High-Tech Hajj: 10 Ways Engineering Rocks the Casbah (and Mecca!)
The Saudi royal family are the guardians of Islam’s sacred cities, a covenant made with Allah and Muslims around the world. Check out how modern engineering is making the ancient rite of Hajj safer and in some cases - space age! The holy Kingdom also known as ‘land of the Two Holy Mosques’ was never less ‘conservative’!

If you build it, they will come? Well they're coming anyway-- but the Saudis are taking no chances as they build and build, vertically extending the structures at Mecca and making skyline history.  All the globe's Muslim population will congregate at this religiously charged spot at some point in their Muslim careers if they sign up to fulfill their religious duty by making the pilgramage at least once in their lives!

In the 1950s, before commercial flights brought Mecca within reach of Muslims everywhere , less than 100,000 pilgrims performed the annual Hajj. Today over 15 million people visit Mecca annually, and - fluctuating from year to year depending on expansion projects - upwards of 3 million people have arrived specifically for Hajj, with 2012 declared the ‘most successful Hajj season ever’ swelling at close to 4 million, overwhelming the holy cities of Mecca, Medina and the Mashaer (the desert near Mina where pilgrims sleep and pray).  The House of Saud turns to technology to keep visitors safe from punishing heat, overstressed infrastructure, and the fatal consequences of crowd behavior.

Conjure up Mecca’s Grand Mosque, where pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba. Imagine the traffic as mobs of pilgrims who’ve finished their circuit try to leave as thousands more arrive. (Health workers took over three hours to move a pregnant woman in distress 150 meters to first aid!)

Tens of thousands of pilgrims jam shoulder-to-shoulder, pressing towards the Jamarat, the concrete walls symbolic of Satan. Many carry pebbles to pelt the walls, re-enacting the Prophet Abraham’s rejection of the devil. It’s a prime site to be trampled or even struck/ stoned.

Efficient and safe handling of this eclectic population is a logistical nightmare. Stampedes, structural collapses, and mechanical malfunctions have killed thousands of pilgrims, in turn catalyzing radical changes. In 2008, the kingdom kicked off a 30-year, $227-billion master plan to remake the Hajj, encouraging innovation on a spectacular scale.

Hajj pilgrims share an attitude that, if I die, it is God’s will. Following a deadly stampede in 2006, Saudi crown prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz said in 2006,  Saudi Arabia “cannot stop what God has preordained. It is impossible.”

Scientists can model pedestrian behavior, and engineers can devise new structures and software, but religious fervor adds an unpredictable element.  Insha’Allah that everyone stays safe.

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