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Makkah: A centre of spirituality and inspiring development

Interview - September 2, 2013
With its ambitious development through huge infrastructure projects, the Makkah province is not only the home and soul of the Islamic faith, but also a true symbol of progress and inspiration
Playing such a vital role in Saudi Arabia and for the global Mulism Ummah as a whole, increased focus has been put on developing Makkah to reinforce its position as a symbol of progress, embodying the message of Islam and emanating its enlightenment. With this, the province is now undergoing huge development projects focusing on different aspects of sustainable development in an ambitious and visionary plan to improve infrastructure, governance, business and social responsibility. Realizing this will not only help Makkah inspire the Kingdom, the Muslim world, and the world at large, but also ensure that residents and guests of Allah in His holy city receive the highest standards of service during the Hajj, the world´s largest pilgrimage. In this exclusive interview, Deputy Governor of Makkah Province Dr. Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Alkhedheiri talks to Worldfolio about the plans to make ancient Makkah into one the most modern societies in the world.

The region has made fantastic strides towards the vision down by Makkah Governor Prince Khalid Al-Faisal. Drawing on the profound and binding holiness that already exists here, people of the province all been working together to ensure that Makkah is now realizing its dreams for improvement and enrichment, sustainably and spiritually, towards becoming an honorable and inspiring model for the Muslim world, and the world at large?

Dr Abdullah Alkhedheiri: Makkah, as you certainly know, enjoys a unique standing both within the Muslim world and beyond. Its peerless religious and cultural identity entails of course that any plan slated for its overall development should live up to its preeminent status both in scope and character. His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s development strategy for the Makkah region unfolds within a ten-year development plan whose value exceeds $27 billion earmarked mainly for a slew of mega-projects spanning infrastructure, utilities, investment, financing, real estate and tourism. A wide range of stakeholders in this colossal development plan include local, regional and international developers, investors, financiers, contractors, architects, designers and infrastructure operators. We have been animated throughout the formulation of the objectives of this Makkah development strategy by a vision that seeks to develop both the space and the Man of Makkah. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s is a vision that is firmly grounded in both the temporal and spiritual dimensions of the region which he personally endeavors to project as a model to be emulated by the other regions not just across Saudi Arabia, but across the entire Arab region and the rest of the world. Today, we can confidently say that the implementation of the development plan of Makkah is posting really satisfactory progress and is set to continue running according to schedule.

Indeed, the realization of this strategy is not only important for the progress of the province, but also a vital process in helping facilitate a more comfortable pilgrimage for the millions who visit Makkah for the Hajj each year. How do residents, businesses and pilgrims alike stand to truly be inspired and reap the benefits of a more prosperous Makkah?

Over the past years, we have been striving very hard under the enlightening guidance HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal to implement a wide-ranging modernization strategy in Makkah while ensuring that the City’s spiritual identity is duly maintained and even fostered. Makkah in fact has been, is, and will remain the centre of inspiration for Muslims throughout the world. In this sense, we are deploying tremendous efforts to ensure that the millions of Muslims who come to Makkah to perform Umrah throughout the year or those who come to perform hajj are well catered for right from the moment they set foot on this holy land up until they travel back home. As part of this approach, the Makkah Metro project carries vital importance in the sense that it serves pilgrims just as it boosts the transportation network system during Hajj season in keeping with international standards. Thanks to the mass rail project pilgrims are now able to perform their rituals easily and conveniently. But this is just the visible part of the development iceberg in Makkah, for our strategy seeks in fact to turn the holy city into a template for sustainable and multi-faceted development that benefits not just pilgrims but also the local population and businesses by providing quality education and training, setting up cultural, social, entertainment and sports services, enhancing the efficiency of medical services, addressing the issue of unplanned housing, providing incentives for the creation of small and medium-size projects and much, much more. I am confident that whoever visits Makkah today, whether for religious or business or tourism purpose, will be impressed by the non-stop construction and development being conducted in and around the Grand Mosque and in various part of the region. It is indeed a dream come palpably true.

As the region undergoes this pioneering development, growing within and outwardly from the major cities of Makkah, Jeddah and Ta’if (which make up three of the country´s biggest, and most important centres) how would you say the socio-economic development of the province of Makkah is pivotal to the progress of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a whole?

As the holiest city in Islam and the center of Muslim pilgrimage, Makkah has embraced a role that goes beyond its inherent religious identity. It is also a hub for unprecedented socio-economic development as envisioned by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s. Makkah today boasts of myriad flagship projects meant to spur growth for the benefit of the region, which would make it overtime into an inspiring model of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Islamic world and the whole world. Key to the region’s development strategy is investment in modern transport infrastructure, bringing strong support to religious and conventional tourism and significant economic benefits to the region and the nation as a whole. Makkah will soon be linked to the major cities in Saudi Arabia by high-speed rail. Housing is another sector where the city is developing exponentially along with all the service utilities that go with housing projects. Job creation, education, and health-care are majors concerns for the Makkah Governor, for no development, as he has always stressed, could be sustainable over the long haul without investing in the development of the human element, which is, in my opinion, the real capital for any region or nation.

