MAKKAH -  Everybody on Haj or Umrah pilgrimage circumambulates Holy Kaaba before performing Sa’ee (seven walking rounds between Safa and Marwa). Tawaf can be performed by anyone anytime even if he or she is not doing either of the pilgrimages.

But for the past some time circumambulation of Kaaba is not open to everyone and only those wearing Ehram (two sheets) can perform this ritual. Those not wearing this “uniform” are not allowed even to go near the Kaaba or perform Tawaf.

The reason: Work is going on the Zam Zam well processing project for which a number of machines are digging the Mataf (the area where Tawaf can be performed). Because of this activity the Mataf has been divided into two parts, one for the Ehram-wearing and the other for the remaining pilgrims. Non-Ehram-wearing crowds can perform Tawaf on other floors, where it takes much more time to complete the process than on Mataf because of distance involved.

The project is expected to be completed by the middle of the 2018, possibly before next Haj, and till then the existing arrangement will remain in place.

General President of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais had announced the start of the Zamzam well processing project only recently. The project consists of two sections. The first section includes the construction of the five-service bridges to Zamzam from the eastern side, with a total width of eight metres and a length of 120 metres.

The second section is to complete the final phase of sterilisation and handling of the environment surrounding Zam Zam well, that includes remains of concrete and iron vaults of the old Grand Mosque, to reduce the proportion of harmful substances in Zam Zam water as much as possible.

It also includes the development of a special quality of sterile gravel with a high permeability of water, allowing better flow of Zam Zam water. This project is also part of the third phase of the expansion of the Grand Mosque aimed to accommodate more than 1.6 million worshippers.

The work includes the expansion of the building, squares, tunnels, services buildings and a ring road.

According to media reports, the expansion of the building covers 1.47 million square metres and includes 78 new gates at ground level surrounding the expanded building.

The extension will create six new floors for praying and add 680 escalators and 24 elevators for people with special needs and 21,000 toilets and places of ablution.

The project has an estimated construction cost of $26.6 billion and is being carried out by the Saudi Binladin Group.

A new $9.3b Haramain High-Speed Rail network will run between the holy cities of Makkah and Medinah through King Abdullah Economic City and a $7.2b passenger terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, which was scheduled for completion last year. The Haramain High Speed rail line is also delayed.

Masjid al-Areesh, constructed in Badr, the place where the first war been Islam and disbelievers was fought under the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is also being expanded these days. Near this beautiful mosque is a board inscribed with the names of the Muslims martyred in this war. Only those pilgrims get an opportunity to see this mosque who travel by Hijra Road between Makkah and Madinah. This road has been constructed exactly on the route by which the Prophet (PBUH) had moved from Makkah to Madinah when the disbelievers made it difficult for the Muslims to live there.

New selfie culture: A new selfie culture is seen in Masjid Al-Haram, as also other holy places of the kingdom.

People of all ages, male and female, performing various religious rituals not only take selfies but also keep their relatives and friends informed of their activities. At times it appears as if a number of TVs’ live-transmissions are going on from the world’s holiest place. The practice disturbs the worshippers.

If the trend is not discouraged, it will further spread in the times ahead because of which the worship will look like part of the showbiz.