By Fawaz Mohammad,
RIYADH, January 10 (IslamOnline.net)
– With some two million Muslims expected to perform hajj this year, Saudi government plans are in full swing to head
off potential tragic stampedes and make the holy rituals easier for the faithful.
A giant project to develop
the Jamrat bridge where pilgrims amass to stone pillars symbolizing Satan is near completion.
After a stampede tragedy
last hajj which killed 251 pilgrims, Saudi King Fahd bin Abdel Aziz ordered turning the bridge to four-storey.
The government, subsequently,
planned a 533-million-dollar redevelopment of the 272-meter wide area.
Hajj Minister Iyad Bin
Amin Madani said the new changes will further see new emergency exits at the place where the pilgrims throw Jamrat
The plans further include
changing the circular shape of the Jamrat fence into oval and the horizontal pillars into vertical.
Pilgrims hurl seven
pebbles from behind a fence or from the overhead bridge every day for three days at each of the three 18-metre (58-foot)
high concrete pillars.
Saudi authorities have
further installed four surveillance cameras around the Jamrat bridge to nib potential stampedes in the bud.
Some 700 TV sets have
also been set up in camps in Mina to broadcast the rituals live for the white-robbed pilgrims in different languages.
Abedl Fattah Bin Abdel
Shakour, the director of the Hajj Ministry’s department in Makkah, said multilingual leaflets and bulletins will be
distributed among the pilgrims to raise their awareness of the good manners during the spiritual journey.
He said pilgrims will
be allowed gradually to throw the pebbles with 60,000 expected to perform the ritual at the first hour.
There have been many
deadly stampedes in the past. In 2003, 14 pilgrims, including six women, were killed during the first day of the stoning ritual,
35 in 2001 and 118 in 1998.
The worst toll was in
July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were trampled or asphyxiated to death in a stampede in a tunnel in Mina.
An Egyptian scholar
put forward last year a couple of creative ideas to alleviate the too much crowding in hajj season, suggesting making
some of the rituals automated.
Every able-bodied adult
Muslim who can physically and financially afford the trip must perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, once in their
Official figures put
the total number of pilgrims performing last year's hajj at 1,892,710, with 1,419,706 from abroad and 473,004 Saudis and other
Muslim residents of the kingdom.
The Saudi Health Ministry,
meanwhile, will capitalize on the gathering of a sea of Muslims during hajj and step up its anti-smoking campaign for the
second straight year.
Make Makkah and Madinah Free from Tobacco,” the effort is focused on keeping the pilgrims posted on the serious health
and economic consequences of smoking.
The campaign organizes
direct meetings with the pilgrims in hospitals and health centers in addition to distributing anti-smoking fliers.
The event coincided
with a landmark decision taken by municipality of Madinah on January 1, which banned the selling of tobacco and its ingredients
around the Prophet’s Mosque and at the shops overlooking it.
The municipality also
decided to stop issuing licenses for cigarette-selling shops and gave the existing ones a deadline until the expiry of their
current permits to either change the activity or face closure.
The government banned
last year smoking in public places, schools, universities, health and sports institutions as well as public transport. Violators
are fined 200 Saudi Rials (US$53) on the spot.
Saudi Arabia is the
world’s fourth largest importer of cigarettes with the annual consumption running at 15 billion cigarettes and the number
of smokers put at six million.
Official estimates indicate
that some 23,000 people die annually of smoking-related diseases.