While it is very exciting to look ahead to a wonderful future for Makkah, one thing we know for certain today is that Makkah is, and will always be, the true soul of Islam. Islam is a religion of tolerance, and Makkah is a pure symbol of this; a place in where some 100 diverse ethnicities are represented and almost every sect and creed lives in peace. With the development of Makkah aside, how do you consider Makkah as the eternal embodiment of Islamism and its values, and the honour that you feel for contributing to its future well being?

A4. Throughout its long history, Makkah has always been the holiest of all holy places on earth. It hosts the Kabba or the Sacred House if you wish. It is also the symbol par excellence of the Islamic religion to which millions of Muslims head to perform their Umrah and hajj, but Muslims also spiritually connect to Makkah five times a day as they perform their daily prayers. When you think about it, Makkah could be actually perceived as the spatial center of gravity of Islamic faith. What is amazing today is to see how Makkah is evolving and how it blends the spiritual and the temporal by embracing modernity without forfeiting tradition. Our responsibility is to improve the ritual experience of pilgrims by providing top-notch facilities and world-class services. We are involved in a whole-of-Makkah make-over which will turn Makkah in the foreseeable future into not just the eternal religious Qiblah for Muslims, but also a Qiblah for balanced and sustainable development for the rest of the world to see and hopefully emulate. This will indeed embody the vision long-cherished by HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, who spares no effort to make it happen.

Saudi Arabia and Makkah province´s fundamental role in the Muslim world extends beyond that of the Hajj. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation are headquartered in the city of Jeddah, while the historic Makkah conference of 2005 set out the OIC’s game-changing Ten Year Plan of Action (TYPOA), leading to a more efficient organisation and arguably a more unified Ummah. In what way would you say that the Makkah province (and the Kingdom as a whole) has played a major part in the development of the OIC and how this looks to continue into the future with the construction of a new in HQ in Jeddah and the appointment of Makkah-born Iyad Madani as Secretary General beyond 2013?

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as you may already know, is a founding father of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which was established back in 1969 in the immediate wake of the arson of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Thanks to the leverage it enjoys worldwide, particularly in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia has consistently taken a proactive part in promoting the spirit of Islamic solidarity as upheld by the OIC not just in words but through tangible deeds. Besides being the largest contributor to the budget of the OIC, Saudi Arabia has been behind lots of OIC initiatives, like the establishment of an Islamic Solidarity Fund and many other humanitarian trust funds that provide assistance wherever a man-made or natural catastrophe strikes. Through the OIC, Saudi Arabia is actively involved in the fight against Islamophobia that is the most virulent contemporary expression which singles out and scapegoats Islam, Muslims and Islamic symbols. Recently, the Kingdom donated, upon the directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques -May God preserve him - the funds for the construction of the 26-story new OIC headquarters in Jeddah, estimated at 100 million dollars, in addition to the price of the land on which OIC future premises will be built, which measure some 40,000 square meters. As for the election of H.E. Mr.Iyad Madani, the former Saudi minister of culture and information, as the incoming secretary general of the OIC, I should mention that this is the first time that a Saudi national will hold that position ever since the OIC was founded. I personally believe that the OIC will benefit greatly from the Saudi Secretary-Generalship as it will endow the Organization with clout and more visibility on both the regional and international scenes. 

With the OIC´s TYPOA coming to an end in 2015, what is your vision and expectations for the future of the OIC and the Muslim world?

Let me first say by way of recall that the OIC Ten-Year Program of Action (TYPOA) was adopted by the Third Extraordinary Summit that was convened under the gracious patronage of the Custodian of the Two Mosques in Makkah Al-Mukarramah in December 2005. It is a very ambitious work program running from 2005 to 2015 and seeks to face up to the daunting challenges confronting the Muslim world in the 21st century as well as identify the best ways and means to address existing challenges in an objective and realistic way in order to serve as a practicable and workable program for all OIC Member States. Since the adoption of the TYPOA, the OIC has managed to make tangible achievements which, among others, include the adoption of a new Charter. It has also achieved commendable progress on vital issues such as combating terrorism and promoting human rights. To cite a few examples in this regard, the OIC has adopted a Convention on Combating Terrorism and established an OIC Observatory on Islamophobia. It has equally endorsed the establishment of an Independent Permanent Commission on Human Rights. In the economic field, intra-OIC trade is expected to pick up to around 20 percent by 2015 thanks mainly to trade facilitation and trade-financing strategies. One of the most cherished TYPOA projects is the Dakar-Port Sudan Railway project which appears to enlist the enthusiasm of the OIC Member States. Now, with the new Saudi leadership taking over at the beginning of 2014, the OIC will redouble its efforts to complete the ongoing projects and will certainly launch new initiatives in the cultural, socio-economic and technological fields by pooling together the enormous material and human resources in the Muslim world.