CAIRO – As the expansions of the Grand Mosque are about to be completed, Saudi Hajj Ministry announced that pilgrim quotas for each country will increase starting from next hajj season, stressing that 2015 has witness the last cut in the number of pilgrims.
“Starting from next Hajj season, the number of pilgrims will increase to 5 million and then to 30 million in the coming five years,” the minister was quoted as saying to a local publication, Arab News reported.
The number of people from different nationalities permitted to perform the hajj has been decreased for years over safety reasons due to construction work to expand the space of the Grand Mosque.
Over the past few years, the Saudi government has championed several projects to develop and expand Makkah to help more pilgrims perform Hajj and Umrah with ease.
“Such efforts include the establishment and operation of a unified electronic system for pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom through which all tasks and functions linked with arrival procedures are executed and documented, such as the contracts and packages of services offered, transport and accommodation, in addition to the names of the pilgrims,” the minister explained.
He added that hajj visas will be granted only through a unified electronic system after coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“As for internal pilgrims, the ministry also established an electronic system which allows citizens and residents to file applications requesting permits … through the hajj service provider of his choice, and to select the service segments he wants and pay electronically the value of the services provided,” the minster added.
The announcement came a few days after the death of at least 107 pilgrims in the crash of a huge crane in the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Announcing the expected increase in hajj quotas has been welcomed by many countries, which have been suffering from quota cuts.
“They (Saudi government would) rather not take the risk and we understand that,” Singapore Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim, told the Straits Times.
Yaacob was explaining why his country’s request to increase hajj quota from 680 to 800 had not been approved.
Citing Saudi’s announcement to receive more pilgrims, the minister said: “Therefore we are hopeful.”
With 17,000 Singapore Muslim on hajj waiting list, Yaacob said that Islamic Religious Council of Singapore gives places on a first-come-first-served basis, with priority given to first-timers.
“I am thankful that our pilgrims have been very patient with us because they know we have been appealing (for more spots).”
Saudi’s decision to boost hajj quotes was also welcomed by Bangladeshi Muslims, who have been facing a 20% quota reduction for years.
In November 2009, Riyadh completed a five-story hi-tech Jamarat Bridge to ensure a smooth flow of millions of pilgrims during the pelting ritual of the annual hajj.
The bridge has 10 entrances and 12 exits over its four levels to allow the flow of 300,000 pilgrims per hour. It is also equipped with technology to help authorities intervene in case of any deadly stampedes during the stoning ritual.
Other projects were also constructed to expand the area on top of the holy Mount `Arafat, and develop the sewage and fire-fighting systems, in addition to upgrading health and transportation services.
The complex of Al-Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah covers 88.2 acres, which includes outdoor and indoor prayer spaces. It’s open 24 hours a day.
In Ramadan 2015, the expansion of the mataf, or circumambulation area around the Kaaba was opened with an hourly capacity for 100,000 worshipers.
Covering 75,000 square meters, the expansion will include an integrated service station, environmentally friendly air-conditioning system, water tanks, waste disposal systems, centralized cleaning system, and 12,500 toilets.