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Digitizing the Hajj

Saudi Arabia is witnessing a great leap at all levels in the process of organizing the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, while hosting Muslims from all over the world to perform their sacred duty. Through the use of cutting-edge technology, Saudi authorities are enabling pilgrims to overcome many of the hurdles that used to be a part of the pilgrimage, while making access to the holy sites easier and smoother than ever before. Many different solutions have been implemented this hajj season, which is limited to 60,000 pilgrims due to the onset of COVID-19. One of the most helpful inventions is the Hajj Card: an electronic card that contains all of the pilgrim’s personal, medical, and residential information and allows him to access the religious sites and facilities around Saudi Arabia. The card relies on NFC technology that enables the pilgrim to enter and exit different sites through self-service kiosks, without having to rely on local personnel or a tour guide. This year’s hajj season also saw the introduction of the Smart Bracelet, which will be distributed to and worn by 5,000 pilgrims. By scanning the bracelet, Saudi authorities can gain access to all relevant information pertaining to the pilgrim’s health status, including vaccination status and date of vaccine administration. Moreover, the bracelet tracks the pilgrim’s heart rate and oxygen level and can be used to request immediate medical assistance. In preparation for the hajj season, the kingdom also released an updated version of the Naqel mobile application, which allows visitors to book rides to and from holy sites, thereby making it easier for pilgrims – especially those with limited mobility or disabilities – to perform their religious duties. There is also the Al-Maqsad application, which allows pilgrims to search for any location inside the Grand Mosque through real-time GPS location. In order to facilitate the performance of rituals and to introduce pilgrims to the holy sites, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched the upgraded version of its Manasikana (“our rituals”) application for smartphones. The app is designed to educate pilgrims on the rituals of hajj while offering them a wide host of electronic services available in seven languages, including Arabic, English, French, Urdu, Turkish, Malay, and Bengali. This extensive digitization of the hajj experience is not coincidental. Rather, it is a result of a direct plan to implement the kingdom’s Vision 2030, which seeks to improve and streamline the services offered to residents and visitors alike. It represents a new era of public service, in which everyone can gain easy and intuitive access to transportation, healthcare, education, employment, and worship opportunities throughout the kingdom. –Mohammed Al-Hamza (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)