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Mecca is a holy place of Muslims in Saudi Arabia where it is believed that the prophet Muhammad lived and taught more than 1,300 years ago. Mecca is the holiest city in Islam. Mecca had become an important place in the history by the time when Prophet Mohammed (peace is upon him) was born in about 570 AD. Mecca, the holy place has fallen with yearly ebb and flow of pilgrims as a result of growing Muslim community in the World and eventually the spread of Islam. The economic status of the city greatly depends on the large number of pilgrims visiting every year and their accommodation, feeding and transportation. (Ahmed Z.U. 1992).
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Millions of Muslims visit Mecca every year to make a religious pilgrimage on the eighth through thirteen days of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the last month of the Muslim year. This religious tourist activity or the journey is called the Hajj which signifies one of the Five Pillars of Islam (Memish Z.A. et al 2002). The Islam counts on all the Muslims that once in their lifetime they are expected make this journey if they are physically and financially able. There is an enormous crowd of the participants in the Hajj. The plan to Hajj starts months or even years before. Makkah, the holy area or otherwise known as the haram is a place where any type of violence is not permitted. The word haram has a dual meaning as forbidden and sacred and is a symbol of purity. It is the main Muslim Mosque. The Grand Mosque is at the centre of Makkah and the sacred Zamzam well inside it. In the central courtyard of the Mosque is The Kaaba, whereby all Muslims face when they pray. Traditionally, Prophet Adam (AS) built the Kaaba which was later rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his son Prophet Ismael (AS), as a replica of God’s house in heaven. Muslims considers The Kaaba as the most holy spot on earth. It has been taught in Muslim legend that the shrines are built by the ancient religious patriarchs Ibrahim and Ishmael using foundations which were first laid by Prophet Adam AS.
Prophet Mohammed (peace is upon him) was born in Makkah and was descended with the Holy Quran, and since then the propagation for Islam was launched. In the heart of the city is the Holy Mosque in the centre of which the Holy Kaaba is located, The Maqam of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Ismaiel’s stone (May God bless them), Zamzam well in which water has been pouring from hundreds of years, and Safa and Marwah where Muslims make Saie. There are other holy shrines of Mina, Muzdalifa, and Arafat near Makkah. Arafat is located at the Mount Arafat where pilgrims perform the main ritual of Hajj as the day of Arafat.
Hajj is scheduled according to the lunar calendar and so moves 11 days earlier each year on the Gregorian calendar. Due to seasonal variation over time, the Hajj occurs at different times each year (Yamin M. et al 2009). It becomes difficult in summers as the temperatures in Saudi Arabia are very high. Unlike other Saudi Arabian cities, Mecca retains its warm temperature in winter, which can range from 17 °C at midnight to 25 °C in the afternoon. Summer temperatures are considered very hot and break the 40 °C mark in the afternoon dropping to 30 °C (86 °F) in the evening. Rain usually falls in Mecca in small amounts between November and January.
Tourism at Mecca
Mecca, the holy city in Saudi Arabia is believed to be the centre of the Islamic world. The journey to Mecca as the Hajj is popular to the Muslims all over the world but the Mecca travel is forbidden for non-Muslims. There are billions of people coming to Mecca for Hajj from all over the world. The Hajj in Mecca is the largest pilgrimage in the world.
The Mecca city is Saudi Arabia is increasingly called Makkah. It is similar to the pronunciation of the Arabic word than does the English translation called Mecca. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the premises of Mecca, Saudi Arabia at any time of the year due to the fact that the Mecca travel and the Hajj are only intended for Muslims. It has happened in the past that several non-Muslims have entered Mecca; the penalties of it are quite harsh including deportation and jail time.
Tourism in Mecca involves some advance planning. There is a special visa required by every Muslim who wishes to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. There is a valid visa required to enter the Hajj grounds. In case of Saudi citizens, permission is necessary. The foreign pilgrims intend to perform Hajj applies for a visa by furnishing information and undergoing some medical examination. The visa is granted by Saudi government by approval of the Hajj management in Saudi Arabia. Each pilgrim is assigned to a group of Hajj management called Munazzim once their visa is granted. Munnazim is responsible for their travel and accommodation arrangements in the Hejaz (Yamin M. et al 2009). In addition, a letter from the local mosque stating that the person is a Muslim is also required. Women who are under 45 years of age must travel with a male or a mahram considered being the head of the family. There should be a proof of their relationship. On the other hand, women over 45 years of age must carry a permission letter from her husband or her father along with the proof her being a part of the Mecca tourism group. The visa to travel Mecca does not permit to travel outside of Mecca and if anyone wants to travel other cities, they must apply for additional visa.
The pilgrimage to Mecca commence at the Jeddah airport, a large city in Saudi Arabia. As the tourism in Mecca is very popular during the Hajj month, there are two special terminals for the people arriving to Mecca. There are direct bus services from the airport to Mecca Saudi Arabia.
On arrival to the city of Mecca, the Muslims have to follow traditional rituals, called Umrah. These traditions should be followed by all the pilgrims. The rituals that are acted out in the incidents of the Quran are relatively hard to perform or rather complex and takes about a week. It is important that the pilgrims must wear the traditional pilgrimage clothing followed by a walk in the region of the Kaaba in a counter clockwise direction several times. After this ritual, next comes Sa’ey which factually means run whereby the pilgrims walk back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, the region where the wife of Prophet Abraham ran recklessly in search of water for her son. It has been written in Quran that there is a fountain that appears between the hills (Ahmed Z.U. 1992).
