Hajj 2023 and the space constraints in Mina

Friday, July 7, 2023

THE challenges of insufficient services experienced by virtually all hajj-participating countries in Mina this year is not about inadequate tents, but about space management to accommodate about 2.3 million pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia can afford to construct one million tents to solve the yearly logjam in Mina but they will need more expanse to host the tents. The major challenge has been how to accommodate the maximum number of pilgrims in Mina tents while maintaining the maximum level of comfort.

There are however attempts to improve Mina’s capacity using new architectural designs to augment the number of pilgrims.

Every year, starting from the eighth of Dhul Hijja, hajj pilgrims converge on Mina as part of the spiritual transit process to Mount Arafat to observe the Day of Arafat. The name ‘Mina’ is derived from the word with the root letters ma-na-ya. Mina means “to find” or “to undergo test” or “to be put to the test.” Mina is connected to the words ‘tamannd’ and ‘manna’, which means “to hope for” or “awaken a desire.”

The spiritually applicable meaning of Mina in itself indicates that it is not a place for “desirable comforts”, but an area where our faith will be put to the test in the quest of attaining hajj mabrur.

A research was conducted in 2016 using Mina Tent Distribution Algorithm (MTDA) to better utilise the available capacity of Mina’s area in the best possible way with efficient use of the available resources. MTDA employed seven functions during the search process to find the best-fit accommodation for pilgrims in the available tents of Mina. Experimental results revealed that MTDA achieves better performance compared with eight algorithm schemes in all experimental cases. The best result of MTDA was obtained by allocating 80 percent of the total number of pilgrims over 76.2 percent of the total available accommodation space in the Mina area. So, the best experimental result still did not project housing all the pilgrims in the tents.

Mina covers an area of around 7.82 square kilometres, 4.8 square kilometres, an equivalent of 61 percent, of which is a valley area. The remaining are hilly areas utilised during hajj. The size of tents are either 8 square meters in size, 6 by 8 meters or 12 by 8 meters

In the last 15 years, the number of pilgrims that can be accommodated in Mina has been a recurrent pre-hajj topic among hajj-participating countries. Before the creation of additional driving and service lanes, the tents’ structure is designed to host around 850,000 pilgrims. Each pilgrim will be able to have a bed space inside a tent within the Mina boundary.

However, the creation of support facilities like Al Mashaaer Railway, medical centres, security posts, muasasah office, ministry of hajj offices, fire service offices and emergency response centres takes about 20 percent of the initial projection when the first modern tents were built. In reality, Mina cannot comfortably host 800,000 pilgrims as it is.

Secondly, the introduction of mattresses in the tents compressed the space, unlike those years when pilgrims slept on plain rugs.

This year, there have been observations and complaints by virtually all the top 10 hajj-participating countries on the issue of providing enough space to host their respective numbers of pilgrims in Mina.

Anticipating a shortage of space, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj took a proactive step by directing pilgrims, mostly from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries constituting about 40 per cent of the total number of 2023 Hajj pilgrims to proceed from their hotels in Makkah to Arafat, skipping the first day in Mina.

So, the issue of having a comfortable space in Mina within the current global hajj allocation of about 2.3 million will remain a dilemma for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and hajj-participating countries.

Most of the major car service lanes have been dualised and therefore taken a large chunk of the space initially designed for tents.

Pressure from hajj-participating countries requesting more slots and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s plan to host 30 million pilgrims within the target scope of its Vision 2030 is making the issue of adequate bed space a wishful thinking.

A member of the Indonesian House of Representatives Commission VIII, Endang Maria Astuti, complained about the capacity of the Indonesian hajj pilgrims’ tents in Mina. He said, of approximately 360 pilgrims per group, the tents were only able to accommodate around 260 hajj pilgrims, meaning that there is a difference of 100 members of the congregation, which made the space unfit. He said this resulted in many of them having to sleep cramped. “Even some had to sleep sitting down because there was not enough space,” he noted.

The Malaysian lawmaker said further that the Mashariq muasasah did not fulfil its commitment to some components of the masyair during their stay in Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina.

Also, Malaysian pilgrims expressed disappointment over the lack of adequate space in Mina in this year’s hajj with many of the pilgrims blaming Tambug Hajji (TH) officials.

Reacting to the challenge, the TH group’s Managing Director, Syed Hamadah Syed Othman, said the issue had affected hajj pilgrims from all countries for a long time and was not something new.

Tabung Hajji clarified that the issue of limited and crowded space in Mina “does not only affect Malaysian pilgrims but those from other countries as well, especially when the hajj quota is full or following an increase in quota.”

He said the borders of Arafah and Mina are established by law and they remain unchanged despite the growing number of pilgrims each year.

“The size and space of tents in Mina are beyond TH control because the facilities in Arafah and Mina are provided by the Saudi authorities for all countries,” he stated.

Nigerian pilgrims are not left out of the discomforts in Mina. Unlike other countries who are waiting for the post-mortem to proffer a solution, the management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) responded quickly and met the Muasasah for African non-Arab countries and came back with a promise of an additional 10,000-tent capacity, which was later provided and occupied by some tour operators’ pilgrims.

About the challenges faced by pilgrims this year, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, while addressing the closing ceremony of an event in Makkah, said: “There will be no allotment of specific areas for countries at the holy sites for the Hajj of 1445 AH (2024).

“Priority will be given while allotting areas to those countries which finish the terms and conditions and provisions of bilateral agreements and completing all the preparations for the Hajj.”

The announcement has put all countries on their toes against next year’s hajj.

In 2014, a proposal was forwarded to the Hajj Ministry to create a state-owned company to construct multi-storey buildings on mountains in Mina to accommodate more pilgrims during hajj.

The then Minister of Hajj, Bandar Hajjar, said the plan was rerouted to Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who doubles as the chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee on how to finance the projects.

The constructions, according to the plan, will follow the conditions set by the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars and the development plan for holy sites.

The best approach to solve the issue could have been to reduce the number of hajj quotas to the exact number of mattress spaces in Mina. The Saudi Vision 2030, the carry-over pilgrims from COVID-19 periods, and the ever-growing quest for more slots by hajj-participating countries make this option difficult.

Muhammed, the National Coordinator of the Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR), writes from Misfala, Makkah, Saudi Arabia.


Source: https://tribuneonlineng.com/hajj-2023-and-the-space-constraints-in-mina/