Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Mohammed Saleh Benten. (AFP)
Benten said the gradual resumption of Umrah was taken after studying the global situation
JEDDAH: Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Mohammed Saleh Benten said on Monday health, safety, and security of worshippers are at the top of the government’s priorities.
Speaking at an online seminar titled “Umrah amid simple procedures and strict precaution,” he said the Saudi authorities are making concerted efforts to serve worshippers without compromising on their safety. Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques and Deputy Hajj Minister Dr. Abdulfattah Mashat also attended the seminar.
“All government entities have been collectively working to ensure that Umrah pilgrims have registered with the Tawakkalna app. They follow up to make sure that visitors have not recently mixed with anyone who has coronavirus or developed any COVID-19 symptoms,” Benten said.
Benten said the gradual resumption of Umrah was taken after studying the global situation. He said the reintroduction of limits on Umrah pilgrims cannot be ruled out. He said it all depended on the number of infections around the world.
“We are in close contact with the Health Ministry, and if we detect any danger, we will immediately change our plans. However, we may increase the numbers of visitors if we witness a drop in COVID-19 cases,” he added.
The minister concluded that opening Umrah for international visitors would be an extraordinary decision. “No country has so far announced to receive such a huge number of visitors during the pandemic. Once approved, Saudi Arabia will be the only country to take such an initiative.”
Al-Sudais highlighted the measures taken to help pilgrims perform rituals in a safe environment without any hassles.
The first group of pilgrims are checked for signs of coronavirus as they arrive in Jeddah on Saturday, before proceeding to Makkah. (Supplied)
About 1,000 employees have been trained to monitor the rituals
JEDDAH: After more than six months, with the exception of Hajj, Makkah’s Grand Mosque has opened its doors to the first group of pilgrims performing Umrah in a welcome sign of a new beginning.
More than 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide will rejoice as the first lucky Umrah pilgrims enter the mosque at 6 a.m. on Sunday after applying through the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s Eatmarna app.
Saudi Arabia took drastic measures to combat the pandemic and suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and prayers in mosques in mid-March. The Kingdom also halted international flights and implemented a lockdown to prevent virus cases reaching unprecedented levels.
To accommodate a quota of 6,000 pilgrims per day, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has prepared five meeting points, including the Al-Gaza, Ajyad and Al-Shasha sites, where pilgrims will meet and join health professionals on buses to the Grand Mosque.
To welcome the first arrivals, thermal cameras will be placed at the entrances and inside halls of the Grand Mosque to monitor body temperature spikes and issue alerts if necessary.
The plan was devised at the start of the pandemic to ensure visitor safety and allow a rapid response to potential virus cases.
The General Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, in cooperation with other authorities, has completed preparations to receive the pilgrims with strict precautionary and preventive measures. About 1,000 employees have been trained to monitor the rituals of Umrah in the Grand Mosque. The mosque will be cleaned 10 times a day between each group’s presence. Further cleaning of high-traffic areas will also be conducted, including fountains, carpets and bathrooms. Escalators leading to the top floors have also been equipped with cleaning devices, while hand-washing devices have been placed at the mosque’s entrances.
The first phase of Umrah will include 6,000 pilgrims a day. The second phase is set to start two weeks later on Oct. 18 and will involve about 15,000 to 40,000 pilgrims daily, while in the third phase, 20,000 to 60,000 pilgrims will be allowed to perform the ritual each day, including pilgrims from abroad.
Air-conditioning systems have also been equipped with ultraviolet sanitizing technology, while crews will maintain an air filter cleaning schedule nine times a day in three different stages.
The presidency has launched several initiatives, including “Kammamat” (face coverings), to ensure pilgrim safety.
With a capacity for 2.5 million pilgrims, the circumambulation area (Mataf) around the Kaaba was chosen for Umrah pilgrims to perform rituals. Designated pathways, similar to the Hajj pilgrimage in August, have been introduced for ease of access.
The president of the General Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, Sheikh Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, referred to the royal approval of King Salman, which allowed pilgrims to perform Umrah in the Grand Mosque and visit the Rawdah in the Prophet’s Mosque while complying with preventive measures.
Al-Sudais said the royal approval reflects the Saudi leadership’s keenness to ensure the safety of the holy mosque’s visitors and comes in response to Muslims’ desire to perform Umrah.
Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal handing over the Kiswa. (Supplied)
The Bani Al-Shaiba family have held the keys to the Kaaba for 16 centuries — an honor through the ages
MAKKAH: More than 150 technicians and manufacturers replaced the Kaaba’s Kiswa (black cloth) with a new one on Wednesday.
Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, on behalf of King Salman, handed over the Kaaba Kiswa last week to the senior caretaker of the Kaaba, Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi.
The cloth is manufactured at the King Abdul Aziz Complex for the Kaaba’s Kiswa in Makkah’s Umm Al-Joud neighborhood. It is made of a special natural silk that is dyed in black. The garment is 14 m tall. On its upper third is a belt which consists of 16 square pieces surrounded by a square of Islamic motifs. The belt is 95 cm wide and 47 m long.
The Kiswa consists of four pieces, each covering one of the faces of the honorable Kaaba and the fifth the curtain placed on its door. The making of the curtain is a multi-stage process, as the fabric is combined from the four sides of the Kiswa. The belt and curtain pieces are later added in preparation for its installation over the Kaaba.
More than 110 Kaaba caretakers have been honored through history with the caretaking of the Grand Mosque. The centuries-old tradition has been passed down for generations.
The caretakers have protected their historical God-given legacy and are supported by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The Kaaba’s caretakers, Bani Shaiba, have had the honor of holding the keys to the Kaaba for 16 centuries.
Before Islam, the descendants of Qusai bin Kilab bin Murrah took care of the Kaaba, whose descendants Bani Shaiba are the current caretakers. They are the ones to whom the Prophet returned the key to the Kaaba after the conquest of Makkah.
Kaaba caretaking is an old profession, which consists of opening, closing, cleaning, washing, cladding and repairing this cloth if it is damaged.
The washing of the Kaaba is done with Zamzam and rose water. Its four walls are wiped and washed with perfumed water and a prayer is performed.
“Our grandfather, Qusai bin Kilab, who was also the Prophet’s grandfather, was responsible for the caretaking of the Kaaba, who passed it on to his oldest son Abd Al-Dar, who in his turn passed it on to his children,” Anas Al-Shaibi, one of the Grand Mosque’s caretakers, told Arab News.
He added that since the beginning of time, the caretaking of the Kaaba is a God-given blessing until the final day. The keys of the Kaaba are preserved at the senior caretaker’s home.
“The commandments of the fathers to their children were the fear of God, in addition to preserving the great principles of Islam; honesty, humility and keeping the key in a dedicated bag made of green silk and gold, while moving it to open the Kaaba,” Al-Shaibi added.
As for the what traits make a good caretaker, Nizar Al-Shaibi said the job requires a head of a family who is responsible for the home’s caretaking. He must be honest and possess good morals.
Al-Shaibi said the Kaaba key’s character has not changed through time.
He said the reason behind a change in the key’s appearance is a failure to open the Kaaba, where it is then repaired or replaced.
The key has a unique appearance and does not resemble a normal key. Al-Shaibi said it must be different and contain a special character unique to the Kaaba. It is also designed in a unique artistic way so no one but the caretakers know how to use it.
Regarding the clothing of the Kaaba, Al-Shaibi said that the Yemeni King Tubba was the first to clothe it. People from all over the world visited him to obtain his consent and gifts. The Quraish tribe never visited King Tubba. When he asked about them, he was told about the Kaaba, so he secretly rode with his army and tore it down.
Al-Shaibi also said that during the king’s preparation of the army, he suffered from severe illness. They tried to treat it to no avail and he was told it was a disease from the heavens. A wise man told him he had bad intentions and to refrain from acting upon them. When he decided to back down from his plans, he miraculously recovered from the disease.
King Tubba sent countless gifts to the people of Makkah and was the first to cover the Kaaba in different colors, until founder of Saudi Arabia King Abdul Aziz established a Kiswa factory, where the cloth is delivered to the senior caretaker each year.
As for the family traditions and whether disputes arise regarding caretaking practices, Al-Shaibi said that the head of the family is the one who takes charge of the duty, adding that his family is cohesive and that any difference is resolved internally.
According to the Prophet, “Only an oppressor will take caretaking away from the Al-Shaibi family.”
God chose this family to be the caretakers of the Grand Mosque 16 centuries ago and the duty is a divine role for which this blessed family has been chosen.
The number of Kaaba caretakers who assumed the honor of caring for the Kaaba is 110.
Before caretaking of the Kaaba was passed down through the Bani Shaiba family for generations to the present day, the tasks of caretakers consisted of opening and closing the door of the Kaaba, supervising its clothing, maintaining what needed to be repaired, built or assembled, using incense, in addition to washing, cleaning and guarding the shrine of Ibrahim.
Now the caretaker’s tasks are restricted to opening and closing the Kaaba. Al-Shaibi is also contacted if the Kaaba must be opened for visits by the Kingdom’s guests.
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