Monday, November 15, 2010

Recent Development Pictures of Makkah for Haj season

                                  Fifth floor of Jamrat Bridge opens for Haj
JEDDAH: The fifth floor of the high tech Jamrat Bridge in Mina will be open to pilgrims this Haj season, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs said Saturday.

“The opening of the fifth floor will facilitate the stoning ritual at Jamrat,” said Habeeb Zainul Abideen, deputy minister for municipal and
rural affairs.

Abideen was addressing a conference on medicine attended by 500 delegates. He described Haj as the largest congregation of people in the world and highlighted the Saudi government’s efforts to avoid stampedes and other accidents during the annual event.

Abideen said the irresponsible behavior of some pilgrims causes problems not only for Saudi Haj managers, but also fellow Hajis. He urged all pilgrims to follow safety instructions.

There are 90 cameras around Jamrat to monitor the movement of pilgrims and prevent possible stampedes. These cameras will also enable Haj managers to assess how many pilgrims each floor of the bridge can hold.

“We have also arranged for vehicles to carry pilgrims with special needs to help them perform the stoning ritual without any difficulty,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, spoke about new plans for crowd management at Jamrat as well as in the mataf, the circling area around the Holy Kaaba where pilgrims perform tawaf, and the masaa, the running area between Safa and Marwa where Hajis perform saie.

Out of the 2.5 million people who come for Haj every year, 700,000 pilgrims walk to the holy sites, he said, adding that 75,000 buses and other vehicles are used to transport the other pilgrims.

The Haram Mosque in Makkah can hold 700,000 worshippers, while the mataf can hold 53,000 and the masaa 118,000.

Dr. Ziyad Maimish, assistant undersecretary at the Health Ministry for preventive medicine, said the ministry would mobilize about 17,000 doctors, nurses and paramedical staff and 39 mobile medical teams for Haj duty.
“Mekkah Metro” Marks A Green Hajj For Pilgrims
A high speed train (no!..low speed train) to Mecca in Saudi Arabia will cut down on carbon emissions during hajj this year, but its reach is limited.

Every year, around three million Muslims from across the world prepare for the spiritual journey of a lifetime. Many will have been saving up for the trip for years and will be prepared to travel thousands of miles to reach their destination: Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, every Muslim who has the financial and physical ability is encouraged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca which is Islam’s most holy site. The question is can this spiritual pilgrimage, which leaves behind a trail of waste and carbon emissions, really be transformed into something more green?

Progress Towards A ‘Green Hajj’

The concept of a ‘Green Hajj‘ has already been discussed here at GreenProphet following the UN-backed Muslim Seven Year Plan which announced plans to encourage Muslims to be more environmentally friendly. Although there was talk of printing Qur’ans on sustainably sourced paper, reducing energy consumption at mosques and places of worship, many were cynical as to whether these plans would ever materialize. However, this year for the first time ever, pilgrims will be able to reduce their carbon footprint during hajj by travelling between Mecca’s holy sites via a very green form of public transport- the train.

From this November 2010, the high speed train will be able to transport 130,000 passengers between the holy sites which will help reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and make hajj journeys more eco-friendly. Sadly, only pilgrims from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states will be able to purchase tickets and make full use of the trains this year. (My auntie and her family are going to hajj this year from the UK and I was going to ask her for a blow-by-blow account of using the metro but I guess that won’t be happening.)

Reducing Congestion and Pollution

The Mekkah Metro, as its been dubbed, is only in the first stages and is operating at 33 percent of its total capacity. It will be fully operational by hajj season 2011 and will carry around 500,000 passengers by then at the rate of 72,000 passengers an hour in a single direction. By the final stage in 2012 the metro, which has elevated tracks to avoid busy roads, will be able to transport up to two million people. This rail network is expected to reduce traffic by approximately 30,000 cars- so not only will it reduce congestion but it will also cut the noxious emissions which cars release.

The introduction of the train network is clearly an important step towards making hajj more environmentally-friendly but there is still a lot more to be done. It is estimated that 100 million plastic bottles are left behind every year after the hajj season and food packaging is still a big issue that needs to be tackled alongside the carbon emissions of the travellers. Although the flora and fauna around the two holy sites in Saudi Arabia are protected by a hima, a middle-eastern form of environmental protection, more is needed before a truly ‘Green Hajj’ is realized.
Kaaba key keeper passes away at 82
Door of the Kaaba
MAKKAH: Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheibi, the keeper of the Holy Kaaba’s key, passed away Sunday morning. He was 82. His body was buried in the Maalla cemetery after funeral prayers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Al-Sheibi family has been holding the position of the Kaaba key keeper since the time of jahiliya (pre-Islamic period). It was inherited by the eldest member of the family and did not transfer from father to son. Age was the basis for the key’s inheritance.

All Muslim rulers have respected Al-Sheibi family being the custodian of the Holy Kaaba and its key. The family of the present custodians is linked with Sheiba bin Othman Abitalha who lived during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Al-Sheibi family has been holding the position since the time of Qusay bin Kilab who lived before Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). King Faisal gave the Kaaba key to Sheikh Ameen, brother of Abdulaziz. Sheikh Abdulaziz has been keeping the key for the last 16 years. Al-Sheibi family has been serving the Holy Kaaba for the last 15 centuries. There are 370 members in the family and most of them live in Makkah.

The Holy Kaaba is cleaned twice a year; once in the middle of the lunar month of Shaaban and the second in the middle of Dul Qaada using Zamzam water mixed with rose water and perfumed with Oud.

