Jeddah, June 26: Saudi Arabia has developed and introduced several services for the first time for the pilgrims participating in Hajj 2023 to help them perform the rituals with ease and comfort.
Hajj services offered this season were distinguished for keeping pace with the developments taking place in the world that enhance the facilitation of life, such as artificial intelligence and others.
The most awaited announcement by Muslims around the world this season was the lifting of restrictions imposed three years ago to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an announcement earlier, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah revealed that the Hajj this year 2023 would be without conditions or restrictions.
"Saudi Arabia will welcome pilgrims to perform Hajj this year in the same numbers as before the COVID pandemic," Dr. Al-Rabiah confirmed.
Following the lifting of restrictions, Saudi Arabia announced that it would receive more than 2 million Hajj pilgrims from 160 countries. The number of Umrah performers this year increased by 30% compared to 1440 AH.
Moreover, this year the Kingdom allowed Hajj missions from around the world to make contracts with any authorized company of their choice to provide pilgrimage services in Saudi Arabia.
The cost of insurance for Hajj pilgrims has witnessed a 73 percent drop this year. The price of insurance for Hajj pilgrims was reduced from SR109 to SR29 while that of Umrah was reduced from SR235 to SR88, or 63 percent.
The Hajj season this year 1444 AH witnessed a major shift in terms of expanding services. Some of these services were announced for the first time this season. The announcement of these services, including the easy payment options for Hajj packages, contributed greatly to facilitating the pilgrimage.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced in January that domestic pilgrims have the option of paying the Hajj package costs in three installments, instead of paying the full amount in one go as was the case during previous years.
The Makkah Route Initiative, one of the Interior Ministry's projects that aim to provide high-quality services in Hajj which helped the pilgrims complete their immigration procedures from their countries of origin easily, was expanded to countries such as Turkey and Ivory Coast. The initiative, launched in 2019 for the first time, now operates in seven countries including Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh besides Turkey and Ivory Coast.
In order to serve the pilgrims and meet all their needs, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has provided a system of services in Hajj this year with a cadre that is the highest and largest in its history. The total workforce in the Two Holy Mosques reached 14,000 fully qualified male and female employees.
Saudi Arabia did not stop training Hajj cadres inside the Kingdom this year but expanded the training program to also include, for the first time, foreign volunteers in their country. A training course was held to qualify workers to serve pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia during the Hajj before they start from their countries.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, represented by the center for licensing and training workers who serve pilgrims and Umrah performers, has trained leaders of pilgrims groups in their own countries before the start of the Hajj season, which also includes a detailed explanation of the pilgrims’ journey.
Preparations for receiving pilgrims this season did include not only technology and training but also ways to preserve religious rituals and sanctities from being exploited, as well as protecting the rights of pilgrims guaranteed by the law. Accordingly, the Attorney General and Chairman of the Public Prosecution Council Sheikh Saud Bin Abdullah Al-Mujab has inaugurated the Hajj and Umrah Prosecution next to the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Al-Mujab stressed the importance of immediately closing the criminal cases referred to the Hajj and Umrah Prosecution, taking into account the protected rights due to quick termination of cases.
Additionally, Al-Mujab stressed the need to activate measures to encourage behaviors that would not affect the serenity of Hajj or Umrah, and would not prejudice national security or the sanctity of the holy sites, in accordance with the law.
Al-Mujab emphasized the sanctity of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, pointing out the exploitation of religious rites or holy sites is considered among the crimes that require the Public Prosecution to impose the most severe penalties against the accused.
Environmental factors also witnessed new developments in services this year. The National Center for Environmental Compliance confirmed the readiness of national cadres and advanced technologies that will ensure the quality of air, soil and water for pilgrims in Makkah, the holy sites, Madinah, airports and highways.
The center confirmed that 1,350 inspection visits will be conducted this season at all Hajj-related sites, in order to ensure air quality, protect and monitor water sources, and preserve soil from pollution.
For the first time this season, noise levels will be monitored and controlled to maintain and ensure a quiet and comfortable environment for pilgrims during the Hajj period.
The pilgrims will enjoy this year’s Hajj with several transportation options that ensure facilitating their movement within the holy sites. The Transport General Authority (TGA) provided 1,000 electric scooters as a service to Hajj pilgrims to facilitate their movement in the holy sites.
The authority has allocated a specific track for the e-scooters, separating them from other vehicles and pedestrians to preserve the safety of pilgrims. The track consists of two lanes back and forth, with a length of 2 km, starting from Kadana station and ending with the Mahbas Al-Jin tunnel, which leads to Bab Ali station in the Grand Mosque.
TGA has also launched, for the first time, a trial run of self-driving electric buses to serve the pilgrims this season, as it aims to provide innovative modern technologies for sustainable and environment-friendly transportation.
The self-driving buses utilize artificial intelligence, cameras, and surrounding sensors to operate without human intervention along a predefined route. They gather information during movement and analyze it to make necessary decisions, aiming to enhance passenger experience and ensure safety. Each bus has 11 seats, operates for 6 hours per charge, and can reach speeds of up to 30 km/h.
Saudi Arabia pays great attention to delivering information to pilgrims of different nationalities who speak different languages. And from this standpoint, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques announced the launch of 185 programs and initiatives that were presented during this year’s Hajj season in the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.
The programs aim to invest in artificial intelligence, digitizing programs, and harnessing electronic applications in various fields to serve pilgrims and talk to them in foreign languages to facilitate Hajj rituals for them.
To enrich people's Hajj experience, the General Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques prepared, for the first time in its history, 20 different and varied exhibitions this year.
The holding of exhibitions has been diversified. Some of them are inside the Grand Mosque, while some others are mobile exhibitions touring the holy sites. Some others are in Makkah and Jeddah. The exhibition are held with the aim of providing an opportunity for the largest possible number of visitors and pilgrims to see the history and stages of development of the Two Holy Mosques, which also reflects Saudi Arabia’s vision in developing services in Hajj seasons over the years.