Hajj Crowd Tracking System in a Pervasive Environment

Hajj Crowd Tracking System in a Pervasive Environment

Teddy Mantoro (University of Technology Malaysia, Malaysia), Media Ayu (International Islamic University Malaysia, Malaysia) and Murni Mahmud (International Islamic University Malaysia, Malaysia)
DOI: 10.4018/jmcmc.2012040102


Hajj is a huge congregation of Muslims from all over the world which happens annually in Makkah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). It is one of the pillars of Islam and every able Muslim must perform this act at least once in their lifetime. Many challenges are faced by the organizers as well as the pilgrims during this massive religious gathering. Cases of missing Hajj pilgrims are not uncommon and although several tracking and navigation devices have been introduced, there is still a need for a better solution in overcoming the issue. There are several factors that prevent widespread use of the system, such as the operational costs, availability of the connections and the use in uncommon platform. This paper proposes a framework for tracking Hajj pilgrims in a crowded pervasive environment using a system called HajjLocator. A discussion on the prototype of HajjLocator, as a system to track and monitor pilgrims while performing Hajj and to save lives, with an SOS mechanism, is also presented in this paper.
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1. Introduction

In huge congregations, many people go missing due to getting lost or other causes. In some cases, large gatherings cause people to die because of stampedes, fires, mass fights, etc. Records show that at least 362 pilgrims died in a stampede during the “stoning of the devil” ritual in 2006 Hajj and 250 pilgrims died by the similar cause in 2004 Hajj. A huge accident happened in 1990 when 1400 pilgrims killed during a stampede in a pedestrian tunnel in Mina (Whitaker, 2011).

Hajj, an annual Muslim pilgrimage, is one of the pillars of Islam and every able Muslim must at least perform this once in their lifetime. During this pilgrimage, millions of pilgrims from all over the world congregate for religious rituals. Statistically speaking the number of pilgrims that went to Makkah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) to perform Hajj is more than two million people. In a statistic released by the Ministry of Hajj, the number of people who went to the pilgrimage in 2006 was 2,130,594, where 73% of the pilgrims were non-Saudis pilgrims (Ministry-of-Hajj, 2007). The latest statistic reported by the Saudi government is that in November 2010, 2.8 million pilgrims participated in Hajj rituals, where 1,799,601 of them were from outside Saudi (Hajj Central Committee, 2010).

Cases like panicking because of getting separated from the group or getting lost and cannot find the way back are happening almost daily during Hajj. Koshak and Fouda, (2008) mentioned that apart from the Hajj period, Makkah areas become very crowded during the last ten days of Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, it was reported that there were more than 2,500 cases of missing people in the area of Masjid al-Haram, the grand mosque in Makkah (Fakkar, 2006). Official figures on missing people during Hajj cannot be found, however, looking at the number of missing people during Umrah (rituals in Makkah outside Hajj season), it would be much more than the reported number. We should also note here that the Saudis pilgrims make up the smallest percentage of people that are lost. In other words, majority of Hajj pilgrims are not familiar with the surroundings in Makkah, despite the preparation they made beforehand.

Apart from that, there are also pilgrims who are diagnosed from dementia-related diseases such as Alzheimer. While elderly pilgrims are associated with that disease, the young adolescent pilgrims can also lose their way due to fatigue and weariness. After several tiring activities during the Hajj, pilgrims can get exhausted easily and consequently, they are not well-aware of their location and wander aimlessly for certain period of time. These are one of the major factors that lead to the increasing number of missing pilgrims.

The above presented figures on the number of missing people in Makkah even before the Hajj period starts are very worrying. It would be very critical if no further improvements made on the management of the safety and security of the pilgrims. In the yesteryears, Hajj authorities use conventional measures in dealing with the missing pilgrim’s situation, where multilingual guards and mobilized scouts are placed to help pilgrims finding their way back. Even a lost pilgrims’ centre was established to further improves the situation. However, these efforts seem to be not good enough, since cases of missing pilgrims still are a major problem faced by everyone involved in Hajj event, i.e., the pilgrims and the organizers.

The problem of missing pilgrims occurs due to many factors. One of the major factors causing the missing pilgrim is their disorientation of the environment in Makkah. Guards and scouts are not placed in every corner of Makkah and where there are possibilities for pilgrims in getting lost and cannot be found, such as secluded places. While it may be helpful, maps, signboards and street names in Makkah are not enough to be the pilgrims’ guide in navigating their way. It is because people rarely used information such as distance information and street names, to direct them to places. Instead, they prefer to use familiar objects in sight that are unique and are symbolic, as their navigation cues. Based on May et al. (2003) landmarks were by far the most frequently used category of navigation information. For this reason, there are pilgrims who use technological aids in guiding them to places such as navigational applications.

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