Hajj 2021: How the pilgrim routes to Makkah and Madinah evolved over the centuries

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One of the earliest printed European depictions of the Mahmal procession before the start of Hajj, the illustration of ‘The march of the caravan from Cairo to Mecca’ from Vol. 2 of ‘Troisieme Voyage du Sieur Paul Lucas.’ (The Khalili Collections)
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A camel caravan traveling to Makkah for the annual pilgrimage circa 1910. (Wikimedia commons)
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Sudanese pilgrims disembark from a ship arriving at the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage circa 2007. (AFP file)
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Travel time for pilgrims during the modern age has been cut from weeks or months to just hours. (AFP file photo)
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Saudi Arabia’s new Haramain High-Speed Railway cuts short the travel time for pilgrims traveling between Makkah and Madinah. (SPA)
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The annual pilgrimage continues to shape Makkah’s transport infrastructure and urban layout, with authorities seeking to ease congestion through long-term planning. (AFP file)
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Updated 21 July 2021

Hajj 2021: How the pilgrim routes to Makkah and Madinah evolved over the centuries

  • Caliphs, kings and sultans took care of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage routes: a duty that continues to this day
  • Even today, pilgrimages continue to shape Makkah’s transport infrastructure and urban topography

JEDDAH/MAKKAH: Before the invention of cars, buses and other modern modes of mass transit, pilgrims performing Hajj and Umrah relied exclusively on convoys of camels, horses and donkeys to reach the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on demanding journeys that could take months to complete.

Even as the means of transport evolved from pack animal to four-wheeled vehicle, from horseback to horsepower, the older generation still recalls pilgrimages that were grueling, yet had a much stronger spiritual resonance than today’s journeys of relative comfort.

“My late parents performed Hajj on a caravan of carriages, camels and mules all the way from Gaza to Makkah,” Fadhel Mahmoud, a 76-year-old Jeddah resident, told Arab News. “After they went back home, they sacrificed the camel, and distributed its meat to the needy and poor.”

FASTFACT

3,161,573

Hajj pilgrims in 2012, the largest number in 10 years.

Mahmoud recalls his own first Hajj experience in 1968, arriving at the so-called City of Tents in the Mina valley, southeast of Makkah.

“Fifty-four years ago, my brothers and I went to perform Hajj on a pickup truck, and we camped in our tent and prayed with Shaykh Mahmoud Khalil Al-Hussary — an Egyptian Qari (Qu’ran reciter) widely acclaimed for his accurate recitation — in Mina and Arafat,” he said. “It was a very simple Hajj, with a smaller number of pilgrims than these days.”

Historically, there were seven major pilgrimage routes that would approach Makkah and Madinah from the four points of the compass, the five most popular being the Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Omani circuits.




Map showing land and sea routes of the Hajj in the early 20th century. (Courtesy of AramcoWorld)

The Kufi-Makkah route, also known as the Zubaydah trail, which originated in present-day Iraq, was considered among the most important pilgrimage and trade routes of the Islamic period.

The Basra-Makkah route was seen as the second-most important, starting in the bustling Iraqi port city before passing south across the Arabian Peninsula’s northeast, through Wadi Al-Batin, then onward through the rugged Al-Dahna desert, where it would merge with the Kufa-Makkah route.

The Egyptian route to Makkah was the most popular during the first three Hijri centuries, and was used by pilgrims from as far west as Morocco and Andalusia in present-day Spain.

The Syrian route, meanwhile, tied the Levant to the two holy mosques of Makkah and Madinah, its path beginning in Damascus before wending its way through Daraa and onward to AlUla in today’s Saudi Arabia.

Along the Tabuk to AlUla route, which flourished during the Abbasid era (750-1258), archaeologists have found evidence of pools, canals and Kufic inscriptions left by travelers along this historic road.

Since ancient times, Yemeni routes have linked the cities of Aden, Taiz, Sanaa, Zabid and Saada to the Hijaz of western Saudi Arabia, including one along the coast, another through the interior and one over the highlands.




A camel caravan traveling to Makkah for the annual pilgrimage circa 1910. (Wikimedia commons)

The Omani route, meanwhile, passed through Yabrin, where it met the route from Bahrain on its way to Makkah.

Islamic caliphs and sultans down the ages have taken care of these pilgrimage routes, establishing rest stations and wells along the way to cater for weary travelers and their thirsty pack animals.

