Mecca's Transformation: Adapting to Hajj Growth

Clock Icon Jun 17, 2023
Aerial view, Mecca (Image: Shutterstock)

Aerial view, Mecca (Image: Shutterstock)

The video showcases pervasive construction work in Mecca, particularly around Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque. This ongoing development of the city has taken place over several years in stages, aiming to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims annually. The Saudi government continues to enhance the city's infrastructure to cater to this influx of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.

AlMasjid AlHaram has been central to numerous expansion projects. The Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage, presents the government with significant logistical considerations. To prevent overcrowding during rituals like Ramy Al Jamrat - a symbolic stoning of the devil - housing, transportation, and other provisions must be carefully planned to cater to the large crowds of pilgrims.

The changes being made include expanding the Grand Mosque to boost capacity around the Kaʿbah, the shrine located near the centre of the Great Mosque and in Safa and Marwa, the two small hills part of the Masjd alHaram, known as Sa'ee ritual pilgrimages of Haji and Umrah. By building new prayer areas and courtyards, improving public services, and developing infrastructure at the holy sites of Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah, which are integral to Hajj. There are two primary challenges in making these improvements.

Firstly, the enlargement of the holy mosque and related places necessitates parallel infrastructure expansion, requiring substantial funding and partnerships between the private and public sectors. Secondly, Mecca's distinctive topography, with valleys and mountains, calls for expert knowledge for engineering projects to accommodate this terrain.

Transportation, a long-term issue due to Mecca's mountainous landscape, is undergoing significant upgrades. A personal anecdote recalls the absence of parking facilities close to the Mosque and a lack of established bus systems during past Umrah pilgrimages.

In contrast, the recently constructed Makkah Metro connects key sites within the city and provides easy travel for pilgrims to and from Jeddah, which houses the main airport, and Madinah, the second holiest city in Islam. Visitor accommodations are also diversifying, with new hotels being built and existing ones renovated to allow more visitors with different budgetary capabilities.

This is particularly important considering the diverse socio-economic backgrounds of pilgrims from around the world. Modern technology plays a key role in upgrading Mecca's infrastructure. Crowd management technologies and improved security measures aim to provide a safer and more organized pilgrimage experience, especially during peak times and areas during Hajj. However, these changes have prompted concerns about potential loss of Mecca's historical essence.

The authorities reassure that essential elements like the holy mosque and the Kaaba, as well as historical areas such as the mountains of Safa and Marwa, will be preserved. The main goal of these changes is to enhance public services, transportation, and housing conditions, thereby making the pilgrimage experience safer and more comfortable for all.

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