Saudi Arabia Improves Hajj Security, Bans Protests

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Louisville Democrat Examiner, Timothy Morgan

2009-11-21T171100Z_1597266078_GM1E5BM032701_RTRMADP_3_FLU-SAUDI-PILGRIMS

A security official wearing a protective mask keeps an eye on cars at a checkpoint between Jeddah and Mecca before the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage November 21, 2009.  Saudi Arabia said on Saturday four pilgrims had died of the new H1N1 flu virus three days before the massive Muslim haj is due to begin, al-Hayat newspaper said.

REUTERS/Caren Firouz

On November 25-29, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca of the Hajj begins in the Islamic world.  The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and a moral obligation under the religion for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey must do so at least once in their lifetime.

The Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, with 2.5 million Muslims expected to make the trip this year.

With such a large movement of people, the Saudi government has issued warnings that all protesting during the Hajj is banned.  The government has also stepped-up security, with more than 100,000 Saudi military deployed during the pilgrimage.

While the Saudi Arabian security forces assert that they do not expect any troubles, the interior ministry official in charge of security, Gen Mansour al-Turki, said that “We will not allow any actions that might disturb any other pilgrims, or affect their safety.”

In 1987, 402 people were killed when troops broke up a protest by Shia pilgrims.  This year is also the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the Great Mosque in Mecca, home of the Kaaba and Islam’s holiest site, by Sunni extremists.

The Kaaba is a cuboidal building in the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca that pre-dates Islam and is the holiest site in all of Islam.  Muslim beliefs say that the original building on the site was built by Abraham.  Thus, a mosque was built around the site and all Muslims, regardless of their location, must face the Kaaba during daily prayers, as well as take part in the Hajj if able.

Last month Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned that it would take “appropriate measures” if its citizens faced restrictions.  Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader, called for the Shia to show that they were dealing with challenges to their unity.

Thus, the Saudi government has responded by both warning Iran not to abuse the Hajj for political purposes, and by the ban on protests.

Authorities are also hoping to prevent a repeat of the deadly stampedes, such as in 2006 when 364 people were killed, that have afflicted the Hajj.  In response, the Saudi Government has recently finished the rebuilding of the Jamarat Bridge at Mina, the 950m (3,135ft) long, 80m (260ft) wide five-story pedestrian walkway, which cost $1.2bn, and that authorities hope will prevent overcrowding.

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600 Chinese Working in Saudi Embrace Islam

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Gulf News

Riyadh, September 27: Over 600 Chinese nationals working on the Haramain Rail project have embraced Islam in a recent ceremony in Makkah.

They are workers of the Chinese Railway Company, which won the multibillion contract for implementing the 450km rail road linking the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah and Rabigh.

Dr. Abdul Aziz Al Khudhairi, undersecretary at the Makkah Governorate, said that this year’s celebration of the Kingdom’s National Day coincides with a number of auspicious and historic occasions.

These included launching of the prestigious international research university – King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST), celebration of Eid Al Fitr and a recent ceremony of Chinese workers pronouncing their Shahada.

Dr. Abdul Aziz, who witnessed the event, described it as a “direct response to critics of the government for contracting Chinese company.”

Among the converts, there are 70 workers who are engaged in the construction of Makkah monorail project, which links the holy city with the holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat.

“Their conversion took place 24 hours after getting books introducing Islam in Chinese language at their worksite at Arafat, which is outside the Haram area,” he said adding that the credit goes to the Office of the Call and Guidance for Expatriates in Makkah.

Efforts are underway to spread the message of Islam among some 5,000 Chinese nationals working on the Haramain train,” he said adding that the major problem for the Call and Guidance Office is the lack of enough books on Islam in Chinese language.

It is noteworthy that the first phase of Haramain Rail consisting of 70km has well been started a few months ago. This represents expropriation of land, filling works, construction of bridges and tracks. The project is expected to be operational in 2012.-Agencies

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Chinese Train to Mecca?

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Keith Barry Email Author / Wired Magazine

Mecca

The Saudi government is building a $1.8 billion monorail to ferry pilgrims among the holy sites of Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. Once complete, the Saudis estimate 53,000 buses will disappear from the city’s crowded roads, promising a safer, more comfortable pilgrimage.

The monorail will be built over the next four years, with the first segment — roughly 35 percent of the project, by one estimate — opening in time for this year’s Hajj between November 25 and 29. Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims must complete if they have the means and ability to do so, is the fifth Pillar of Islam and as such attracts a staggering number of pilgrims.

Controlled access to the monorail is intended to avoid accidents such as the tragedy at Mina in 2006, when more than 350 people died in a stampede after two busloads of pilgrims disembarked at the entrance to the Jamarat Bridge holy site. Trains on four elevated tracks will carry as many as 20,000 pilgrims an hour in an orderly fashion, with parking available at all stops.

The monorail appears to be a good way of controlling human and vehicular traffic to holy sites. The author of the Mujahideen Ryder blog says the monorail is a “pretty cool idea to make Hajj safer and efficient. I can’t wait to see it.”

According to Straits Times, the Chinese Railway Corp. is building the monorail. It is one of two rail projects the Chinese are building in Saudi Arabia — the other being China Railway Engineering’s 275-mile high-speed rail system linking Mecca and Medina through Jeddah. China’s involvement in both projects reportedly was clinched during Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao’s visit to Saudi Arabia in February, during which representatives of Chinese Railway Corp. met with Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the commission for developing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Should the project succeed, it certainly will see a lot of use. Hajj is the world’s largest pilgrimage, and the number of foreign pilgrims nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, when more than two million pilgrims reportedly attended.

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