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Makkah, a center of spirituality and inspiring development

Article - September 17, 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
As Saudi Arabia’s most populous province, Makkah not only takes center stage in terms of the country’s economy, but as the city of Makkah is the spiritual home of Islam (known to most in the Western world as ‘Mecca’) the province as a whole is an important place for the entire Muslim world. Playing such a vital role in Saudi Arabia and for the Ummah (Muslim nation), 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 annual Hajj (pilgrimage).
The Governor of Makkah, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, aspires to develop the province into “a center of spirituality and an inspiration for human thinking”. Makkah 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, said Deputy Governor of Makkah Province, Dr. Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Alkhedheiri.
Makkah hosts the Kaaba or the Sacred House at the center of the Holy Mosque. It is also the symbol par excellence of the Islamic religion to which millions of Muslims head to perform their Umrah (the minor pilgrimage) and Hajj, but Muslims also spiritually connect to Makkah five times a day as they perform their daily prayers. 
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,” said the Deputy Governor. “We are involved in a whole-of-Makkah makeover which will turn Makkah in the foreseeable future into not just the eternal religious Qiblah (direction) for Muslims, but also a Qiblah for balanced and sustainable development for the rest of the world to see and perhaps emulate.”

"We are involved in a whole-of-Makkah make-over which will turn Makkah in the foreseeable into not just the eternal religious Qiblah (direction) for muslims, but also a Qiblah for balaced and sustainable development for the rest of the world to see and perhaps emulate"
Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s development strategy for the Makkah region unfolds within a 10-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.

Throughout the formulation of the objectives of this Makkah development strategy the Governor has been pursuant of a vision that seeks to develop both the location and the human element of Makkah. This vision is firmly grounded in both the temporal and spiritual dimensions of the region which he personally endeavors to project as a model to the world. 
Over the past years, the governorate has been striving very hard under the guidance of 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. In this sense, it is 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,” stressed the Deputy Governor. “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-sized projects and much, much more. I am confident that whoever visits Makkah today, whether for religious or business or tourism purposes, will be impressed by the non-stop construction and development being conducted in and around the Grand Mosque and in various parts of the region. It is indeed a dream come palpably true.”
Makkah will also soon be linked to the major cities in Saudi Arabia by high-speed rail including to the nearby coastal city of Jeddah, which is considered the gateway to Makkah and it is where the OIC is headquartered. Recently, the kingdom donated, upon the directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the funds for the construction of the new 26-story OIC headquarters in Jeddah, estimated at $100 million, in addition to the price of the land on which the OIC’s future premises will be built, which measure some 40,000 square meters. 

Meanwhile, housing is another sector where the city of Makkah is developing exponentially along with all the service utilities that go with housing projects. Job creation, education, and health-care are also major 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. 
Furthermore, as the holiest city in Islam and the center of Muslim pilgrimage, Makkah is destined to have a role that goes beyond its inherent religious identity. The historic Makkah summit of 2005 set out the OIC’s game-changing Ten Year Plan of Action (TYPOA), leading to a more efficient organization and arguably a more unified Ummah.
The summit was convened under the gracious patronage of the Custodian of the Two Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz in Makkah in December 2005. The TYPOA adopted by the summit 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 21stcentury 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. 
The Makkah Deputy Governor said that 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.

"Our strategy seeks to turn the holy city into a template for multi-faceted development that benefits not just pilgrims but also the local population and businesses"
It has equally endorsed the establishment of an Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission. In the economic field, intra-OIC trade is expected to pick up to around 20% 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,” said Dr. Alkhedheiri.
Makkah-born Iyad Madani, the former Saudi Minister of Culture and Information, has been named in February at the Islamic Summit held in Cairo as the incoming Secretary General of the OIC in 2014, and this is the first time that a Saudi national will hold that position.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a founding father of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. 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 many of OIC’s initiatives, like the establishment of the Islamic Solidarity Fund and many other humanitarian trust funds.
Through the OIC, Saudi Arabia is also actively involved in the fight against Islamophobia.
“The idea of a purported clash of civilizations has been instrumental in fuelling the sentiments of animosity and rivalry between Muslims and Westerners which, in my opinion should not exist at all,” said Dr. Alkhedheiri. “We may have our differences, which should be viewed as quite enriching and not alienating. Of course, some media and the ignorance of lay people tend to stoke the flames of hatred among peoples of different religious and cultural backgrounds. I think that we all need to dedicate our efforts to building trust and mutual respect and tolerance between our peoples through educational exchange programs, public diplomacy, and presenting accurate alternative media messages to the hate-mongering media messages propagated by a certain fringe of the media.”