A massive change for Mina in 30 years

Updated 08 November 2013
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A massive change for Mina in 30 years

The tent city of Mina remains deserted throughout the year. It comes to life only during the five days of each Haj season.
Situated 12 kilometers outside Makkah, it was in this city that Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) spent the night before he was set to carry out an order by God to slaughter his son. As Prophet Ibrahim prepared to slaughter Ismaeel, God instructed him to sacrifice a sheep instead. Muslims around the world slaughter sheep, cows and camels to feed the poor marking Prophet Ibrahim’s supreme sacrifice.
Mina is a small city located inside a valley. As far as the eye can see, tents cover every open space. They are neatly arranged, row after row. It is because of these ubiquitous tents that the city is referred to as the tent city.
In the last two years, the city underwent a massive change with the government investing billions of riyals into many infrastructural projects to ease the daunting and physically demanding rituals of the annual pilgrimage.
Those who came here 30 years ago or even 10 years ago can barely recognize Mina as it stands today.
Ahmed Muhammad Al-Haj, a Sudanese pilgrim, vividly remembers how the city looked in 1980.
“The one dominant structure in those days was Masjid Al-Qaif, in the center of Mina,” he said. “All pilgrims would come straight to the mosque from Makkah.”
It was here that Al-Haj made many friends from across the world. “There were Pakistanis, Indians, Malaysians, Americans, all of them,” he said. “The tents were there but they were in such massive numbers and they were not arranged with such meticulous precision. There was a lot of open space.”
The Jamarat Bridge, where pilgrims carry out the symbolic ritual of stoning Satan, was more like a small pedestrian footbridge. “There was a ground floor and a first floor; it was very small, but quite sufficient for the number of Hajis who came in those days,” said Al-Haj. “As the number of pilgrims swelled into millions in later years, the bridge became a death trap.”
Maulana Maqbool Rahmani, from India, is performing Haj after a gap of nearly 17 years. He was here in 1997. “We call that the year of the blaze,” he said, referring to the massive fire that swept through the tent city killing nearly 350 pilgrims. “I was among those who survived.”
Rahmani is full of appreciation for the Saudi authorities. “The very next year, the Saudi government started putting up high-tech fire-resistant tents throughout the city,” he said.
Each tent is made of fiberglass coated with Teflon and a heat-sensitive water sprinkler, which is linked to an alarm system, and electric lighting. That changed the face of Mina. The tents were organized in a scientific way.
After the fire, the government was faced with other daunting challenge; That of conducting an orderly ritual of stoning the Satan.
“That was the biggest challenge because tragedies at the Jamarat Bridge became a norm,” said Abrar Siddiqui, a Jeddah-based Haj operator. “It was a logistical nightmare for the authorities.”
It was then decided to convert the pedestrian-looking bridge into a massive complex to avoid congestion. Billions were spent on constructing the multi-floor complex with multiple exits, water sprinklers and air-conditioning.
“Now, performing the ritual is a breeze,” said Siddiqui. “The project, executed by Saudi Bin Ladin Group, has a helipad to evacuate pilgrims in distress during rush-hours.”
Also, in what is described as a smart move, the throwing of stones was made much easier by changing the shape of the pillars that symbolize Satan. “They were round pillars in the past and pilgrims would strain and sometimes injure themselves taking a shot at them with their pea-sized pebbles,” said Siddiqui. “They would miss their mark and would repeat the ritual again and again leading to catastrophes.”
The shape of the pillars was changed from round to elliptical. “As you approach them, they are now more like a V-shaped wall. And it is very easy to stone them,” said Siddiqui.
Once the tents and the bridge was taken care of, the government shifted its attention to organizing the chaotic transportation issue.
“Since all the pilgrims had to move from Makkah to Mina to Arafat and back to Muzdalifa and Mina, it would result in a logjam,” said Yasser Al-Qahtani, a television journalist. “Pilgrims would spend hours upon hours in their buses just to reach Muzdalifa and Mina from Arafat, a distance of mere 5 km.”
Despite constructing dozens of roads, there would still be traffic jams on the important day of Haj.
“That is when the government decided to introduce the Haj train,” said Al-Qahtani. “That resulted in taking the strain off the roads. Now, the Haj metro ferries thousands of pilgrims to Arafat from Mina and back.”
The Haj train added a dimension to the city. For first-time pilgrims it is nothing short of wonderment to see trains whizzing by on the elevated tracks in the tent city.
Rifat Anjum, a longtime Jeddah expat, said she performed Haj in 2000. “We were part of the Haj caravan organized by a Jeddah Haj operator. “We did not stay in a camp in those days; we were actually housed in a building located close to the Jamarat Bridge. On Jamarat day, we would actually look out from our building to see if the crowd was dense on the bridge,” she said.
All those buildings are now gone. The old city of MIna is now replaced by a modern city with massive health facilities, state-of-the-art slaughterhouses, over-bridges, pedestrian walkways and elevated train stations.