Other rituals during the Hajj include going to Arafat. This is the the place where Mohammed gave his final sermon. The ritual is followed by drinking water from the Zamzam well which is inside the Great Mosque. It is believed by all the Muslims that their God provided water to Hajar and Ismail at this well when they were strolling in the desert. These two people are the central figures of Islam. Mecca travel is a meaningful once-in-a-lifetime experience for all the Muslims.
There have been many tourism issues in Mecca that arise during the Hajj period. Many incidents have happened during the past years causing loss of hundreds of lives. It is estimated that there are 1.4 billion Muslims in the World and each one must visit Mecca for pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime if they can. It is all the way very hard to manage millions of people in Mecca during the month of Hajj.
Stampedes are likely to occur at the Hajj because of the huge crowd and an extraordinary pressure. The individuals may stumble thereby precipitating an entire stampede. Massive crowds walking from one place to the other place of the pilgrimage, cause a stampede. There is a panic when the pilgrims jostle to avoid being trampled resulting in hundreds of deaths. For example, the ceremony of stoning the Devil is very crowded and dangerous and so can result in serious crowd accidents. The following incidents occurred due to massive crowding at the Hajj.
2nd July, 1990 – Arafat plains of Hajj: A stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel leading out from Mecca towards Mina, Saudi Arabia and the Plains of Arafat led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims.
23rd May, 1994 – 270 pilgrims were killed in crowd during the stoning of the Devil.
9th April, 1998 – Incident at Jamarat Bridge where 118 pilgrims died and 180 were injured.
5th March, 2001 – During the ritual of stoning the Devil, 35 pilgrims were trampled to death.
11th February, 2003 – 14 pilgrims died in a rush during the stoning of the Devil ceremony.
1st February, 2004 – 251 pilgrims were killed and 244 people were injured in a stampede during the stoning ceremony in Mina.
12th January, 2006 – 346 pilgrims were killed and more than 289 were injured in Mina on the last day of the Hajj while performing the ritual ramy al-jamarÄt.
Disease spread is also a tourism issue in Mecca. This could be explained on the fact that there are millions of people from many countries visiting Mecca, of which some of them may have poor health systems, leading to the spread of epidemics. If there is a disease outbreak during the Hajj, this could make the problem worse when they returned home and passing the infection on to others. There have been such incidents in the past where the disease has spread among the pilgrims causing severe health problems. One such disease, called meningitis has been given a prompted response from the Saudi government. There were many concerns about the disease after its international outbreak at Hajj in 1987. Due to these global outbreaks of certain types of meningitis in previous years, it is now a visa requirement to be immunised with the ACW135Y vaccine before arrival. Every year, the Saudi government publishes a list of required vaccines for pilgrims, which for 2010 also includes yellow fever, polio, and influenza.
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Trauma and other fatal events
The word Hajj defines movement. There is a lot of chaos in transportation during the Hajj. The pilgrimage moves on foot in dense traffic for hours at a time. During the Hajj season in Mecca, there is inordinate traffic congestion. Other issues in tourism are fire incidents that happened in previous years.
December 1975 – Fire due to explosion a gas cylinder in a tent resulted in the death of 200 pilgrims.
15th April, 1997 – Fire in a tent in Mina killing 343 pilgrims and 1,500 injured.
In order to prevent such dangerous incidents, the kingdom has replaced all the tents and the tents are now fireproof with a variety of which are made up of aluminium frames with fibreglass. The risk of fire is now considered much lower (Memish Z.A. et al 2002).
Management in Mecca during the Hajj, handling millions of people during a specific month is not an easy task. The officials of the government of the Saudi Arabia should have done more to prevent such catastrophes. It is claimed by the government of Saudi Arabia that such massive crowd are very dangerous and difficult to manage, and that they have taken a number of steps to prevent problems. There are improvements of touristic facilities at Jeddah, Mecca and Madinah.
There have been number of steps undertaken to overcome the hurdles and the incidents in the past. One of the controversial significant steps in action inculcates new system of registrations, passports, and visas to control the mass flow of pilgrims. This system intends to encourage and accommodate visitors travelling for the first time to Mecca, while restricting repeat visits. Such a system was protested by the pilgrims who have the desire and wishes to perform the Hajj several times and they have been biased about this system, but the Hajj Commission has stated that they see no substitute if further incidents and disasters are to be prevented.
As a result of the stampede in 2004, there have been concerns and considerations by the Saudi authorities. The authorities have aboard a big construction work in and around the Jamarat Bridge area. Additional access ways, footbridges, and emergency exits were built, and concrete walls were designed to replace the three cylindrical pillars allowing more pilgrims to have a simultaneous access to them without fighting for position and deprived of crowd. A multi-million-dollar project has been designed and put into action by the government to expand the bridge to five levels.
For crowd management, many organizations are using RFID chips to track and monitor people and products. This high technology is an effective way of identifying and helping people in urgent situations (Yamin M. et al 2009). These RFID carry some PDA (readable data) which can be used for medical emergencies and for reporting lost pilgrims with their groups. The device should be linked to the event database so as to facilitate the retrieval and updates as and when required.
The disease spreads and recent outbreaks of H1N1 virus (swine influenza and bird flu) have made the crowd management more challenging. For the management of diseases, as mentioned earlier, there are set of medical examinations and immunizations to be undergone by the pilgrims to be registered in the event database.
Therefore, the management of Hajj can be sum up in three phases. Phase one is about the necessary planning to organize Hajj and to intend pilgrims before departure to Saudi Arabia.
Second phase refers to the Hajj process whereby different management steps are undertaken to control the issues in way of the Hajj process and the last phase directs to the measures undertaken to facilitate smooth return of pilgrims to their respective destinations.
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