The last date to complete contract registration of Umrah pilgrim service providers in foreign countries has been set at May 21, said the Ministry of Haj.
"No registrations for this year will be permitted after May 21," Director General for Umrah Affairs at the ministry Adnan Hariri said in a recent statement.
The ministry and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute of Haj and Umrah Research are making the final touches to a joint comprehensive study to evaluate services of the existing domestic Haj and Umrah service providers. The study also examines the need to grant licenses to more domestic pilgrim service providers, especially after the ministry cancelled the licenses of a number of companies in the past two years.
Now there are only 48 licensed companies offering domestic pilgrims services while there were 145 companies in the sector in 2010.
Many licenses were cancelled because of the ministry's strong measures against companies that failed to provide a standard service to pilgrims.
The study will also examine several recommendations to improve the sector.
A report of the ministry's branch in Madinah said more than 1.5 million Umrah pilgrims visited Madinah since the beginning of the season till last week, registering a 17 percent growth against the same period last year. The report noted that most of the pilgrims came from five countries: Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia and Jordan.
The inspectors in Madinah discovered 23 violations by Umrah service providers this year. They made 3,583 inspection tours since the start of the Umrah season, the report said.
A number of Umrah service providers said that more companies should cope with the needs of the vastly growing number of Umrah pilgrims every year.
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Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has instructed relevant authorities to complete demolition work in the northern courtyards of the Grand Mosque in Makkah before Ramadan in order to help worshippers perform prayers in the area without difficulty.
Makkah Mayor Osama Al-Bar said his mayoralty held an emergency meeting with relevant officials to speed up demolition work in the area in order to complete the work ahead of Ramadan.
According to a report issued by a special committee, only 20 percent of demolition work in the northern parts of the mosque has been completed.
The new Haram expansion project will cover an area of 356,000 square meters, one and a half times bigger than previous expansions as a whole, a report carried by Al-Madinah Arabic daily reported yesterday.
The new project would facilitate the movement of vehicles and people in and around the central region of Makkah. It will also reduce pressure on the mosque as the huge northern courtyard can accommodate a large number of worshipers.
Umrah performers from all over the world have started to arrive in Jeddah, but Syrian people are banned from doing Umrah this year due to the cancellation of all flights and bus trips, according to a member of the Haj and Umrah committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
Ahmad Bajuaither, who is also the owner of a Haj and Umrah company that arranges trips from Syria to the Kingdom during the holy months, added, "Until now we didn't receive any Umrah performer from Syria. The consulate is already closed in Damascus, and diplomatic relations have also stopped." According to Bajuaither, even if Umrah companies were allowed to arrange trips from Syria, they would not do so.
"In the current state, many Syrians prefer to come to the Kingdom and stay here to work and live. They would not like to return to their country, due to the political clashes and economical circumstances. It would be a risk to arrange trips for Syrian Umrah performers," he said.
Jameel Al-Qurashi, head of the local transportation committee at MCCI, confirmed that a large number of Umrah performers from all Islamic and Arabic countries including Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Bahrain had arrived to Jeddah, but not Syrians.
"Our committee arranged with several bus companies to transfer Umrah performers during Ramadan 2012. We already started receiving Umrah performers from neighboring countries, including Arab Spring countries, and we serve them since the first day of arrival. However, we didn't receive any Syrian buses yet. This year there is no opportunity for Syrians to come to the Kingdom, as all diplomatic relations have been frozen," he said.
Al-Qurashi said they would love to receive Syrian Umrah performers this year, and they are still waiting for any new announcements on the matter.
Arab News spoke to a source working for a Syrian office that issues visas to Saudi Arabia, who confirmed that a number of Syrian citizens still received visas and visiting applications from Saudi Arabia. They complete the process through the consulates in Amman and Beirut. The source stressed that the Saudi consulate had already been closed, and Umrah applications were pending.
As part of the economic sanctions issued by the Arab League in February, Saudi Arabian Airlines has stopped all its flights to Syria. Previously, Saudi Airlines had four flights from Riyadh, four from Jeddah, and two from Dammam to Damascus each week. Arab News contacted Saudi Airlines, but they didn't want to comment on the issue.
The new project will mean that up to 2m worshippers can be accommodated at the Grand Mosque.
KSA's King Abdullah has instructed authorities to make sure demolition work needed to expand the Grand Mosque in central Makkah is carried out before Ramadan so that disruption to worshippers is kept to a minimum.
The new Haram expansion project will cover an area of 356,000m2, one and a half times bigger than the current area - but requires demolition work before the new Haram can be constructed.
Around 20% of the demolition work is complete - and the King has ordered that the work be finished in time for Ramadan, which begins mid-July.
The Grand Mosque expansion project is being carried out main contractors Saudi Binladin Group at a total cost of $21.3bn. That figure, according to Finance minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf, includes the money required to pay compensation to owners of real estate appropriated for the project.
The Grand Mosque is the main attraction for over 6 million pilgrims who enter Mecca each year and is the focal point for a transformation is modernising one of the oldest cities in the region with high-rise skyscrapers and residential blocks.
The mosque is built around the Kaaba shrine, which existed centuries before Islam emerged over 1,400 years ago. Muslims around the world turn towards it for daily prayers.
The new annex will be linked with the existing mosque and masaa with a series of bridges and will also be equipped with air conditioning systems and escalators, it added.
The plans also include the expansion of the mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Holy Kaaba) and air-conditioning for all parts of the Grand Mosque.
DUBAI // Thousands of worshippers were disappointed by the absence of a prominent imam from Mecca who Dubai International Peace Convention organisers had said would lead Friday prayers.
Organisers were not able to explain why Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and 2005 IslamicPersonalityof theYear, did not show up at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
"Until prayers started we were expecting him," said Dr Hassan Dawood, communications director for the three-day convention, which ends today.
"We do not know yet what has happened as the organisers have not informed us."
Sheikh Al Sudais is known globally for his distinct and melodic voice and emotional recitations of the Quran in accordance with Tajweed. He has also called for peaceful interfaith dialogue.
"It is disappointing. I came to listen to him and pray with him," said Abdullah Tan, a Malaysian worshipper.
Sheikh MisharyRashid AlAfasy,imam and preacherof theGrand Mosque in Kuwait, led the prayers and spoke of the importance of peaceto Islam.
Organisers said as many as 60,000 people attended.
"I was very excited to follow and listen to theimam of the Grand Mosque [in Mecca]. However, Sheikh Afasy is also a great scholar," said Mohammed Taiwo from Nigeria.
Prominent Islamic scholars at the convention stressed the importance of peace in Islam, emphasising brotherhood, the status of women and the Prophet Mohammed as the ambassador of peace.
Dr Zakir Naik, the founder of the Islamic Research Foundation in India, took questions from the audience about world peace and how different religions perceive the notion of peace. Dr Naik said Islam was a peaceful religion about which there were many misconceptions.
"It is the duty of every Muslim to remove these misconceptions and present a true picture of Islam," he said.
Dr Naik said Muslims around the world were going through a tough time as they were not following the religion properly.
"Muslims should read Quran and follow the path shown by the Prophet Mohammed," he said.
Sheikh Muhammed Al Shareef, an Islamic preacher from Canada, noted the significance of the mother's role as the first school from which the child gains its notions about its surroundings.
Sheikh Hussein Yeefrom Malaysia stressed how the road to God is a road of peace in different religions and divine laws.
People who attended the lectures, which were all followed by open discussions, said the sessions had broadened their knowledge of Islam.
"Not many of us are aware about the important aspects of Islam, brotherhood and the truth," said Mohammed Shafique from Dubai. "This convention would really benefit us."
The English translations of the Friday and Eid sermons from the pulpits of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah will soon go online.
Suleiman Aba Al-Khail, president of the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, Riyadh and Nasser Al-Khozaim, deputy chairman of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, signed an agreement in Riyadh to publish such sermons online yesterday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
According to the cooperation agreement, the university will undertake translation of the Friday sermons delivered at the two holy mosques, in addition to the sermons on Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha and place it on the presidency's website throughout the year. This will come into effect from the beginning of the next academic year.