According to Abdulaziz, the Holy Kaaba was kept open three times a month for people to enter and pray inside. But when the number of people seeking to enter the holy edifice increased it was stopped.

The key of the Kaaba does not change with the change of its door. During the time of King Khaled, the door was changed but the key remained unchanged. The Holy Kaaba’s door is 2.40 meters high and 1.70 meters wide. The present door is made of pure gold.
Returning Hajis find Makkah a city transformed
Holy Sites Train makes 1st passenger trip

MAKKAH: The new Holy Sites Train will take on board its first passengers Saturday at 2 P.M., transporting up to a capacity of 3,000 pilgrims between Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat via the Al-Jamarat Bridge.

The light rail track service represents a new dawn for the pilgrimage, replacing the 4,000 buses previously used and reducing crowding and waiting time as visitors are shuttled between the holy sites faster and more easily than ever before.

With some 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims descending on Makkah for the annual Haj, the train – which for this year’s pilgrimage will be at 35 percent of its operational capacity – is the most significant development in bids to ease what has on occasion been fatal congestion.

The train project, when completed next year, has a projected capacity to transport 100,000 pilgrims per hour between the holy sites.

Security, meanwhile, is as tight as ever, and Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minster of Interior, has said he cannot rule out an Al-Qaeda attempt to disrupt the five-day ritual, which begins Sunday, although the group has not attacked pilgrims in the past. “We cannot trust them. We do not rule out any attempt to disturb the security of the Haj,” Prince Naif said after a parade of military skills by security forces and Civil Defense Wednesday. “We are ready for any act that might take place.”

The head of Saudi General Security, Gen. Saeed Al-Qahtani, said “these men are ready to face any situation when needed”.

Authorities are continuously on alert to the danger of fatal incidents during the pilgrimage, and Wednesday’s parade saw the Civil Defense bring out dozens of fire engines, ambulances, cranes that can lift up to 160 tons, smoke extractors and lifeboats, all of which have been used at some point in Haj incidents in the past.

The Kingdom has spent unceasingly to expand the capacity of Makkah to accommodate the ever-increasing number of pilgrims.

The area has seen deadly stampedes in the past, mainly at the Al-Jamarat Bridge in Mina, where pilgrims rush while performing the symbolic rite of stoning the devil.

In January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede at the entrance to the bridge, and 251 were trampled to death in 2004. In July 1990, 1,426 pilgrims were trampled or asphyxiated to death in a stampede in a tunnel, also in Mina.

The deaths prompted authorities to dismantle the old bridge and replace it with a multi-level bridge. The last of the three levels will be opened this season, and pilgrim traffic has been made one-way to ensure a smooth flow.
The new structure has numerous entrances and exits, while crowds are monitored with 30 cameras equipped with software that measures crowd density.

Congestion is also a problem in the Grand Mosque which has a capacity of 700,000 in addition to 180,000 in its plaza. Final figures for this year are not yet definite, as pilgrims continue to arrive from abroad, and the number of local ones is still uncertain.

Efforts to combat congestion have included targeting persons who conduct the pilgrimage without going through official channels. The “No Permit, No Haj” scheme, which has introduced more stringent measures on both local pilgrims and pilgrims from abroad, has been hailed as a success by the Kingdom’s authorities. By Tuesday last week, police at checkpoints and other sites had prevented 29,000 illegal pilgrims from entering Makkah.
Pilgrim transportation geared like well-oiled machine

Published: Nov 14, 2010

MAKKAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who is also chairman of the Supreme Commission for Monitoring Pilgrim Transportation (SCMPT), commended the efforts of various government departments to serve pilgrims including their safe and comfortable transportation.

In a statement to Saudi Press Agency, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said all facilities and utilities are of the optimum level.

"Transportation, one of the most vital tasks during the Haj, receives immense attention from the rulers of the Kingdom, and hence efforts have been made to improve infrastructure such as roads, tunnels, bridges on all roads used by pilgrims. The SCMPT has been set up under the chairmanship of the Makkah governor and includes the minister of Haj, minister of transportation, and director of Public Security in order to monitor and supervise the transportation of pilgrims between cities and in the holy sites," the prince said.

"Immense progress has been made during the past years in the sector of pilgrim transportation. A number of companies specializing in the sector with more than 20,000 high-tech buses with the total capacity for 900,000 pilgrims have also been established," the prince said.

An executive committee with undersecretaries of Makkah governorate, Ministry of Haj, Ministry of Transport, director of traffic and secretary-general of the SCMPT has been set up in order to monitor the operations of the transportation of pilgrims on a daily basis during the Haj season.

A technical committee examines the fleet of buses used for the transportation of pilgrims on a periodic basis, he said.

Their inspections cover the safety arrangements in the buses, maintenance, efficiency of drivers and the technicians at the companies, he said.

Annually workshops are conducted to monitor the activities of the Tawafa establishment, Car Syndicate and transporting companies to draw up plans and make necessary arrangements for the transportation of pilgrims, he said.

The prince also stressed the importance of the completion of the third phase of the nonstop chain transportation system benefiting 780,000 pilgrims from Iran, non-Arab African countries, Turkey, Europe, Australia, America and South Asia.

Special arrangements have also been made for quick pilgrim movement in the holy sites, the prince said. There are also round the clock bus services to enable pilgrims stationed in distant districts in Makkah to reach the Grand Mosque.

Studies are also under way to expand the courtyards of the Namirah Mosque, he said.

He also said the new train service will be fully operational next year for the transportation of 500,000 pilgrims at the rate of 72,000 pilgrims an a hour between stations in the holy sites.

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