Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah was given a presentation on the new project early Monday morning. The project will be completed in three years.
Bakri Al-Assas, president of Umm Al-Qura University, thanked the king for showing his confidence in the university to design the project as part of the government's efforts to enhance facilities for the growing number of pilgrims that visit the holy sites.
According to the plan, the mataf will be expanded by 20 meters into the Ottoman portico of the present Grand Mosque at all levels of the building, including the terrace. In the ground floor of the expansion area, pillars will be removed from prayer areas.
Al-Assas said the design also included arrangements for the evacuation of pilgrims from the mataf during emergencies. The project will also add prayer space for 2,000 women worshippers between the mataf and masaa (the running course between Safa and Marwa).
"Women staying in this area will be able to see the Holy Kaaba directly," he pointed out.
On the first floor arrangements will be made for elderly pilgrims and the disabled to perform tawaf, Al-Assas said, adding that the new facility would accommodate 6,000 pilgrims per hour. He said the new project would increase the mataf's current capacity by 75 percent.
Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari presented the mataf expansion project to the king early Monday during a reception at Al-Safa Palace in the presence of Al-Assas and the team of engineers who designed the project.
Meanwhile, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif announced on Sunday that the government has approved a new public transport system to enable pilgrims and other visitors reach the holy city of Makkah quickly without any difficulty.
He was addressing a suhoor party hosted by prominent Makkah businessman Abdul Rahman Faqeeh. Prince Naif said SR22 billion have been allocated for new development projects in Makkah during the next 10 years.
Speaking about the mataf expansion, he said it should be carried out taking into consideration Shariah regulations. "There is a proposal to remove some pillars to create additional space."
During his conversation with academics, businessmen and other personalities attending the dinner, Prince Naif said Islamic scholars should advise people to perform one Umrah during Ramadan to avoid congestion in the Grand Mosque.
"Some people perform Umrah after every three or seven days during Ramadan," he said.
He also advised Muslims to use other mosques in the Haram area to avoid overcrowding at the Grand Mosque. "Our example is the Prophet (peace be upon him). After the victory of Makkah, the Prophet remained in the city two weeks. During that period, he stayed in Abtah, which is close to the Grand Mosque, but he prayed at the mosque only once. Our Muslim brothers should know that the whole of Makkah is Haram," he explained.
Prince Naif said the Kingdom was still facing terrorism and urged citizens to cooperate with police to protect the Kingdom's security and stability. He said security problems in neighboring countries such as Iraq and Yemen posed a threat to the Kingdom.
He reassured those present about the health of Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation. "The crown prince's condition is improving every day," he said.
Prince Naif, who is chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, commended the efforts of Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal for the development of the holy city.
Also on Sunday, King Abdullah received the annual report of King Abdul Aziz National Dialogue Center and emphasized the importance of dialogue. "It is the best means to achieve unity and cohesion among members of Saudi society," the king said.
King Abdullah said the dialogue should be conducted according to set rules and principles. "Differences will be there. It's the nature of human beings. If we conduct any dialogue without following principles it would lead to chaos and confusion," the king pointed out.
He expressed his confidence in the unity of Saudi people. "Our country is strong because of the faith of its people in the Almighty, the national unity and the strong bond between its people," he said.
He commended the role played by the dialogue center in promoting the values of moderation and tolerance among the Saudi people. He urged the public and private sectors to cooperate with the center to promote a culture of dialogue and respecting the views of others.
King Abdullah met with Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashmi and Parliament Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi. He also met with Haj Minister Fouad Al-Farsy and heads of Tawafa organizations. Al-Farsy praised the king for implementing the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in history at a total cost of SR80 billion.