Saudi authorities have made great efforts to improve the quality of services for hajj pilgrims coming to Mecca over the years and this year was no exception as it developed newly constructed sites to host greater number of pilgrims.
Nearly eight decades ago, when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was first established, the capacity of the Grand Mosque in Mecca didn’t exceed more than 100,000 worshipers, but today it can accommodate more than two million worshipers.
In 1965 almost 300,000 Muslims came from abroad to perform the rites of pilgrimage, primarily from other Arab and Asian countries. By 1983 that number had climbed to more than one million. In addition to those coming from abroad, each year 600,000 to 700,000 people living in the Kingdom perform hajj. In 1988 and 1989, a total of 1.5 million pilgrims performed hajj while in 1992, the number reached two million. This year has seen a record number of three million pilgrims according to Saudi press releases.
Over the past eight decades, Saudi authorities have worked on various projects to expand the Grand Mosque in an effort to make it more spacious to accommodate the pilgrims. The government removed surrounding residential buildings and commercial properties to make the Ka’aba it more accessible for Tawaf ritual of hajj.
The Kingdom has also placed special efforts to overcome obstacles faced by pilgrims in their quest between Safa and Marwa by expanding the area it into several floors and doubling its size.
Due to mass movement from Mina to Arafat as part of the hajj process, the government put into place a long railway to connect several roads in Mecca with other hajj sites like Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. Years ago, buses used to haphazardly jam these roads which made it difficult for many pilgrims to reach Arafat before the sunset.
Over the years numerous pilgrims have died when congregating to reach the Jamarat site to stone the devil due to overcrowding. However, the Saudi government recently extended the Jamarat site and built several bridges to prevent such disasters. As a result, the process has become much smoother than previous years and reportedly there were no deaths this year.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Pilgrimage Affairs and Religious Trusts has handled immense logistical and administrative difficulties generated by such a huge international gatherings and collaborated to make this year's hajj a smooth one.
(Tanslated by Ikram al-Yacoub)