paved, organised and clean and you got the stone throwing  or stoning in Jamarat on one way going and coming back on different way or paths. It is very organised. Actually I wonder how come this is so organised, because actually millions of people came in in this very small area and many millions and they are organised actually and this is amazing and the development.”

In 1980, King Fahd had taken the development of the Haramain and the extension of the Haram and Madina Munawwarrah.

About the development in Makkah, Dr. Fadhlullahuh said, “In 1990, movement between Makkah and Mina became so easy even the pilgrim, some of them, can walk because it was organised. Policemen and all these scouts were everywhere showing people where to go and how to go. Things became easy. Places in Mina were reserved and marked for certain pilgrims coming from different countries. You can easily find that; you can easily find hospitals everywhere; ambulances were everywhere wherever you go. Everything was so easy – so organised – even the weather has changed now. There is huge fans, air-conditioned in so many hot hilly areas. This is amazing actually.”

“Before that time, some pilgrims because of hot felled down with sunstroke, heat actually. Now it is different. No one is felling down with sunstroke. Many differences happened actually, getting things better everywhere every year,” said Dr. Fadhlullah.

Dr. Assadiq Bakheet Al-Fakeeh Abdullah
I interviewed the Ambassador of Sudan to Jordan, Dr. Assadiq Bakheet Al-Fakeeh Abdullah about his experience of Hajj. This is his second Hajj. He first performed Hajj in 2010 and now going to perform this year in 2015. He made a comparison of Hajj facilities this year with that of previous five years before, in Makkah, Mina, Muzdallifah and Arafat.

The Ambassador said, "He frequently came to holy places; but whenever you come you find more facilities being constructed and more expansions of Mosque areas itself and the facilities that will be made the stay of the pilgrims and the stay of those who came for Umrah more comfortable. You find more and more development being  done to the Holy places."

Dr. Assadiq also said, "Saudi authorities are doing a lot of development of the Holy places for the benefits of the Muslims, for the comfort of the pilgrims. And definitely this year is better than the last year and far better than the five years before. Muslims will be witnessing this. You see that the development of the projects taken by former King Abdullah has not been finished yet; see it would be better than this year. And also the new expansion has not finished yet, so we will be witnessing more and more safety and security of the pilgrims."

Ambassador Dr. Assadiq was born in Sudan. He is a diplomat and also a media person. This is his specialty. Sometimes he goes out of his diplomatic duty. He held many posts: media, politics, diplomatic service. Just before being made Ambassador to Jordan, he was Secretary General of the Amman-based Arab Thought Forum, a Pan-Arab Research Organization headed by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal. This organization is 35 years old and its headquarter is in Amman, Jordan. This research organization has members all over the Arab world and beyond.

In the diplomatic service, immediately before joining the diplomatic service, Dr. Assadiq was political expert with the Qatari government as an advisor.

He was diplomat since 1992. In 1992 he was in Washington as Press Advisor to the President of Sudan.

Professor Dr. Mohamad Akram Laldin
I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Professor Dr. Mohamad Akram Laldin, Executive Director of International Shari’ah Research Academy for Islamic Finance(ISRA), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who performed Hajj in 1986 and then in 1989 and then in 2008 and then this year in 2015. For convenience sake, I asked him to compare and contrast his experience of his first Hajj in 1986 with his experience of second Hajj in 2008 and then his present experience of Hajj in 2015.It’s a gap of nearly eight years each. Within these eight years, “What changes did you notice in the Holy sites,” I enquired.

Professor Mohamad Akram said, “During 1986/1989 Makkah and Madina were at that time very much basic. Basic in the sense not find high-riser building around them. Old houses were at the maximum ¾ storied. Even I think in term of services, I remember at that time when the Hujjaj came they were assigned to what they called it as Muwassassah; Saudi establishment. Those very early days the Sheikhs/Muallem was responsible for the Hujjaj.”

Professor Akram talked about the houses/accommodation. Now while describing the situation of Haramain, the Tawaf and Masaa and also in Mina and Muzdalifah in 2010, Professor Mohamad Akram in terms of Haram, the Tawaf – the old building/the original building which now more or less demolished.”

The King Fahd extension was started in 1985and completed in 1995.Professor Mohamad Akram said, “In 2000 when I came here at that time I still remember you can go and see Zam Zam well. There were steps going down near the Mataf – the steps going down, even then that was the only place where you can find the air-conditioned. So I remember people used to go down after Umrah, drunk water and somebody slept there. You can find especially after prayers only place to sleep there.” That was what he was saying about in 2000.

Professor Mohamad Akram said, “In 2005, King Fahd did the air-conditioned extension of the Haramain. Even the Masaa, at that time, there was, of course, floors, but not very wide. It was half wide that it is now. At that time, it was half of what it is now. One portion which was at that time was doubled now. Even the Safa-Marwah hills were still there. – you can climb the hills.”

How were Mina and Jamarat? In replying to my questions, Professor Mohamad Akram said, “The Jamarat was two floors – one was down and another was up. It was circling and except for Aqaba, I think half circle. Mina problem was not: one way going and another way coming. Everybody was coming from all directions; so there was sometimes stampede, especially during the peak hours.”

At that point I narrated my experience of stoning in Jamarat in 1985. I still remember in 1985 I had to jump from the upper floor to the ground floor and my throat was gone completely dry and tongue was stuck to the upper portion of my mouth and I was requesting one person who had a bottle of water and was making ablution with that. I begged him with sign language to give me that bottle of water. That was in 1985.

