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Volume 53, Number 3May/June 2002

In This Issue

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Welcoming God’s Guests

Written by Samia El-Moslimany

lyad Madani

Age: 56

Occupation: Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj

"I was born in Makkah and grew up in Madinah, and Madinah was always full of hajjis [pilgrims]. They shared the city and the mosque with us. We grew up being with hajjis, looking at hajjis, hearing hajjis. When I was a young kid, they were objects of great curiosity: their different costumes, their food, their features. Everyone developed a feel for the Hajj, a built-in image that becomes part of you.

"This is one of the most interesting and challenging jobs. There is the international, cultural dimension, of course, and there is the human dimension. You find yourself feeling responsible for each and every hajji! You try to make sure that at the individual level they have the space and time and peace of mind to fulfill their duties. I don't want them to worry about schedules, tents or buses. We want to carry that burden, as smoothly and efficiently as possible, so that they can get what they are here for. Every moment I see that happening—that is the real inner satisfaction.

"It is the human element that I like most about this work. When you come to Hajj, you become your real self. People take off the layers of pretending, and you see real people as they truly are. People express themselves in the simplest ways: in the way they pray, in the way they find their spot in the mosque, how they react when they are waiting to finish their stoning, the way they ride the buses, the way they find their way to the Mount of Mercy.

"I wish we had more time. A year to prepare is just not enough. For example, if you wish to do an awareness workshop in some country, then to tailor the material to that culture, actually conduct the workshops and receive the feedback is a project that takes months. If you do this in a country like Nigeria, you have to break the process down further into six groups, for each of the regions of the country, reading the local culture and relating it to Hajj. Multiply this by the 60 to 100 countries that the hajjis come from, and you are talking about a task of Himalayan proportions."

Abubaker Bagader

Age: 52

Occupation: Professor of sociology, King 'Abd al-'Aziz University, Jiddah

Occupation during Hajj: Advisor for cultural affairs to the Minister of Hajj, director of the ministry's Department of Public Relations, Media Information and Hajj Awareness

"All my life I have been involved in Hajj one way or the other. After my graduate studies, I worked for more than 10 years with the Hajj Research Center. For the last three years I have been responsible for hosting the Hajj Cultural Seminar. We collect research papers and bring together Muslim scholars and intellectuals from the world over. Last year the theme was The Literature of Hajj.' The year before, it dealt with 'Sociocultural Communications' among hajjis.

"Hajj is as challenging and complicated a phenomenon as anything that can be studied in any religion. The anthropology, the sociology of Hajj hasn't been given the attention it deserves. If so many people rush to this place, and I live here, then as a sociologist I need to find out why. Hajj is really about humans encountering each other and leaving everlasting impressions on their fellow humans.

"Working in Hajj makes you more humanistic. In Makkah, during Hajj, you can never say, 'I am the host,' because you suddenly find you are the guest instead, or even a guest of the guests. Many hajjis can relate to the Hajj better than you can, and they have a better idea of what it means to be the guest of the Almighty. The people you meet during Hajj, you cannot judge them as they appear, because you can find a simple man, not well dressed, who is on a spiritual journey, and he may later turn out to be someone very rich or very famous.

"The universal spiritual message of Hajj is important to me, and I don't see the media coverage of Hajj communicating this. Hajj has its own uniqueness and consciousness, a deeper meaning. Many hajjis are so caught up in the spirituality of it all that they are literally unaware of the inconveniences they experience. They have one single objective: to have their Hajj accepted by the Lord."

Abdullah Al Dowairi

Age: 48

Occupation: Electrical engineer

Occupation during Hajj: Chairman of the Board of Directors, United Office for Zamzam, Makkah

"The Dowairi Family has been involved in the distribution of Zamzam water for many, many generations. Some of the families that distribute Zamzam water have been doing so since before the time of the Prophet. When I helped my father there were 120 zamazima families [the traditional distributors of Zamzam water]. Now there are more than 850, because the privilege of distributing Zamzam is passed on to the sons and daughters of the families.

"When I was young, before my father died, the zamazima were located inside the Holy Mosque at Makkah, in the cellar. Each family involved in the distribution of Zamzam had a room where they worked, filling big containers with Zamzam water for distribution to the hajjis throughout Makkah. I would give the hajjis Zamzam to bless their bowls and cups by rinsing them with the holy water. Many hajjis would also bring their burial shrouds and I would give them Zamzam to rinse them with.

"This year we took a huge step forward: We used to manually fill all the Zamzam containers that were delivered to the hajjis at their accommodations in Makkah, but this year we automated the process. We bottled more than 24 million liters [6,340,000 US gallons] of Zamzam water.

