Hajj and Umrah, Expectations of pilgrims and Saudi Government actions.
In 2012 about 3 million Muslims from around the world performed Hajj. Majority of the pilgrims were non Saudis and had come from different countries around the world. Saudi Arabian Government always faces a big challenge because it is the host country which is primarily responsible for taking care of the
pilgrims of Hajj. Although each year the services improve but the increasing number of pilgrims each year always creates a huge gap between the expectations of the pilgrims and the services provided.
The Holy sites in Makkah have been expanded to ensure they accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims so that they can perform their holy duty easily, but the capacity of the Holy Mosques in Makkah can be increased to a limited extent. The transportation, accommodation and other services are improved but it seems impossible to accommodate the pilgrims if the number exceeds 4 million.
It is a wish for every Muslim around the world that they can perform Hajj once in their lifetime and see the Holy sites of Makkah and Medinah, but the majority of the Muslims cannot afford the finances required for Hajj and some can’t physically endure the hardships during the rituals because of the heavy crowd during Tawaf, Rami and other rituals.
The number of Pilgrims coming for Umrah is also increasing each year, especially during the Holy month of Ramadhan. Umrah can’t be an alternative to Hajj but it is another very important ibad’ah for Muslims. The Saudi government can come up with solutions to accommodate more pilgrims coming for Umrah and boost the capacity from 5 million to 50 million pilgrims in a year. Modifying the visa procedure and internal services can take care of a large number of people who can perform this ritual. Private sector providing accommodation and other services for pilgrims must be restructured so that the increasing number of pilgrims can be properly dealt with. The Kingdom can develop a services sector (similar to Spain where an equal number of tourists visit each year) which can provide policies to accommodate the 45 million extra Umrah pilgrims every year.
The Saudi government has done a lot to handle the crowd during the festive season of Hajj and Umrah. Ground transport has been increased with specially built railways operating between Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah. Nowhere in the world is another example of such network which is used just once a year. In addition, expansion projects of the Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medinah along with expansion in hotels and private sector accommodation handlers have also helped in handling the huge crowd. But accommodating 50 million Umrah pilgrims requires massive updating of the infrastructure.
The solution lies in establishing specialized economy which will serve the 50 million Umrah pilgrims. Initially it should be funded by the state but should subsequently be able to support itself to meet the desire of millions. If the Saudi Government reconsiders all its plans, they can achieve this goal of having the maximum number of Umrah pilgrims each year.