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Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Hajj is beyond reproach

Hajj pilgrims from around the world began arriving in Saudi Arabia last week by land, air and sea. The rite of Hajj does not begin until the end of August, but the government and thousands of volunteers have been working tirelessly for months to prepare to receive an estimated 2 million pilgrims.
Riyadh has always maintained that protecting the “House of God,” and ensuring the safety of the millions of pilgrims who visit Makkah and Madinah every year, are among its most important responsibilities. The late King Fahd adopted the title Custodian of the Holy Mosques in 1986 as a reminder to all that Saudi leaders consider the presence of Makkah and Madinah a blessing but also a great responsibility.
The government has spent billions of dollars expanding Makkah’s Grand Mosque. Several bridges and tunnels have been built to accommodate the ever-increasing number of pilgrims performing rites at sites outside Makkah such as Mina, where accidents have occasionally occurred. Keeping hundreds of thousands of pilgrims safe, and securing the Grand Mosque and its surroundings, are daunting challenges.
But the government should be given high marks for its continuing efforts to make Hajj as safe and secure as possible. It has taken many measures to ensure that the risk of past tragedies such as stampedes and fires is greatly reduced, by raising awareness about the dangers of fires and flammable materials, and by building new tunnels and bridges to reduce congestion.
The Grand Mosque has undergone at least three major expansions. Muslims who visit it intermittently to perform Hajj or the lesser rite of Umrah, myself included, have noticed vast increases in the mosque’s size.

The overwhelming majority of Hajj seasons have been without any major incidents. After God’s grace, the credit should go to the government’s myriad safety and security measures. But that has not stopped some of the Kingdom’s rivals from trying to politicize Hajj.

Fahad Nazer

Authorities have drastically increased the presence of security personnel to guard against potential security risks. Daesh has made clear it has no compunction about targeting Muslims in their homes, hospitals, schools and even mosques. The sanctity of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah is immaterial to the thugs of Daesh, who have tried to target both in the past.
The government has spent billions of dollars on sophisticated surveillance equipment, and will have thousands of security personnel in and around Makkah to ensure Daesh or any other group is not allowed to disrupt this most sacred of Islamic religious rites. The authorities have been unequivocal in asserting their preparedness to deal with any possible disruptions.
Another major challenge is that pilgrims come from 200 countries and speak hundreds of languages. This has made it difficult for security personnel to ensure pilgrims follow safety procedures to prevent minor incidents from spiraling out of control as panic ensues.
Saudi officials have tried to raise awareness among prospective pilgrims as they embark on this spiritual journey, stressing that following directions and regulations is for everyone’s benefit. Organizers of pilgrimages from other countries have also taken measures to promote safety awareness.
The overwhelming majority of Hajj seasons have been without any major incidents. After God’s grace, the credit should go to the government’s myriad safety and security measures. But that has not stopped some of the Kingdom’s rivals from trying to politicize Hajj.

Fahad Nazer is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among others.