"The privilege of distributing the Zamzam to the hajjis is a great honor. When you come to my home as a normal guest, I am honored to welcome and serve you, but how about when you are serving someone who is a guest of God? It is the greatest honor.

"During the Hajj period, over four weeks, it is almost impossible to imagine that we are serving 6000 different buildings where the hajjis are accommodated, using 900 employees and 120 delivery vehicles, all to distribute 60,000 to 70,000 20-liter [5-gal] containers." 

Osama Shobokshi, MD

Age: 57

Occupation: Saudi Arabian Minister of Health

"I have been the Minister of Health for the last seven years, and in that capacity I have been involved with the Hajj throughout. Before that, as a physician, I volunteered twice to serve the hajjis.

"My primary responsibility is to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases. I am in contact with the World Health Organization, and I follow press reports to keep track of the incidence abroad of the various strains of meningitis, diphtheria, malaria, cholera and even Ebola. I evaluate the risk of people from those countries passing the infection to other hajjis. Through the cooperation with our colleagues in the health and foreign ministries in other countries, we perform mass vaccinations in the hajjis' countries of origin for diseases that might be prevalent at Hajj. When we are not sure that people are being vaccinated in their own countries before they come, we vaccinate them on their arrival.

"We have 14 hospitals in the Holy City of Makkah, including the several hospitals in Mina and 'Arafat that function only during the Hajj. We mobilize 9600 people from other sites and a fleet of ambulances, which we have built smaller so that they can move with the masses of people on the streets.

"During the days of Hajj I am ultimately responsible for the health care of every single hajji. For five days I am right in the middle of the turmoil, as a physician, as an administrator, as a cabinet minister and as a Muslim. That means that I go to all the primary health-care centers, assessing and ensuring that we are ready to respond before the need occurs.

"The gathering of people for Hajj is a foretaste of the Day of Judgment. In Hajj, all people are equal, and we are all asking God for mercy and forgiveness. If I see that the pilgrims return to their countries without any major health problems, I am happy."

Zubaidah Taib

Age: 42

Occupation: Secretary, Tan Tack Seng Hospital, Singapore

Occupation during Hajj: Volunteer Hajj escort, Murad Travel Agency of Singapore

"I am one of three female Hajj officers and three males who guide a group of three buses with a total of 125 pilgrims. Murad Travel offers to pay our way, but I don't accept the offer. When you help people, God is aware of what you are doing.

"Before Hajj, in Singapore, we arrange a weekly study group for all the individuals wishing to make Hajj. In Makkah, we arrange for some sightseeing before the actual rites, so that the pilgrims know where we will be going and what they will be seeing, like, where the Jamarat and the Holy Mosque are, and where to go shopping.

"We make sure that the pilgrims have enough food and that all of their health concerns are taken care of. Every morning and evening we staff a kind of information counter in the lobby of the hotel. Each person receives a detailed itinerary, but some of the old people don't understand. An important task that we do before we move from any location is to do a head count, to be sure that everybody makes it onto the bus."

Majed Al Johani

Age: 19

Occupation: Second-year business-administration student, Jiddah Technical College

Occupation during Hajj: Field services worker on contract to United Agents

"This is the first year I have worked for United Agents. I am hoping to submit my name again for next year. My job is different from day to day, depending on the hajjis who arrive at the Hajj Terminal. I guide and lead the hajjis, sort of as a tour guide would. I work every day, from 3:00 in the afternoon until 11:00 at night. That way I can do this job and attend school at the same time.

"During Hajj, every day after college, I go home, have a quick lunch and leave immediately for the Hajj Terminal. I punch in, and if we have hajjis arriving, I check their papers and make sure they are complete. I then guide them to their bus. Sometimes I help them transport their baggage from Customs to their bus. I work with all different nationalities of hajjis. Most of the ones that came through our section were from Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Thailand and Malaysia. The job gets tougher when we have a big crowd, but it's always hard work. We don't eat or rest, we only stop a short time for prayers.

"My work during Hajj is like any work, but the advantage is that you get blessings, because you are serving the guests of the Merciful [God], and the guests of the Merciful are our honored guests. Thank God, this is important to me." 

Rami Abu-Ghazaleh

Age: 42

Occupation: CEO, Express Foods Co., Ltd., operator of 24 Al Baik fast-food restaurants in Jiddah, Makkah and Madinah

"Our Hajj operation revolves around three outlets in Mina that are strategically located to serve hajjis. During Hajj, we serve one kind of meal only, our signature chicken-fillet nuggets: 10 large nuggets of whole-breast fillet with fries, a bun and ketchup, for 10 riyals [$2.67]. We begin serving at 9:00 a.m. and we don't stop until 3:00 a.m. the next day.

