An admirable initiative of Saudi government for pilgrims

Saudi

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: Makkah and Madinah, located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are two of the holiest and most sacred religious destination of millions of followers of Islam all around the globe. Muslims rush to Makkah to visit the holy Kaaba, known as Baitullah Sharif or the house of Allah.

Madinah holds the shrine of prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SM), the most respected human ever born in all times. The shrine of the prophet is located inside the Masjid-Al-Nabawi, a mosque built by the prophet himself after he completed hijrat from Makkah to Madinah. There is no word to describe the sanctity of these two holy sites holding the touch of the honoured prophets of Islam despite going through several renovation, reconstruction and expansion. Still such works are ongoing under the leadership of the King of Saudi Arabia.

Kaaba was first built by prophet Adam (AS), the first ever place built on earth for worshipping Allah though prophet Ibrahim (AS), with the help of his son prophet Ismail (AS) was recognized by Quran as the original builder of today’s Kaaba. This holy place has gone through several reconstructions and expansion. Several of them were done by the Quraish.

Prophet Muhammad participated in one of its reconstructions prior prophecy. After a flash flood, the Kaaba was damaged and needed rebuilding. This responsibility was divided among the Quraish’s four tribes. Prophet Muhammad helped with this reform. This is the first time the Kaaba acquired the cubical shape it has now unlike the rectangle shape which it had earlier.

Later the Syrian army destroyed the Kaaba in 64AH and before the next Hajj Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr (RU) reconstructed the Kaaba from the ground up. He wanted to make the Kaaba how the Prophet Muhammad wanted it, on the foundation of the Prophet Ibrahim as he put two doors as the Prophet wanted but did not do in his lifetime.

In 74AH, Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi, the known tyrant of that time, with the approval of Umayyad Khalifa Abdul Malik bin Marwan, demolished what Ibn az-Zubayr had added to Kaaba from the older foundation of Prophet Ibrahim to reinstate its old formation as the Quraish had had it.

In the year 1039AH, due to heavy rain, flood and hail, two of the Kaaba’s walls fell down leading towards reconstruction. All walls except the one near the Black Stone were demolished.

By 1040AH the construction was taking place under the guidance of Sultan Murad Khan, the Ottoman Khalifa. From the point of the Black stone and below, the current construction is the same as done by Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr. The construction which was done under the patronage of Murad Khan was the way the Quraish had built it before prophecy.

A major reconstruction of the Kaaba took place between May 1996 and October 1996. This was after a period of about 400 years. During this reconstruction the only original thing left from the Kaaba are the stones.

The Saudi Third Expansion of the Grand Mosque, which was launched by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is considered an extension of the previous historical expansions first initiated by late founder King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman and completed by late kings, Saud and Faisal.

It was followed by the expansion of the eastern parks implemented during the era of late King Khalid, followed by the expansion of the mosque from the western side during the reign of late King Fahd, followed by the Massaa expansion during the era of late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The grand expansion ordered by late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz will be completed during the current era of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The late custodian of the two holy mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, ordered a massive and unprecedented expansion of al-Masjid al-Haram in 2007. The ongoing expansion will enable to accommodate around 2.5 million worshippers at one time. It includes new buildings, expansion of the external areas of the Mosque, restrooms, passageways, tunnels and other supplementary facilities.

Several reports highlighted that this expansion is considered the largest expansion in history where the latest construction and modern systems techniques are used. The overall expenditure of the current expansion project is estimated around USD 26.6 billion.

Upon its completion, planned in 2020, this latest expansion project will increase the area of the Mosque to approximately one million square meters. When King Abdullah died in January 23, 2015, he was succeeded by King Salman. Immediately following his inauguration, King Salman clearly demonstrated his enthusiasm to carry through his predecessor’s Masjid al-Haram’s expansion scheme.

As part of the latest expansion of Masjid al-Haram the government paid high prices for the neighbourhood land, so that the people who lived in those areas could move to newly developed suburbs on the outskirts of the city. As a result, the area that Makkah covers has expanded dramatically.

The second holiest site in Islam Masjid-al-Nabawi at Madina holding the shrine of Prophet (SM) has also gone through several reconstruction and expansions. Prophet (SM) himself ordered the first expansion of this mosque after returning from the battle of Khybar in 7AH.  Caliph Osman (RU) paid for the land for this addition of the mosque.

In 17AH, Caliph Omar (RU) extended the mosque on people’s request as the Muslims grew in number during that time. In 29AH, Caliph Osman (RU) further extended the mosque and he supervised the construction activities personally.

During 88AH-91AH, the Governor of Madinah, Omar bin Abdul Aziz upon orders of Waleed bin Abdul Malik extended the mosque further. He personally supervised the construction and built four minarets on the four corners of the mosque along with twenty doors. Under the supervision of Abdullah bin Asim bin Omar bin Abdul Aziz during 161AH-165AH, the mosque was extended further in the northerly direction.

In 655AH, Al-Mutassim Billa, the Abbasid ruler started the reconstruction after the mosque was damaged by fire. Sultan Qaitabai reconstructed the mosque in 888H after another fire took place in 886AH.

Sultan Qaitabai’s construction had been there for three hundred and seventy seven years. The various parts of the mosque had worn out. Imam of this mosque, Dawud Pasha requested Sultan Abdul Majeed of the Ottoman Empire to reconstruct the mosque. The construction work was done between 1265AH and 1277AH under the supervision of Asad Afandi.

The first Saudi extension was initiated by King Abdul Aziz and was completed by King Saud bin Abdul Aziz during 1368AH-1375AH. Even after this extension, there was not sufficient room for the pilgrims. In 1393AH, King Faisal purchased the adjoining properties to the mosque to set up permanent sheds with lights and fans, which were removed during the second Saudi Extension Plan.

King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz was always very eager to make major extensions in the Prophet’s Mosque just like he did in Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah. A major extension work was done during 1405AH-1414AH. Hence after the second Saudi extension, the mosque and the open space lodged 698,000 people together.

Up to 1.6 million people can worship together at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah under a new plan to expand its capacity. King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz approved the extension plan and King Salman is continuing to complete the expansion.

The current expansion projects of Kaaba and Masjid-al-Nabawi is the largest of the history and it covers not only the two holy mosques but also constant development of important sites like Mina, Arafah etc.

Due to the ongoing works pilgrims might currently face some minor hassles but when the project will be fully completed, performance of holy Hajj and Umrah will be much easier even with a much larger number of pilgrims. We have seen the Saudi government to control the number of pilgrims in recent years but after this expansion is finished, the control should be lighter.

With the completion of the construction and expansion of two holy mosques of Makkah and Madina, more and more pilgrims can be accommodated during the holy Hajj and Umrah.

Scopes will be created for larger number of Muslims to attend the religious rituals. It is a matter of sorrow that so many Muslims plan to perform Hajj every year but cannot due to the limited capacity especially at Kaaba. There is huge rush and the pilgrims have to suffer a lot while performing different rituals of Hajj and Umrah despite sincere effort of Saudi government.

Saudi government being the custodian of these two holy sites seems to realize the hassles of the pilgrims and has taken huge projects to expand the area of both Masjid-al-Haram and Masjid-al-Nabawi.

We can surely expect that, upon completion of these works, the experience of the pilgrims will be much more comfortable and peaceful. It is a dream of every Muslim to visit these two holy sites and we are thankful for the initiatives of the Saudi government and their effort to create a better opportunity for pilgrims around the world.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC).