Pilgrims performing the Sa’i rite. Image Credit: SPA

Cairo: The capacity of Al Mas’aa, where the ritual Sa’i is performed at the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest place, in the Saudi city of Mecca has reached 118,000 pilgrims per hour due to expansion works.

Sa’i, a rite undertaken by pilgrims in annual Hajj and Umrah or minor pilgrimage, is walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa located in the eastern part of the Grand Mosque.

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The space between the two hills is called Al Mas’aa.

Al Mas’aa is 394 metres long and 40 metres wide, with the total distance covered by the pilgrim during the seven trips back and forth amounting to around 2.7km.

The S’ai rite is a tribute to Hajar, the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), for her struggle in search of water to quench thirst of their infant child Ismail (Ishmael).

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The latest expansion introduced into the site has increased the width of Al Mas’aa to reach 40 metres instead of 20 while the overall area of its building structure and associated services totals 125,000 square metres, the Saudi news agency SPA reported.

The capacity increase remarkably eases pilgrim congestion and ensures their safety particularly at peak seasons. The

Umrah, which can be undertaken round the year at the Grand Mosque, comprises two key rituals: Tawaf or the circumambulation of the Holy Kaaba; and Sa’i.

Ramadan usually marks the peak season of Umrah when worshippers from inside and outside Saudi Arabia flock to the Grand Mosque.

The numbers of Umrah pilgrims reached record 13.5 million last year, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al Rabiah said in January.

Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, has in recent months introduced a host of facilities for Muslims wishing to come to the country for Umrah.

Saudi authorities have extended the Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets and leave from any airport.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has allowed its citizens to apply for inviting their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah.

Women pilgrims are no longer required to be escorted by male guardians. The kingdom has also said that expatriates residing in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are eligible to apply for a tourist visa, regardless of their profession, and be able to perform Umrah.

Early preparations are already underway in Saudi Arabia for Hajj due this year in June in and around Mecca.