But, in 1924, pilgrims were ordered to cease using camels and instead rely on motor vehicles to complete the journey. However, due to the lack of proper roads, camels remained the preferred means of transport for several years after the ban.

Then, in 1948, the Saudi General Syndicate of Cars was born, marking the foundation of the first-ever regulated transport service for pilgrims.

Four years later, in 1952, Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz, ordered the creation of the second General Syndicate of Cars, based in Makkah. What began as a collection of just five logistics firms has today grown to 69 dedicated outfits.

“The General Syndicate of Cars has actively contributed to the development of the types of vehicles that are used to transport pilgrims since its establishment, starting with the very first version of red lorries of various German and American brands used for cargo and other purposes,” Abdulrahman bin Mayouf Alharbi, chairman of the General Syndicate of Cars, told Arab News. “Then we moved to use the famous yellow school buses.”




Inaugurated in 2018, the Haramain High-Speed Railway has helped increase the number of pilgrims and visitors to Makkah and Madinah with ease. (AFP)

Even today, the pilgrimage continues to shape the evolution of Makkah’s transport infrastructure and its growing urban layout. As the Hajj 2021 season approached, new roads and tunnels featuring the latest traffic-control technology were under construction to cater for the expected influx of visitors.

Dr. Othman Qazzaz, head of research at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research at Makkah’s Umm Al-Qura University, said that his researchers have explored a wide range of intuitive traffic reduction measures, including pedestrian walkways, and independent roads reserved solely for pilgrims and emergency vehicles.

“The institute has sought to help pilgrims perform Hajj and Umrah in ease and peace, most notably by introducing the shuttle bus program and expanding the transportation means provided for pilgrims between Makkah, the central area and their accommodation,” Qazzaz told Arab News.

Since it was established 10 years ago, the shuttle bus program, in particular, has boosted capacity while also reducing congestion. And, because of the city’s mountainous topography, a network of 59 bridges and 66 tunnels has been established over the past four decades to offer additional avenues for vehicles and pedestrians entering the center and to help avoid bottlenecks.




Sudanese pilgrims disembark from a ship arriving at the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage circa 2007. (AFP file)

Raad bin Mohammed Al-Sharif, spokesperson for Makkah municipality, told Arab News the city’s tunnels and holy sites have been equipped with command-and-control systems and a centralized CCTV surveillance network to allow officials to monitor and relieve areas of congestion.

In order to prevent congregations becoming too large, particularly given the threat of stampedes and the need to maintain coronavirus social-distancing, officials are directing pilgrims to gather at four main entrances: Al-Taneem, Al-Sharai, the Kor checkpoint and the Al-Shumaisi security zone.

Years of careful site testing and topographical surveys have gone into this vast urban reimagining, along with extensive data gathering and public questionnaires to help determine areas of high demand, possible pressure points and where there is space for improvement.




Travel time for pilgrims during the modern age has been cut from weeks or months to just hours. (AFP file photo)

In particular, researchers have examined current and future demand for services between Mahbas Al-Jinn, Kudai and the Grand Mosque, the economic and environmental viability of various modes of transport, and the likely impact of greater traffic on the quality of services on offer. Similar surveys have also been conducted in Madinah to improve transport infrastructure.

The hardships of the road to Makkah and Madinah, as well as the facilities on offer when pilgrims arrive from the distant corners of the Islamic world, have eased over the centuries, and the means of getting there have changed beyond recognition.

Nevertheless the same spiritual yearning that brought those early pilgrims across oceans, deserts and continents remains to this day — and grows with each passing year.


Saudi Arabia announces 14 more COVID-19 deaths

Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 14 more COVID-19 deaths

  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 511,318
  • A total of 8,284 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 14 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,043 new infections on Wednesday.
Of the new cases, 214 were recorded in Makkah, 192 in Riyadh, 169 in the Eastern Province, 126 in Asir, 92 in Jazan, 65 in Madinah, 43 in Hail, 39 in Najran, 19 in Tabuk, 18 in the Northern Borders region, 16 in Al-Baha, and 11 in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 511,318 after 1,211 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 8,284 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 28.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert

Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert

  • Head of UN Center for Counter-Terrorism ‘impressed by the pioneering research work’ carried out by Kingdom’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology
  • Center’s Gether2 initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the risks of extremism among people with hearing disabilities, singled out for particular praise

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal) is a “world leader” in pioneering work to prevent and counter violent extremism, according to Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Center for Counter-Terrorism (UNCCT).

