Massive changes in Mina bring cheer to pilgrims

Updated 24 September 2015

Massive changes in Mina bring cheer to pilgrims

MINA: Mina, which comes to life only once a year in Haj, is in fact a small city. As far as the eye can see, tents cover every open space. They are neatly arranged, row after row. In the sea of white, the historic Al-Khaif Mosque stands out with its brick-red minarets.
The mosque is the center of activity here in Mina. Pilgrims come from their far-off tents to pray inside the majestic mosque. Once in the mosque, pilgrims are a picture of piety and contemplation. Massive airconditioning units keep the vast mosque cool, pleasant and comfortable.
Thanks to a mild drizzle, the weather was bearable on Monday evening with a cool breeze blowing across the valley. Tuesday was a different story. By 8 in the morning, it had become hot and around midday everyone felt the heat. For those not under cover, the sun was scorching. Many pilgrims, therefore, tried to escape the midday heat within the Al-Khaif Mosque.
Like everything else in Mina, this famous mosque has undergone many changes. There are now several entrances for women and more than 100,000 worshippers can be accommodated in the mosque for each of the five daily prayers.
From photos in old books, one can see the great change that both the mosque and Mina itself have experienced in the last 100 years.
Mina is where the pilgrims spend the most time during the five-day pilgrimage. Although it has an area of six million square meters, only four million square meters can be used as the rest of the terrain is mountainous.
In the last several years, the Saudi government has implemented a number of vital projects in Mina costing billions of riyals. The projects include state-of-the-art expressways, tunnels, flyovers, an exclusive train network, the massive Jamrat complex, water tanks and electricity plants.
There are now more than 50,000 fire-proof tents which can house up to two million pilgrims. The fire-proof tent project was implemented in the aftermath of a terrible fire on the first day of Haj in 1997; it claimed the lives of some 300 pilgrims and destroyed 70,000 tents.
Each new tent, made of fiber-glass coated with Teflon, has a heat-sensitive water sprinkler which is linked to an alarm system and electric lighting.
Thousands of desert air-conditioners, automatic water sprinklers, fire extinguishers and fire detectors have been installed to make the journey comfortable for pilgrims. Iron bars with a total weight of 10,000 tons were used to steady the tents.
The tents can withstand strong winds and the sewage system has been constructed so as to remove rain water from the area.
“The Saudi government deserves our praise for the excellent infrastructural developments at the holy sites,” said Mohammed Akram Balochi, from Pakistan.
He said he would spend the night in Al-Khaif Mosque itself. “I will stay busy reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an and then take a nap in the mosque itself. After all, this is the mosque that has been host to millions of pious Muslims in the last 1,400 years.”

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

There was an explosion of joy at the podium when Antonio Felix da Costa lifted the winner’s trophy at the conclusion of the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 16 December 2018

Motorsport, rock bands, tourists … welcome to the new Saudi Arabia

  • Three-day event at Ad Diriyah reaches spectacular climax in an unprecedented spirit of openness

AD DIRIYAH: The driver with the winner’s trophy was Antonio Felix da Costa — but the real winners were Saudi Arabia itself, and more than 1,000 tourists visiting the country for the first time.

Da Costa, the Andretti Motorsport driver, won the Formula E Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix in front of thousands of race fans at a custom-built track in the historic district on the outskirts of Riyadh.

But in truth, the event was about much more than high-tech electric cars hurtling round a race track — thrilling though that was. The three-day festival of motorsport, culture and entertainment was Saudi Arabia’s chance to prove that it can put on a show to rival anything in the world, and which only two years ago would have been unthinkable.

The event was also the first to be linked to the Sharek electronic visa system, allowing foreigners other than pilgrims or business visitors to come to Saudi Arabia.

Jason, from the US, is spending a week in the country with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here,” he said.

Aaron, 40, a software engineer, traveled from New York for two days. “Saudi Arabia has always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said.

About 1,000 visitors used the Sharek visa, a fraction of what Saudi Arabia aims eventually to attract. 

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice chairman of the General Sports Authority.

His optimism was backed by Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a visitor to Ad Diriyah. “Such events will attract tourists and are a true celebration for young Saudis who desire a bright future,” he said.

“The vision of moderate Islam, promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is important both for the region and the entire world, and its realization needs to be appreciated, respected and supported.”

The event ended on Saturday night with a spectacular show by US band OneRepublic and the superstar DJ David Guetta. “Just when you think things can’t get better, they suddenly do,” said concertgoer Saleh Saud. “This is the new Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”