In Malaya, soon after the holy fast in the month of Ramadan, an old man finishes packing a shiny new suitcase and then prays, "O God, Thou art my Companion on the journey, and Thou art the One who remains with my people."
In Morocco, perhaps at that very moment, a young merchant bolts the door of his house and prays from the step, "In the name of God, I place my trust in God."
Someday soon these two men may pass each other on a hot and dusty plain in Saudi Arabia without ever being aware of the other's existence. Or, God willing, they might meet and pray side by side in the courtyard of the Sacred Mosque at Mecca. For both men are setting out on the hajj, the world's greatest religious pilgrimage and for Muslims one of the five pillars of their faith.
To a Muslim the hajj is one of the great religious experiences of his life. For it not only deepens his personal involvement but binds him more closely to great body of Islam, a body 500 million strong and spread throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa. It is a sort of social cement added to his faith and linking him in holy unity to the faithful everywhere. As one writer put it: "At Mecca the Javanese meets the Negro from Senegal and the mountaineer of Albania, all brought together by the same holy purpose." The pilgrimage, furthermore, binds "the whole household of Islam within and beyond its religious center," since even those who stay at home can participate vicariously.
Unlike the other pillars of Islam, the pilgrimage is an act of piety required of a Muslim only if he has the means to perform it. For most, however, it is the "aspiration of a life-time," for the merit of a pilgrimage is great and the reward of God for an acceptable pilgrimage is Paradise. The Holy Koran (in Surah III 97) demands only that "whoever is able... make his way thither." Those who lack the means, women without a suitable escort, the feeble-minded are excused from the rigors of the journey,
And there are rigors: a long journey over difficult terrain, costly, crowded and sometimes unsanitary, transportation and accommodations, and a long absence from family and friends. There is also the frustration and confusion of trying to communicate with masses of fellow Muslims who profess the same faith and read the same Holy Book but speak the languages of countries 6000 miles apart. Since many of the rituals are conducted out of doors the most exacting trial is often the heat of a desert summer when the hajj falls during that season.
Years ago, the pilgrimage was even, harder, but now roads that were once infested, by bandits are now safer than most Western, cities. Ruinous taxes and fees imposed by local, rulers have long since been, eliminated; paved roads, hostels and rest areas have been built. At entry points into the Kingdom there are now strict, health checks and quarantine stations. Disinfectant teams patrol camping areas and there are even Boy Scouts on hand to assist strangers. Even better, transportation to Arabia from almost, anywhere can be arranged by fast, comfortable jets, and, safe modem ships.
The result has been a steady increase in the number of pilgrims. Last year an estimated 300,000 foreign pilgrims from 92 countries, made the hajj. Among them was an elderly couple from West Pakistan, Shaikh' Abdul Aziz and his wife, father and mother of Aramco photographer Shaikh Muhammad Amin.
With his own wife and daughter, Mr. Amin accompanied his parents across Saudi Arabia and during the rituals of the pilgrimage in Mecca and its vicinity, capturing in the photographs which appear on the following pages something of the beauty, tradition and meaning of the Holy City and the hajj as seen through the eyes of his own family. If any journey can be called typical in such a wide body, the their Holy Journey is typical of that made by countless other families from countless other lands, united in Islam and joined closer by the pilgrimage itself.