Russian orchestra brings classical music to Saudi Arabia

Updated 18 June 2018
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Russian orchestra brings classical music to Saudi Arabia

  • The prestigious world-class orchestra was hosted by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra),
  • The orchestra has recorded symphonies and piano concertos by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich

DHAHRAN: The Russian Mariinsky Orchestra treated its Saudi audience with masterpieces created by Prokofiev, Grieg, Vivaldi, Mozart and other maestros at a concert to mark the inauguration of the Ithra Theater in Dhahran in the Eastern Province.

It was the first performance of this renowned Russian orchestra not only in the Kingdom but also in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council region.

The prestigious world-class orchestra was hosted by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), in collaboration with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Saudi Aramco, as part of Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.

“The Mariinsky Theater is one of Russia’s most distinguished and historic theaters. It has amazed audiences worldwide, including in Asia, Europe, North America and now Saudi Arabia,” Fatmah Al-Rashid, the acting director of Ithra, told Arab News. 

She said: “Ithra’s mission is to broaden horizons, and provide its visitors with a cultural window that reflects the richness of our world.”

The event was part of the cultural exchange between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which aims to strengthen the bond between the two countries.  

The CEO of the RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev, who is also a member of the Mariinsky Theatre’s board of trustees, said: “It is a great honor for RDIF to organize the first symphonic concert in the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We all saw the admiration of the center’s audience who listened to the enchanting playing of the Russian musicians conducted by the maestro Valery Gergiev, and their enthusiastic standing ovation for the Russian orchestra.”

The orchestra has recorded symphonies and piano concertos by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, operas by German composer Richard Wagner, France’s Jules Massenet as well as Russia’s Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Cinderella” ballet music.

Led by renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, the orchestra presented its first performance on June 16. In their second performance, they played Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1 and Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite and arias from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.”

“It is a very important part of our relationship because our Saudi partners can see that we bring the best of Russian art, and we have a lot to be proud of,” the RDIF chief said.

“RDIF will further contribute to strengthening cultural relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Our next project will be a week of Russian culture later this year.”   

In 2017, RDIF and Saudi Aramco signed a memorandum to create a $1 billion mutual fund to invest in the energy sector. Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have actively developed in recent years due to the support of the leaders of both countries. 

In 2015, during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Moscow, the sovereign fund of Saudi Arabia, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced its intention to invest $10 billion in Russian projects through a partnership with RDIF. 

The visit of King Salman to the Russian Federation in October 2017 gave a new momentum to these relations. The PIF has invested $2 billion in 15 mutual projects with RDIF. 

The concert was attended by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Information Minister Awwad Alawwad, and Saudi Aramco CEO Amin H. Nasser. 

The area of the state-of-the-art Ithra Theater is 1,500 square meters with a capacity for 900 people. It is the only proscenium theater in the Kingdom, a venue in which the audience faces the stage straight on. As a result, the moment a person steps into the auditorium, he is wowed by the look and feel of the famous traditional theaters in Europe, rather than simply a large hall with a stage. The proscenium arch, which frames the stage, is nine meters tall and 16 meters wide.