‘Exceptional’, says WHO chief on work of Saudi health services during Hajj

August 24, 2018

The World Health Organization has praised the services provided by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia to the Hajj pilgrims. (AFP)

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has praised the services provided by the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia to the Hajj pilgrims and the great efforts exerted to care for them and maintain their health, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

In a tweet on his official Twitter account, he congratulated the Ministry of Health on its successful Hajj season, describing its work as “exceptional” during the pilgrimage season this year.

This article was first published in  Alarabiya

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Hajj sites of Mina register new record of high electric load during Eid

August 22, 2018

Mina registered a new record of high electric load of 284 megawatts, compared with 256 megawatts last year, an increase of 11%. (SPA)

On the first day of Eid al-Adha, the sites of Mina registered a new record of high electric load of 284 megawatts, compared with 256 megawatts last year, an increase of 11%.

The head of the western sector, and general supervisor of the operational plan of the Saudi Electricity Company, Eng. Abdul Salam bin Rashid Al-Omari, said that the electrical service system in Mecca and the holy places operate according to the highest standards of reliability.

He pointed out that the pre-emptive maintenance of all facilities, stations and electrical equipment in the holy sites contributed to enhancing the reliability of electrical service over the past few days and that the new projects that were implemented before the Hajj season in the field of transport and distribution had a vital role in supporting the electrical system in the holy sites, Mecca and Medina in general.

This article was first published in  Alarabiya

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King Salman: Serving Hajj pilgrims is great honor for our country

August 21, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman tweeted on Tuesday that it was a great honor for the kingdom to serve Hajj pilgrims. (Twitter)

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received at the Royal Court at Mina Palace a number of princes, Grand Mufti, scholars, sheikhs, GCC senior invited officials, ministers, commanders of military sectors participating in this year’s Hajj season, leaders of scouts in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia participating in this year’s Hajj season, who came to greet the monarch and congratulate him on the occassion of Eid Al-Adha.

The audience was attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Defense.

The king gave a speech on Tuesday in which he lauded the forces and the services provided to Hajj pilgrims this year.

“The pilgrims and the whole world watch and feel your efforts in serving the pilgrims. This is your duty and an honor that you will be rewarded for by Allah Almighty.

We are proud of the great sacrifices by the military sectors personnel to defend our country and protect its holy places,” King Salman said.

 

Earlier in the day, he tweeted on Tuesday that it was a great honor for the kingdom to serve Hajj pilgrims.

“The greatest honor God has given to our country is to serve the guests of God (Hajj pilgrims). On the occasion of Eid al-Adha, I ask God that their pilgrimage be completed with success and for peace to our Muslim nations and peace to all countries,” the tweet read.

This year, the total number of pilgrims reached 2,371,675.

1,758,722 of whom came from outside Saudi Arabia, whereas 612,953 came from inside Saudi Arabia.

The total number of male pilgrims reached 1,327,127 pilgrims, while female pilgrims reached 1,044,548 pilgrims.

With respect to the pilgrims arriving from outside Saudi Arabia, GCC pilgrims reached 34,140 pilgrims with 1.9%, while the number of pilgrims from Arab countries apart from GCC pilgrims reached 395,410 pilgrims with 22.5%.

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Four Saudi women won a hackathon to make the Hajj safer

August 21, 2018

Hacking the Hajj

The Hajj is a huge feat of logistics. In 2018, an estimated 1.5 million people will take part in the annual Islamic pilgrimage to holy sites in and around Mecca, Saudi Arabia. About 1.3 million of them will come from abroad, according to Arab News. For many, it will be a once in a lifetime experience.

Accommodating this massive influx of pilgrims requires a vast transportation network, medical infrastructure, and a pop-up air-conditioned tent city that holds 160,000 people. Still, due to the large crowds, the Hajj remains dangerous. Over 2,400 people were killed in a stampede in 2015. Though this was a particularly large tragedy, stampedes killing hundreds are not unusual. Also, like any large gathering, crime is a concern.

To address some of the Hajj’s problems, the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones took on a distinctly modern approach: it put on a hackathon. The Hajj Hackathon took place over three days in early August, in Jeddah. Participants were charged with coming up with technological solutions tailored to the Hajj’s challenges, such as crowd management, public health, and financial transactions. Two million Saudi riyals (worth about $530,000) in equity investment was awarded to winners.

With nearly 3,000 participants from across the world, the event broke the Guinness World Record for most participants in a hackathon. It was a star-studded affair. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak acted as a judge, while Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales was also in attendance.

The winners were an all-female Saudi Arabian team that designed an app, called Turjuman, for translating signs around Mecca without internet access. The hope is that if non-Arabic speakers could easily understand signage, it would lead to less confusion among attendees and reduce the chance of a stampede. Scannable QR codes would have be installed on signs for the app to work, which would also have a voice feature for those unable to read. The runner-up was a team of men from Egypt that designed a electronic payment system for Hajj pilgrims, which would reduce the likelihood of cash being stolen.

Unlike many events in Saudi Arabia, there was no gender segregation at the hackathon; about one-third of the attendees were women. “We managed to destroy the impossible and prove that Saudi women can achieve anything,” said Bayan al-Ghamdi, a member of the winning team, according to the Financial Times (paywall). This video captured the suspense—and elation—of the women’s victory when it was announced at the the award ceremony:

This article was first published in  QUARTZ

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Hajj pilgrims in Saudi holy city outnumber last year

August 21, 2018

Number of Hajj pilgrims in the Saudi holy city of Makkah has already exceeded last year, according to the country’s General Authority for Statistics

Muslim worshippers circumambulate around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (AHMAD ALRUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of Hajj pilgrims in the Saudi holy city of Makkah has already exceeded last year, according to the country’s General Authority for Statistics.

Pilgrims from every corner of the globe marked the second day of Hajj on Monday, the high point of the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, Islam’s holiest city. It is considered to be the largest annual religious gathering in the world.

According to the official figures, the number of international and domestic pilgrims who arrived in Makkah by August 20 reached 2,368,873, of whom 237,160 pilgrims are Saudis or residents of the kingdom.

The authority said the numbers have already surpassed last year’s, when more than 2.35 million pilgrims performed Hajj, with more pilgrims yet to arrive.

The biggest overseas contingents are from Egypt, Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Sudan and Jordan, it added.

It was a sea of white at Mount Arafat on Monday. After a night of heavy rains Sunday night, the multitudes of pilgrims, donning Ihram white special garments for men, started to move to Arafat, the high point of the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, Islam’s holiest city.

Once at Mount Arafat – where Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon – the pilgrims stood in contemplation, praying and asking God for forgiveness of their sins and listening to clerics delivering sermons near Jabal Al-Rahmah.

Known as “standing before God,” this segment of the second day’s ritual is one of the most solemn of the pilgrimage.

The pilgrims also performed prayers which were attended by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to King Salman bin Abdulaziz and governor of Makkah region; and Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Al-Sheikh, the kingdom’s Grand Mufti and president of Council of Senior Scholars and General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta.

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who is also chairman of Hajj Central Committee, said 10 projects had been executed at the holy sites including the expansion of roads and the separating of routes for pedestrians from those of the buses, adding that more than 1.8 million pilgrims will be transported by 18,000 buses.

On Tuesday, Muslims observe the first day of Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the hajj.

Muslims traditionally slaughter sheep for the three-day Eid al-Adha, a tribute to the prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb after God spared Ishmael, his son.

They will consume some of the meat and give the rest to poor people unable to buy food.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.

This article was first published in  arabian Business

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Saudi King Salman arrives in Mina to oversee Hajj pilgrims’ comfort

August 20, 2018

Saudi King Salman at Mina to ensure of pilgrims’ comfort during the Hajj. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman arrived in Mina on the outskirts of Mecca on Monday to get reassured of pilgrims’ comfort through a package of services being provided to them by the Hajj authorities of the Saudi government to help them perform their rituals in ease, tranquility and security.

Upon arrival at Mina palace, the king was received by Prince Saud bin Abdulmohsen bin Abdulaziz, Special Advisor to the King; Prince Dr. Khalid bin Faisal bin Turki, Undersecretary of the Ministry of National Guard for the western sector; Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz, Consultant at the Royal Court; Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Interior, who is also Chairman of the Hajj Higher Committee; Prince Abdullah bin Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Consultant at the Royal Court; and a number of officials.

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2 million gigabytes: how Saudi hajj pilgrims stay in touch

August 20, 2018

Saudi authorities announce initiative to provide a total of two million gigabytes for the two million pilgrims performing Hajj this week

Muslim worshippers circumambulate around the Kaaba Islams holiest shrine at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Makkah. (AHMAD ALRUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Communications and Information Technology Commission have announced an initiative to provide a total of two million gigabytes for the two million pilgrims performing Hajj this year.