Professor Mohamad Akram said, “That was still there. In Mina at that time there was no fixed tent. At that time, I remember, each and every Hajj organizer built their own tent and I think it was just a basic tent for the Hujjaj. It was not built-up tent; it was just put-up the tent for the time being. So it was very basic at that time.” Those were what Professor Mohamad Akram noticed in 2000.

Speaking about the King Fahd extension of the Haramain, Professor Mohamad Akram said, “But in 2000, there was King Fahd extension. There was no Zam Zam. Zam Zam well; its construction was going on and it was temporarily closed; but there was Zam Zam water available through tap. I think, that time, Hilton Hotel and the Intercontinental Hotel (Dar al-Tawheed) were there. I think those were the two 5-Star Hotels at that time in 2000. And here in, I think, Misfalah was there at that time. Here, in Mina, in 2000, there was I think built-in tent. I remember, built-in tent in 2000. People used to stay there in the tent. And other facilities such as public services, bath rooms, toilets etc. were provided. I mean situations were much better; much improved. There were temporary toilets, very basic. So many toilets, even in Mina, facilities of toilets and other services were started in 2000.”

Professor Mohamad Akram also mentioned, “In 2008, it is a total change. You have seen how Haramain expanded; only the Masaa is expanded. The rest is still the same. In 2005, King Abdullah came and the first thing he did was the expanding and the extension of Masaa – Sai’ee and then the other projects were undertaken.”

“In 2008, Jamarat was already around but the storied and all the roads leading - not fully completed. Two roads leading to the two levels – now it is five levels. At that time not fully completed yet. That time Metro was not there,” mentioned Professor Mohamad Akram.
Professor Mohamad Akram again said, “In 2008, Government has taken over; services were much better. And now, even though under expansion, I feel Haram is much wider. You feel there is much space for you to go now.”

Education Secretary of Pakistan
Mr. Talwar
The Education Secretary of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan came to perform Hajj on the invitation of the Rabita al-Alam al-Islami (Muslim World League). I have learnt that he had performed Hajj before, in the year 2000 and this is his second Hajj in the year 2015.

I had the opportunity to meet him and discuss with him his experience of Hajj in 2000 and I requested him to describe the facilities in the Holy sites, the Mataf area, the Safa-Marwah areas, Zam Zam areas and at that time the situation in Mina and Muzdalifah Arafat and Jamarat.

The Education Secretary of Pakistan said, “It was a matter of great pride and privilege to be in this; always a great moment of prestige for every Muslim of performing Hajj and Umrah. I came and performed my first Hajj in the year 2000 and now Alhamdo lillah due to the exigencies of Rabita Muslim World League I am performing the key Hajj.

While comparing his experience of Hajj in the year 2000 with that of the year 2015, Mr. Talwar said, “Differences between the two is that earlier year, there was good number of populations, good number of pilgrimage, not up to this level what we have been seeing now. Although, to begin with, while one was coming to Saudi Arabia coming to the airport, earlier the immigration process was quite delayed; but this year I had seen that this is fast, taking almost a minute on Hajjis on a pilgrimage. So this is things they have improved.

“The second improvement is coming to Kaaba Sharif, the section where work is going on but again I will give credit that despite this construction work, they are providing opportunity in such regulated way that every body perform; so this is one thing further better,” mentioned Mr. Talwar.

Pakistan Education secretary also mentioned about the development of the Safa-Marwah areas and Mataf. He said, “Safa-Marwah has improved a lot; it was not like this 15 years ago. It is a tremendous big change. Mataf area has been expanded. I hope and wish that once the mass construction is over it will be camping a quite large, a big number of pilgrim housing within the Mataf area.”

“Then the third one, particularly, this is a blessing the place we are now in the Muslim World League building in Mina; it’s a blessing. Because you are right in the Mina and you are quite close to the Jamarat. And you are just passing by to the Masjid al-Khaif,” mentioned Mr. Talwar.

Pakistan Education secretary also mentioned about the improvement of Jamarat. He said, “Another one that is earlier, there was only one single pillar symbolising the Satarn, Jamarat. While you are throwing stones on them certain throwing stones were going on the other side and other side’s stones were coming to your side. But this time; now they have expanded that area and that Satarn wall has been enlarged providing the opportunity for everyone and I envision and hope Insha Allah it will continue and there will be more facilities but there is this remarkable big change between the earlier and now.”

Commenting on the development of the Haramain and some remarks by some media people in the media comparing Makkah with Las Vegas, Pakistan’s education secretary said, “La Hawl Wala Quwutta Illah Billah, meaning There is no power no strength but from Allah” and observed, “There is no comparison; earlier Masjid al-Haram was covering a number of Muslim population; now the Muslim population has increased day by day , year after year and keeping in view the year 2020 I think they have to go for another expansion for 2050; and when you are doing an expansion; the developments are almost taking place but in a better way and for a better purpose. The purpose is to serve the welfare and the safety and security of the pilgrims. So there is no comparison. I will only say La Hawl Wala Quwutta Illah Billah, meaning There is no power no strength but from Allah.”

“The one thing they must add that while in the exterior portion of the Masjid al-Haram there may be more fans, there may be more air-conditioned. That will serve the purpose for everyone, otherwise they are doing an excellent work,” Pakistan’s education secretary concluded his observation.

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