The new city of Mecca

There are about one and a half billion Muslims around the world. If we assume that one billion of them would like to perform Hajj once in his life – which is a core tenet of Islam for those who can afford it – it will take 500 years to achieve it.

An average of 2 million people can perform Hajj every year. The number is limited because of the ability of Mecca to absorb the gathered pilgrims.

Since Hajj has a specific time and place, there are no solutions. Even if this number is considerably raised, as a result of improvements and expansion in the future, it may not exceed five million pilgrims in a given season. This means that only one-third of Muslims will still be able to visit Mecca in 100 years.

A possible solution to address the desire of a majority of Muslims is to increase the number of Umra pilgrims, and not the number of Hajj pilgrims. Umrah, unlike Hajj, is available most days of the year. Currently, the number of pilgrims is only 7 million, but the Saudi Vision 2030 aims to raise the number to 30 million per year.

A possible solution to address the desire of majority of Muslims is to increase the number of Umra pilgrims and not Hajj pilgrims

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

An ambitious plan

It is an ambitious plan that will require the development of all services, related facilities, and a major examination of the top supervisory government agencies. In my opinion, you need to change the planning strategy, leaving the center of Mecca and moving the crowds to its outskirts.

But will 30 million visitors come to Mecca from around the world every year? Certainly, but there are concerns associated with Hajj and Umrah, most notably security and safety. It is natural that such a project would put Mecca on permanent alert throughout the year, and would double the number of pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia.

The government has completed most of the expansions of the holy sites, the largest engineering and construction in the world, built to accommodate millions of pilgrims, but can be used throughout the year to host tens of millions of Muslims annually, which requires the construction of a new city with huge service facilities for housing and service of pilgrims.

The task gets better once the government changes its role and priorities. Currently, it does most of the services but has decided to make way for the private sector. The role of the government ranges from planning to regulating and being observer and accountant.

A new city

This calls for building of a new city in Mecca, to double the size of the Holy City. This will also mean a great opportunity for the private sector.

It promises to ease up the congestion inside Mecca, which has become a concrete jungle surrounded by mountains. In my opinion, moving out of the area around Haram, toward Jeddah, is the solution to such a huge project.

Giving up construction in the center of the holy city will reduce congestion problems, facilitate transportation of visitors and enable various safety services to operate smoothly.

A distance of 20 kilometers that exists between the entrance gate and the city center can accommodate hundreds of hotels, facilities and markets and host most of the 30 million pilgrims, instead of increasing pressure on the rugged city.

The new train service will facilitate public transport. These facilities, services and hotels will operate throughout the year, making them economically attractive for the private sector to invest in.

The main challenge facing the master planners of Hajj and Umrah will be meeting the wishes of the world’s Muslim population. The number of people who would perform Umrah will increase three times.

May the government speed up its project and put it at the top of its priorities for many religious, political and social considerations.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Last Update: Monday, 4 September 2017 KSA 09:16 - GMT 06:16
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.

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The new city of Mecca
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