The initiative is in partnership with mobile operators Saudi Telecom, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily), Mobile Telecommunication Company Saudi Arabia (Zain), Virgin Mobile, and Etihad Jawraa (Lebara).

A statement said that the initiative was in accordance with the directives of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to do everything possible to make it easy for pilgrims to perform the rituals of Hajj”.

The gift is for those who have opted to use packages – Sawa Ziyara, AlZowar, Noor, Hajj & Umrah and Iman – provided by the kingdom’s mobile operators. Each user of these subscribers will have access to one gigabyte for 48 hours.

The initiative intends to allow pilgrims to communicate with their families and enable them to access the digital services available in the Smart Hajj initiative in order to enhance their experience and allow them to take advantage of enhanced communication services.

Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage, runs until Friday.

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Saudi Arabia: 95 million meals and drinks provided for Hajj pilgrims in 5 days

August 20, 2018

Trade and investment officials supervised the entry of supply vehicles and refrigerators loaded with the products. (SPA)

The Saudi Ministry of Trade and Investment has directed the entry of food items to the holy sites of Mina, Arafa and Muzdalifah amid the influx of Hajj pilgrims to Mina.

Over the past five days, 43 million containers of bottled water, 35 million bottles of refreshments, juices, and milk, 13 million loaves of bread and pastries, and 4 million meals were provided.

Trade and investment officials supervised the entry of supply vehicles and refrigerators loaded with the products that were distributed in the holy sites, “ensuring there was adequate stock to meet the requirements of the pilgrims,” according to a Saudi Press Agency statement.

The Ministry of Trade and Investment stressed on the penalties to be imposed on all those who endanger the health and safety of consumers and pilgrims, offering a local helpline (1900 – dialed from within Saudi Arabia) for anyone wanting to report health and safety breaches.

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Ever wondered how they clean the floor around the Kaaba during Hajj? Quickly

August 19, 2018

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will circumambulate the Kaaba during Hajj, so how do they clean it? (AFP)

Machineries and equipment used to clean the Harram. (@ReasahAlharmain)

  • Hundreds of thousands of people walk around the Kaaba during Hajj
  • The process of cleaning the floor is a well rehearsed task that takes minutes

DUBAI- With millions of people currently attending Makkah as they perform the Hajj pilgrimage, which includes circumambulating the Kaaba, it is no wonder that things need to be cleaned.

This sped-up video footage, that has been shared on social media, shows how teams of cleaners enter the Mataf (the circumambulation area around the Kaaba), while a line of security stop the pilgrims entering the area which is being cleaned with a long line of rope.  The process is well rehearsed, so the teams of cleaners take little time to ensure the area is ready in a short time, so that pilgrims can continue.Here’s the video:

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Hajj through history: A 1,400-year spiritual odyssey

August 19, 2018

Comparing a pilgrim’s Hajj journey in the past with today, the hardships have been greatly reduced as the advancements of the Saudi government in technology, logistics, hospitality, and security have considerably eased the burdens on pilgrims and their families. (Supplied)

Comparing a pilgrim’s Hajj journey in the past with today, the hardships have been greatly reduced as the advancements of the Saudi government in technology, logistics, hospitality, and security have considerably eased the burdens on pilgrims and their families. (Supplied)

  • The railway was built on the order of the Ottoman Empire, financed by Deutsche Bank, and strongly supported by the then-German Empire
  • Modern transportation in the form of aircraft effectively began after World War II, with the Kingdom establishing the Arabian Transport Company in 1946

JEDDAH: The annual Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj is an Islamic practice more than 1,400 years old that holds an incomparable spiritual value for Muslims when performed during their lifetime.
It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and a journey that every Muslim must embark on at least once in their lifetime (so long as they are financially and physically able). It is a physically taxing five-day voyage that begins in Makkah, and has pilgrims trekking more than 50 kilometers by foot. Comparing a pilgrim’s Hajj journey in the past with today, the hardships have been greatly reduced as the advancements of the Saudi government in technology, logistics, hospitality, and security have considerably eased the burdens on pilgrims and their families.