Speaking on the occasion, Al-Khail said the university is proud of undertaking this noble mission in the service of Islam and Muslims across the world. "This comes in the framework of the university's social responsibility, role of building the younger generation and above all serving the nation.
On his part, Al-Khozaim said the signing of the agreement is in line with the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to disseminate such messages from the two holy mosques around the world.
In another development, Al-Khail signed another contract with a Saudi company to establish an audio-visual link between the boy students' city and King Abdullah City for Girls in the university campus.
Muhammad Al-Jaryan, general supervisor of technical affairs at the university, said the facility would enable girl students and women academic staff to watch activities and programs such as lectures and workshops being held at the boy's city and other facilities in the university campus.
Fatwa on closure of shops during prayer times soon
15 April 2012
JEDDAH - The Kingdom's foremost fatwa body is expected to issue a fatwa soon in response to a controversial statement from a local scholar that it is a "heresy" to close shops during prayer times.
The fatwa, or religious ruling, will be issued by the Standing Committee for Scholarly Research and Issuing Fatwas.
The statement was made by Abdullah Al-Owailit, a legal researcher and member of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. Al-Owailit said earlier this month that "closing shops at prayer times is a heresy with no religious basis, and the Islamic Shariah does not call for such an enforcement". He also stated that he has evidence to support his argument.
The statement has been slammed by Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Aal Al-Sheikh, Grand Mufti of the Kingdom and Chairman of the Board of Senior Ulema and Religious Research and Ifta Administration, in his Friday sermon. "Those who call for shops to be open during prayer are deceivers who have gone astray with false tendentious propaganda."
He also described them as "people with weak faith" and "not righteous".
Although people agree that shops should remain closed during prayer times, some argue that places such as gas stations and pharmacies should be open for emergencies.
Abdullah Al-Jefn, an Islamic studies scholar, said that there should only be certain businesses open during prayer times. "For example, gas stations on highways when traveling from one city to another, could be open with workers praying in shifts so travelers won't have to wait," he explained.
Al-Jefn said all Muslims must promote virtue and piety. "There are emergency cases where people need pharmacies for instance. There are solutions such as having one pharmacy open in every neighborhood or street and having the pharmacists work in shifts during prayer," he added.
However, Al-Jefn said closing other shops during prayer times is not something to argue about. "We don't want to affect the spirituality of prayers. Saudi Arabia is envied everywhere because here the shops close for prayers. We make time to connect with God," he added.
He thinks the issue should be looked at carefully. "Whether the fatwa is issued supporting the closure of shops during prayers or the opposite, we should not release such a fatwa before studying the whole issue thoroughly," he said.
Bandar Rawas, a businessman, said only certain shops should be open during prayer times. "Some shops don't have to be open during prayer such as clothing stores but I think gas stations and some pharmacies should be open at least for emergencies," he added.
Rawas believes there is no financial gain from shops staying open or closed during prayer. "I see it from a humanitarian point of view, when someone is having an asthma attack and needs to buy medicine from a pharmacy during prayer, they should find pharmacies open," Rawas said.
He also called for shop owners, who claim financial losses during prayer times, to monitor their employees. "Prayers usually don't take more than 30 minutes but some workers stay away from work longer under the pretext of praying," he added. He believes everyone will accept the idea of pharmacies and gas stations remaining open during prayers.
وبدأت رحى العمل تدور أمس في وضع أساسات المطاف من خلال تقسيم المنطقة إلى أجزاء لضمان عدم التأثير على المصلين والطائفين، وكانت نقطة البداية من الجزء الواقع بين باب الصفا وباب الفتح، حيث قام العمال بتكسير أرضية المنطقة الواقعة فوق بئر زمزم، وستدخل المعدات والآليات خلال اليومين المقبلين للبدء في إزالة الرواق العثماني تدريجيا.
The google translation said that Ottoman gallery will be removed:
And began to mill work taking place yesterday in the development of the foundations of the day by dividing the region into parts to ensure no impact on worshipers, and was the starting point of the segment located between the Bab al-Safa and the door opening, where the workers broke ground area above the well of Zamzam, and will enter the equipment and machinery during the two days the next two to begin the removal of the gallery Ottoman gradually.