High-Tech Hajj: 10 Ways Engineering Rocks the Casbah (and Mecca!)

This post is an update of a story first published by Albawaba during Hajj 2014    Over 2 million Muslims from 183 countries have arrived in Mecca for Hajj 2015, the annual pilgrimage commanded by the Koran. The Saudi royal family are increasingly turning to technology to keep visitors safe from punishing heat, overstressed infrastructure, and the fatal consequences of crowd behavior. Hajj pilgrims might share an attitude that, if I die, it is God’s will, but it doesn’t relieve the kingdom of its responsibility to anticipate risks, such as this month’s crane collapse that killed 118 people, and injured 394 more. Check out how modern engineering is making the ancient rite of Hajj safer.

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Hajj Terminal

Hajj Terminal in Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport is one of the world’s busiest. Open just six weeks a year, it acts as a pop-up city for millions of pilgrims destined for Hajj. Gleaming white tents form a bold roofline covering 120 acres of passenger services. Built 30 years ago - it’s a modern beauty for an ancient rite.

mataF

The mataf (the circumambulation courtyard surrounding the kabbah) has been modified as part of Mecca’s Grand Mosque expansion, now processing 130,000 pilgrims per hour (up from 52,000) and disabled-accessible. About 67% of the project has been completed. Mosque modification means two million worshippers can assemble at once!

HAJJ MAP

Godspeed! Most pilgrims access the holy cities via Jeddah airport’ Hajj Terminal or by sea, then use buses or taxis.The high speed intercity Western Railway is under construction to safely carry 3 MIL passengers yearly to Mecca and Medina. Breathe easier, the electric trains will reduce road congestion and pollution. Phased opening starts 2015.

jamarat bridgeal

Designers tapped the science of pedestrian behavior to keep hajjis from stampeding, changing the Jamarat Bridge - where 250,000 pilgrims at a time perform a ritual of tossing stones at three pillars. New one-way routing and redesigned pillars allow people to pitch rocks from more (safer) locations - because getting stoned is haram, thank God!

The Royal Mecca Clock Tower

The Royal Mecca Clock Tower is one of the world’s tallest buildings, a towering monument to Mecca’s unsustainable growth. It holds a massive shopping mall, 800-room hotel and large prayer halls. Is the city’s record-snatching construction boom to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims, or is it about commercializing God?

al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina

With summer temps hitting 120°F, these marble-floored spaces can be punishing to pilgrims gathered in the courtyards of Islam’s second-holiest mosque, al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina. Solution? Plant a forest of 250 convertible umbrellas and turn 150,000m2 of open plazas into fully covered outdoor rooms, a full 14°F cooler than before!

al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina

That same mosque created a new 112,000m2 outdoor assembly area for Hajj pilgrims. Innovative “sliding” domes protect the plaza from intense sunlight and heat, while providing natural light and ventilation, in a fully flexible way. Computer controls glide the hefty forms quietly into place during daytime hours. How cool is that?

security in hajj

KSA will rely on a 60,000 security agents and private contractors to protect this year’s Hajj, but spy technology will be key in keeping pilgrims safe. Facial recognition software will help assess images on 1,000s of CCTV cameras, and a new electronic screening system for Hajj permits is in place. Sounds like the pitch for a George Clooney flick!

hajj smartphone

300 pilgrims from Chhattisgarh, India were loaned free mobile phones loaded with an innovative Hajj app that serves as a people locator, navigator, translator and message box. App admin can track user movements via GPS, useful in emergencies. The State Hajj Committee will make the app available to other countries next year. Hajji, phone home!

hajj live if you weren't there

Enhanced TV & online broadcasts bring Hajj to Muslims all over the world. This year, Saudi Telecom Company carries round-the-clock coverage (in Arabic & English) straight from Mecca. Watch the masses move through the rites, hear the “Labayk” chant, and see interviews with pilgrims. With just a 30-second delay, it’s a virtual livestream.

Hajj buses

Electronic gates are in place at seven entry points to Mecca to screen for illegal pilgrims. Buses on Hajj duty are fitted with smart chips, and pilgrims are given special wristbands - also with embedded security chips. The system works by detecting those buses lacking the devices and also illegal visitors without wristbands.

water spray on hajj pilgrims

Water management means more than these misting poles to cool the crowds. This year, the National Water Company set up new systems to improve water distribution, track consumption and quality. It will send 5 million SMSs in several languages advising pilgrims how to report damaged water systems or leaks, decreasing maintenance reaction times.

hajj crowds

The kingdom is seven years into a $227-billion Hajj master plan, employing some of the world's top engineering firms to continually push the limits of design across transportation, energy, and logistical sectors. That plan is targeting 2038 completion; keep an eye on KSA for more innovation.

