The Haj Ministry has strongly warned against felling trees in Arafat and other holy sites and said anyone found violating the sanctity of the place by such acts will be dealt with severely.
The warning came in the wake of a contractor cutting down 15 trees in Arafat to erect tents on Wednesday.
The supervisors of the forestation and weather improvement in Arafat complained to the ministry about the contractor, who admitted his wrongdoing and signed a pledge to replant the trees.
The ministry asked all Haj services providing companies and contractors working in the holy sites not to cut trees that provide pilgrims with shades. It asked those who face difficulties in erecting their tents because of the trees to contact officials in charge of forestation to resolve the matter.
Planting trees in Arafat to provide shade for the guests of God was a welfare wakf (endowment) project initiated by Saudi businessman Abdul Rahman Fakieh in 1986. He was very keen about the project and has been inspecting it since then every day after the Fajr prayer. There are now 300,000 neem trees in Arafat.
Adel Khamis, the engineer in charge of the project, said neem trees were suitable to the climate of the region, as they shade large areas and purify the air. "The neem tree is an environment-friendly plant. It purifies the air and fights agricultural pests," he said.
Khamis said the pilgrims spend the day in Arafat under these trees, which protect them against heat, and said pilgrims are very keen about the preservation of these trees.
Meanwhile, the Permanent Committee for Religious Ifta and Scholarly Research has issued a ruling preventing the cutting down of trees in the holy sites.
It cited a number of traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) warning against cutting down of trees.
The Arafat tree project had won the Makkah prize for distinction in preserving cleanliness of environment. The project started with a few trees planted along the main roads, Jabal Al-Rahma (Mountain of Mercy) and Namira Mosque before it covered the entire area of Arafat.