(MENAFN - Arab News) Only those wearing ihrams are now being permitted to enter the mataf (area of circumambulation) of the Grand Mosque on weekends.
Individuals not wearing ihrams will be banned from the mataf on Thursdays and Fridays 30 minutes prior to Maghrib and Fajr prayers.
The General Presidency for the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque Affairs along with the security forces of the Grand Mosque has taken this step to avoid congestion.
Ordinary worshippers who come for Maghrib and Fajr prayers will be directed to the roof, the ground floor and the plazas outside the mosque that can accommodate large numbers of worshippers.
Commander of the Grand Mosque police, Brig. Yahya Al-Zahrani, said: "There is no prevention, but relocation of ordinary worshippers in addition to the Umrah pilgrims who come for iftar inside the mataf during the White Days (13th, 14th and 15th of a Hijri lunar month) or on Thursdays and Mondays."
He pointed out that the redirection process would begin as soon as the operations room and the command center at the Grand Mosque realize that the mataf is full of tawaf performers.
Al-Zahrani said this measure has been taken in line with the mataf expansion project, which was ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. He sought cooperation from all worshippers with security staff to create room for circumambulating Umrah pilgrims.
Meanwhile, over six million Umrah pilgrims are expected in Saudi Arabia this year, one million more than the number last year, said Minister of Haj Bandar Hajjar yesterday.
"The number of Umrah pilgrims is expected to cross the one million mark in Ramadan alone. An average of 400,000 pilgrims are arriving every month this season."
The current season began on Dec. 14 last year and will last until the end of Ramadan in the first week of August. The ministry has issued more than 1.3 million Umrah visas so far, while 775,000 pilgrims have already arrived in the Kingdom, Hajjar said.