Hajj Terminal
mataF
HAJJ MAP
jamarat bridgeal
The Royal Mecca Clock Tower
al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina
al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina
security in hajj
hajj smartphone
hajj live if you weren't there
Hajj buses
water spray on hajj pilgrims
hajj crowds
Hajj Terminal
Hajj Terminal in Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport is one of the world’s busiest. Open just six weeks a year, it acts as a pop-up city for millions of pilgrims destined for Hajj. Gleaming white tents form a bold roofline covering 120 acres of passenger services. Built 30 years ago - it’s a modern beauty for an ancient rite.
mataF
The mataf (the circumambulation courtyard surrounding the kabbah) has been modified as part of Mecca’s Grand Mosque expansion, now processing 130,000 pilgrims per hour (up from 52,000) and disabled-accessible. About 67% of the project has been completed. Mosque modification means two million worshippers can assemble at once!
HAJJ MAP
Godspeed! Most pilgrims access the holy cities via Jeddah airport’ Hajj Terminal or by sea, then use buses or taxis.The high speed intercity Western Railway is under construction to safely carry 3 MIL passengers yearly to Mecca and Medina. Breathe easier, the electric trains will reduce road congestion and pollution. Phased opening starts 2015.
jamarat bridgeal
Designers tapped the science of pedestrian behavior to keep hajjis from stampeding, changing the Jamarat Bridge - where 250,000 pilgrims at a time perform a ritual of tossing stones at three pillars. New one-way routing and redesigned pillars allow people to pitch rocks from more (safer) locations - because getting stoned is haram, thank God!
The Royal Mecca Clock Tower
The Royal Mecca Clock Tower is one of the world’s tallest buildings, a towering monument to Mecca’s unsustainable growth. It holds a massive shopping mall, 800-room hotel and large prayer halls. Is the city’s record-snatching construction boom to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims, or is it about commercializing God?
al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina
With summer temps hitting 120°F, these marble-floored spaces can be punishing to pilgrims gathered in the courtyards of Islam’s second-holiest mosque, al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina. Solution? Plant a forest of 250 convertible umbrellas and turn 150,000m2 of open plazas into fully covered outdoor rooms, a full 14°F cooler than before!
al Masjid al Nabawī in Medina
That same mosque created a new 112,000m2 outdoor assembly area for Hajj pilgrims. Innovative “sliding” domes protect the plaza from intense sunlight and heat, while providing natural light and ventilation, in a fully flexible way. Computer controls glide the hefty forms quietly into place during daytime hours. How cool is that?
security in hajj
KSA will rely on a 60,000 security agents and private contractors to protect this year’s Hajj, but spy technology will be key in keeping pilgrims safe. Facial recognition software will help assess images on 1,000s of CCTV cameras, and a new electronic screening system for Hajj permits is in place. Sounds like the pitch for a George Clooney flick!
hajj smartphone
300 pilgrims from Chhattisgarh, India were loaned free mobile phones loaded with an innovative Hajj app that serves as a people locator, navigator, translator and message box. App admin can track user movements via GPS, useful in emergencies. The State Hajj Committee will make the app available to other countries next year. Hajji, phone home!
hajj live if you weren't there
Enhanced TV & online broadcasts bring Hajj to Muslims all over the world. This year, Saudi Telecom Company carries round-the-clock coverage (in Arabic & English) straight from Mecca. Watch the masses move through the rites, hear the “Labayk” chant, and see interviews with pilgrims. With just a 30-second delay, it’s a virtual livestream.
Hajj buses
Electronic gates are in place at seven entry points to Mecca to screen for illegal pilgrims. Buses on Hajj duty are fitted with smart chips, and pilgrims are given special wristbands - also with embedded security chips. The system works by detecting those buses lacking the devices and also illegal visitors without wristbands.
water spray on hajj pilgrims
Water management means more than these misting poles to cool the crowds. This year, the National Water Company set up new systems to improve water distribution, track consumption and quality. It will send 5 million SMSs in several languages advising pilgrims how to report damaged water systems or leaks, decreasing maintenance reaction times.
hajj crowds
The kingdom is seven years into a $227-billion Hajj master plan, employing some of the world's top engineering firms to continually push the limits of design across transportation, energy, and logistical sectors. That plan is targeting 2038 completion; keep an eye on KSA for more innovation.