“Etidal is a world leader in this field and we are proud of it,” he said during a visit by a UNCCT delegation to Etidal’s headquarters in Riyadh on Tuesday. “We are very pleased … to be able to work closely with the center.

“We are impressed by the pioneering research work you are doing in this field. We have to follow your example on matters in which we need to cooperate.”

Khan in particular highlighted Eitdal’s Gether2 initiative, which aims to raise awareness among people with hearing disabilities of the risks of extremism, saying he had never seen any other initiatives designed to reach people with disabilities in this way.

“I congratulate you on this project and we would like to know more about it,” he said. “As you know, we in the United Nations have specific agencies that deal with matters of concern to people with disabilities from a humanitarian side only, unlike your side, where I think we should see the whole picture.”

The UN delegation was welcomed to the center by Etidal’s secretary-general, Mansour Al-Shammari. During the visit the two sides discussed ways to enhance cooperation in their efforts to prevent and combat terrorism and violent extremism.

The delegation also learned about the center’s monitoring and analysis mechanisms, the techniques it use and the models it is creating and developing, as well as the most prominent advanced technologies in the field.


Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches

Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches

  • Similar penalties would also apply to operators or owners of the means of transportation

RIYADH: The Saudi Public Prosecution office has warned it will impose fines of up to SR500,000 ($133,323) on passengers breaching travel ban restrictions by boarding flights to countries hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Similar penalties would also apply to operators or owners of the means of transportation.

In a tweet on Sunday, officials added that severe punitive measures would be taken against travelers who failed to disclose they had visited any countries listed on the Kingdom’s COVID-19 travel ban list.


Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Company signs contract KACST to provide satellite data

Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Company signs contract KACST to provide satellite data

  • The data is collected using satellites to monitor the progress of the Red Sea project
  • It will enable the company to know how the project is progressing and the impact it may have on the environment

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Company signed a contract with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to provide high-resolution data for key locations at the company’s headquarters.
The data is collected using satellites to monitor the progress of the Red Sea project, which covers an area of ​​28,000 square kilometers, and to track developments in real estate assets more effectively.
The CEO of the Red Sea Development Company, John Pagano, said that this technical work will enable the company to monitor any unexpected effects in the development of real estate assets on the surrounding environment, and work immediately to find alternative solutions.
Pagano said the Red Sea Project’s stakeholders and its affiliates can obtain reliable and detailed images on a monthly basis, adding it was important to understand how the actual development processes affect the natural destination environments.
He also said that this partnership will enable the company to monitor the main assets, both natural and real estate, closely during the construction phase, which will support efforts to lead renewable tourism worldwide.

Pagano added that KACST, through the National Consortium on Remote Sensing in Transportation (NCRST), will capture monthly high-resolution data for the Red Sea project, using the GeoEye-1, WorldView, and Pleiades satellites.
This will allow the images to be color-balanced as they are on the ground, and each will carry the coordinates of its geographical location. The images will be integrated with the company’s Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems and will be available to its employees from the planning, engineering, and environment departments.
The company’s GIS department will periodically compare the data provided by KACST with the latest versions of the master plans and detailed designs of the project to monitor changes and avoid any environmental damage.
The images will be used to determine the best methods and locations to perform construction and development activities. It will also be an important part of the project’s monthly progress reports.
Dr. Talal Alsedairy, the supervisor of the Space and Aeronautics Center at KACST, said that NCRST will support the company by providing them with high-resolution images of the project area that will enable them to have a more comprehensive perspective on how the project is progressing and the impact it may have on the surrounding environment.


Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili received Chief of Staff of Bahrain Defense Force Lt. Gen. Dhiyab bin Saqr Al-Nuaimi, and his accompanying delegation, at King Salman Air Base in Riyadh on Sunday.

During the meeting, they exchanged military views and discussed issues of common interest, stressing the strength of relations and ways to achieve the shared goals of the armed forces of the two countries.

Saudi Deputy Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Mutlaq bin Salem Al-Azima, who is also the acting commander of the joint forces, then accompanied Al-Nuaimi on a visit to the Joint Forces Command and briefed him on the progress of the operations led by the Arab coalition forces to support legitimacy in Yemen.

They also discussed ways to support and enhance these to ensure regional security and stability.

Maj. Gen. Turki bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, commander of the Royal Saudi Air Forces, also received Al-Nuaimi in the Air Force Command. During the meeting, they discussed many issues of common interest.

 

 

 

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