Rocky road for pilgrims
Before the Saudi state was founded and the current monarchy formed, the Arabian Peninsula consisted of many small tribes and sheikhdom-governed territories. This frequently led to constant states of chaos and instability within the region, and often the most prone to this violence were often defenseless Hajj pilgrims making their way through unfamiliar territories. At the turn of the 19th century, the security conditions en route to Makkah were unforgiving. When pilgrim began their Hajj journey, most had full knowledge that they were indeed risking their very lives while leaving worried families behind, putting their faith to the ultimate test.
Nomadic Bedouin tribes would often attack convoys, pillaging vital food and supplies. Those who resisted would often pay the ultimate price. Others would be left with insufficient supplies to stay properly hydrated. The unforgiving weather conditions would naturally claim additional casualties.
The beginning of the 20th century saw additional advancements in transit methods with the Hejaz Railway opening in 1908, running from Damascus to Madinah.
The railway was built on the order of the Ottoman Empire, financed by Deutsche Bank, and strongly supported by the then-German Empire. Seemingly from one Hajj season to the next, a pilgrim’s journey to Makkah was now drastically reduced from weeks by steamboat to only four days by train.

King ushers in era of security
By the late 1920s King Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s founder-to-be, was consolidating his power having overrun most of the central Arabian Peninsula. After capturing the holy city of Makkah in 1925 from Sharif Hussein, he ended more than 700 years of Hashemite rule. Prominent figures from Makkah, Madinah, and Jeddah now acknowledged King Abdul Aziz as the King of Hejaz. Najd was soon elevated to a monarchy as well in 1927, and for the next five years King Abdul Aziz ran a dual Kingdom of Hejaz and Najd, operating them as separate territories but both firmly under his control. In 1929, King Abdul Aziz would formally unite Hejaz and Najd into what we now recognize as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 1932.
Not long after that, oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938 by American geologists working for the Standard Oil Company partnered with Saudi officials. King Abdul Aziz’s tremendous influence over the region had increased exponentially. Rather than use this tremendous power to conquer additional territories, King Abdul Aziz used this heavy influence to promote peace and stability across his newfound Kingdom, forcing Bedouins to abandon intertribal conflicts that frequently involved Hajj pilgrims. For King Abdul Aziz, establishing the safety and security of Hajj pilgrims was of paramount importance.
Modern transportation in the form of aircraft effectively began after World War II, with the Kingdom establishing the Arabian Transport Company in 1946 and the Bakhashab Transport Company in 1948. Although the first official air transit contract for Hajj pilgrims was established between the Saudi government and Misr Airlines of Egypt in 1937, the airline frequently experienced engine trouble that disrupted the transport flow of pilgrims. This, coinciding with the impending WWII from 1939 to 1945, had Hajj pilgrim numbers decrease greatly. Once the war ended, though, traveling by plane proved highly effective for the pilgrims. By 1950, the use of camels as a means of transport during Hajj virtually ended.

Comfort, guidance for all
Today’s Hajj pilgrimage, in many ways, bears little resemblance to its early 20th-century counterpart. Aircraft have, for the most part, replaced sea and rail travel, and in doing so, have transformed Hajj from a months-long multi-site journey into a much more rapid, safe, and fairly direct voyage to Makkah.


Today, the Makkah Metro is expected to shuttle more than 350,000 pilgrims from Mina to Arafat and back to Mina. That is more than two million pilgrims every day. There are electronic maps equipped with multiple languages to accommodate the diversity of pilgrims, and water supply has improved considerably, as well as waste management, with more than 36,000 restrooms readily available. Thousands of government security officials, emergency services, and volunteers constantly guide pilgrims at every stage of their journey.
New medical equipment is regularly updated to adapt to the wide range of illnesses and changing environmental factors. Free medical care is provided with more than 100 ICU ambulances, each equipped with a physician, a nurse, and the latest technology on board.

While many aspects of Hajj have evolved with the times, some traditions have stood the test of time. Pilgrims used to pray on open fields on their Hajj journey, and likewise today, people do not hesitate to pray on the open path. The means of transport may have changed but the commitment to the punctuality of prayer has always endured. While larger in numbers, and many tents are now equipped with air-conditioning, Saudi Arabia has maintained this aspect of Islamic heritage. During Hajj, the “Kiswa,” made of pure silk with gold and silver threads that drape over the Kaaba, is annually replaced and folded up about 10 feet to protect it from harsh weather conditions, as well as overcrowding during the peak days of Hajj. To this day, this practice is maintained to prevent the cover of Kaaba from suffering any damage.
Throughout the 20th century, and still to this day, Makkah is constantly going through changes. The biggest is the expansion of the Holy Mosque itself, but many advancements have been made in the form of logistics, hospitality, security, and medical care. Some traditions and methods, however, have remained the same. A balance of tradition and progression that has the Saudi government recognizing Islamic customs while taking into consideration pilgrims’ primary needs of safety and security.

This article was first published in  ARAB NEWS

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