Arts & Culture

From Camels to Robots: A radical change is present in Hajj journey

On annual basis, Muslims from different parts of the World pack their luggage heading to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) in the holiest city for Muslims which is Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.

 Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and of supporting their family during their absence from home.

In Islamic terminology, Hajj is a pilgrimage made to the Kaaba, the “House of God”, in the sacred city of Makkah Al-Mukarramah in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, alongside Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, and Sawm, or fasting of Ramadan.

The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah).

Over the past decades, major developments took place in the journey of Hajj, these developments reflect efforts made by Saudi Arabia to serve the pilgrims and facilitate the performance of their rituals in that faith journey.

In the past, pilgrims face several hardships and dangers, on a journey fraught with dangers and hardship, which used to take months.

Here Leaders MENA magazine is shedding light on the shape of pilgrims’ journey in the past, obstacles they faced, and how they were able to overcome, moreover, the new developments that changed the way of the journey.

Hardships & Obstacles

For several centuries, caravans of pilgrims flocked to Makkah Al-Mukarramah on camels, they crossed the mountains on foot, carrying their goods, eating and drinking on animals, relying on donkeys and camels, as this was the only means of transportation in the past.

The journey was long and, the travel was difficult and the road was unfamiliar.

At that time, relatives of the pilgrims used to pay farewell as they were not completely sure that the pilgrims will return, as this journey was always fraught with dangers.

The pilgrims faced bandits, dangers of hunger and thirst in their travels, and they were also exposed to some natural disasters, including storms, severe cold, heavy rain, and torrential torrents.

With the beginning of development, pilgrims began to use, along with camels, old transport buses, ships, and steamers.

In the past, primitive, simple facilities were built on the pilgrimage routes, such as rest houses, and basic facilities such as ponds, wells, springs, dams, inns (hotels), mosques, and markets.

Directly in the wake of the unification process of the Kingdom by the founder Late King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the cars started to appear at the end of the fifties, it became easy to go to Makkah Al-Mukarramah to perform the pilgrimage as the travel using cars at the fifties reduced the time to five days or less.

In the past, there was personnel who are responsible for receiving pilgrims and easing services to them; they were entitled “Tawfeen”.

The “El-Tawfeen” had a special headquarters in which they receive pilgrims, these headquarters used to be called “Al-Barza,”

The appearance of “Al-Barza” created a strong competition between “Tawfeen”, each of them deliberately to show his appearance better, desiring to publicize and the arrival of pilgrims next year more than pilgrims of this year.

“El Tawfeen” was directly responsible for the pilgrims since their arrival in Makkah Al-Mukarramah; they used to follow pilgrims in everything related to their journey, even their health conditions, they were also responsible for transferring the patient pilgrims to the hospital to receive appropriate treatment.

In the case of sudden death to a pilgrim, El-Tawfeen (Plural) were responsible for the process of burial and inventory of his legacy and handing it over to their families.

El -Tawfeen were also the jurisprudential reference for many pilgrims in the issues they were looking for an answer to concerning the obligatory prayer.

On the day of al-Tarwiyah (On the day of al-Tarwiyah, which is the eighth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, it is desirable for those who removed the ihram cloth after Umra), each one of El Tawfeen would carry his pilgrims on rented camels and had prepared his camp in Arafat. Usually, pilgrims arrive at Arafat on the evening of the eighth day, as a percentage of them head to Mina on the morning of the eighth.

On the ninth day, which is the day of standing at Arafat, (El Tawfeen) would overcome the difficulties facing the pilgrims, save water, and talk with the cook who would serve lunch for the pilgrims on the day of Arafat.

When the cars entered, they created a kind of comfort for the transportation process for Arafat, but it faced a problem represented in the small number of roads heading from Arafat to Muzdalifah.

In the area of Muzdalifah, each bus transporting pilgrims was accompanied by one of (El Tawfeen) to guide them to the places of picking up the Jamarat and performing the Maghrib and Isha prayers there.

The architectural features of Makkah Al-Mukarramah were simple, the area of the Grand Mosque was limited, and the holy sites lacked even simple services.

In the past, and after reaching Makkah Al-Mukarramah, the pilgrims would settle in Mina (Neighborhood in Makkah Al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia) and then go to Arafat, where they would sit in the open. There were no tents or houses to shelter them. The earth was their bed and the sky was their quilt.

 If the pilgrims went to Mina to throw the Jamarat Al-Aqaba and sacrifice, they eat from their sacrifice. After completing the Hajj, the pilgrims dry the remaining meat by adding salt to it to remove the water and speed up its drying.

The dried meat is called “AlQafr” they eat it on the way back, and there may be a little of it left for the returnees to eat with their families.

The “AlQafr” has a special, unforgettable taste.

In the past, pilgrims faced many difficulties, especially from bandits, so they used to walk in groups and cross the deserts and rough roads on camels for days, nights, and months to reach Makkah Al-Mukarramah.

At the moment of the arrival of the pilgrims to Makkah and before they entered what is currently known as the central region, there was a center to receive pilgrims from Jeddah in Al-Biban Square.

The process of transporting pilgrims to Makkah and Madinah and the holy sites “Arafat Muzdalifah Mina” was carried out by camel every year at the beginning of the Hajj season.

Glances into the Development Process

History books mention that when King Abdul Aziz entered Makkah Al-Mukarramah, he issued a decree approving the work to raise the level of services provided to pilgrims by agents, and all those related to the service of the pilgrims.

The car management system was also issued with the encouragement of King Abdul Aziz, till the Saudi National Car Driving Company was established in Hejaz.

Makkah Al-Mukarramah and the holy sites are currently witnessing a historic and qualitative leap in the volume of development and expansion projects, the plurality of services, the integrated organizational plans, and the provision of all human and material capabilities.

Artificial intelligence

During this year’s Hajj season, the Hajj smart card was used, which provides many important services to the pilgrims, as well as the provision of 3,000 buses, each bus transporting 20 pilgrims.

The Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques also raised the capacity of the virtual paths in the courtyard to 25 paths and recruited 5,000 male and female workers to sterilize the Grand Mosque, its squares, and facilities.

The Royal Commission for the Holy City of Makkah Al-Mukarramah and the Holy Sites, represented by its executive arm, “Kedana” Development Company, implemented several development projects as quick solutions to benefit from and operate them during the Hajj season, most notably the implementation of a model camp on an area of 3800 square meters, which includes a camp, kitchen, food, and toilets.

Saudi Arabia has also expanded the use of smart robotic technologies to serve pilgrims during the Hajj of 2021.

After announcing a robot for distributing Zamzam water (A water that came from The Zamzam Well that is located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia), and then revealing the security robot and the personal robot, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah, and Guidance launched the “Fatwa Robot” service in the mosques of the holy sites and campaign headquarters as part of its technical services during the Hajj season.

All of these plans and projects contribute to facilitating the pilgrims to perform their rituals easily and smoothly while maintaining their health and safety in light of the spread of the Coronavirus.

 This comes within the framework of Saudi Arabia’s keenness to provide the best services and apply the highest standards of health and safety, and the preventive and precautionary measures to be followed during the Hajj season.

Since the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the hands of King Abdulaziz, the care of the sanctities has been placed at the height of its responsibilities, out of pride in this great honor, up to the reign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

During the current Hajj season, the Kingdom used artificial intelligence in the management of pilgrims’ affairs, to improve the work system and its distinction, leading to an easy Hajj.

As a result, a high satisfaction rate was achieved by the pilgrims with the services provided.

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