"No one in our team looks at what we do during Hajj as a job. It is a duty that we have been blessed with: to provide the millions of hajjis coming to Makkah with clean, great-tasting food at an incredible value—fast. The honor to serve hajjis can never be translated into monetary gains. It is worship. It is a duty.

"About a month before Hajj, the municipality gives us the green light to begin site preparation; by then we've already designed everything and our contractors have their orders. The plots assigned are incredibly small, because in the Mina area every square inch needs to be utilized to the maximum. Over the five days of Hajj, we require hundreds of trained employees who have the stamina to work 18-hour days. The challenge is where to find them, when to train them, where to house them. Then the Mina area becomes a no-drive zone about five days before Hajj, except for a limited number of delivery trucks, so delivering to the outlets is a challenge.

"During Hajj I become a coach, a cheerleader, a quality and service auditor, a crowd controller, a 'fries man,' a 'packer' or whatever. Our guys are champs and I love the fact that I am there with them, getting my feet swollen the same way they are."

Muhammad Al Andjany

Age: 21

Occupation: Computer technology student, Makkah Technical College

Occupation during Hajj: Monitor for the Ministry of Hajj

"We monitors work for one and a half months. For the days before and after Hajj I stay in my apartment in Makkah, and for the five days of Hajj I stay with the other teams in a tent in Mina in the Ministry of Hajj compound. This was my first year, but I want to do it again, God willing.

"The murakibs, the monitors, are divided into two groups, one for Mina and the other for 'Arafat. With the others in my team, I keep watch over all the movements of the hajjis. We work in pairs. Our supervisor directs us to the location we will be monitoring. Sometimes we see crowding that is out of the ordinary, or a fire, or problems between two hajjis, or buses that are delayed, or traffic jams. If action needs to be taken, we contact our supervisor, who contacts the security forces by radio. Then we direct the responders to where the problem is happening.

"Before the actual days of Hajj, we work in Makkah around the Haram [Holy Mosque]. We check out the hotels and make sure they are following all the safety rules, like fire escapes, building guards, fire extinguishers and lights.

"Everything having to do with this job is great. It is fun to be with other guys my age. The pay is not bad, either!"

Ali Muhammad Zahrani

Age: 49

Occupation: Helicopter flight engineer, Royal Saudi Air Force

"This is my third time on Hajj duty. It is a great honor, as most people don't get to do this. Throughout Hajj we are responsible for transporting people, like journalists and others serving the hajjis. We fly surveillance flights for the different governmental agencies that provide services and oversee Hajj. If there is unusual crowding or jams, we can see it first from the air.

"In the morning, after I get up and pray, I go to check the aircraft, check instruments, check the levels. We make sure that the helicopter is secure and clean. We get a briefing from the pilot about the mission. Then my responsibility is the passengers. I make sure that you are safe, properly secured and not afraid, so that you can do your job properly. I fly one or two missions a day. When we aren't flying we are on duty on the ground.

"This year my 22-year-old son and my 17-year-old daughter made Hajj. After I finished my missions, I visited them in their camp, and sometimes I spoke to them on their cell phone.

"I have been flying for 27 years. I enjoy seeing people trust me for the job that I am doing. We have a large and good crew. I am an old man now, so everyone respects me and listens to my orders, and they compete to make it easy for me." 

Abdulfattah Feda

Age: 40

Occupation: General Manager, Ministry of Hajj, Makkah Branch

"I grew up in the Ajyad District of Makkah. Every year, as far back as I can remember, I used to go with my father to Hajj. We would rent a car and take the whole family. My father was a publisher and owned a bookstore, like my grandfather and my great-grandfather before him. Hajj was the season for us, selling Qur'ans and all other types of books.

"Today, I supervise the private companies that provide direct services to hajjis. This includes the six mutawwaf [guide] offices and the zamazima [providers of Zamzam water]. My job is to make sure that all the services meet Ministry standards. We also have the monitoring committees, a fleet of cars and people walking in the streets and the camps. They make sure that all the services are according to the agreed standards.

"On the Day of 'Arafat, I was in my office in the morning. By the afternoon I was in 'Arafat and visited all the mutawwaf establishments in their camps. After 'asr [the afternoon prayer], I went back to my office for a quick nap, and then I went to the Jamarat at Mina and prepared for our big day, the 10th of Dhu al-Hijja. I was at the Jamarat all night from around 10:00 p.m. until the following day after 'asr, some 18 hours. Starting from the evening of the ninth, more than two million people stoned the Jamarat. In cooperation with the mutawwafs we were able to schedule times for the different hajjis to come to stone. This year all the time was crowded; none was vacant.

"I believe that serving the guests of the Merciful [God] is a good deed, not just a job. It will be remembered on Judgment Day. When I receive a hajji who has a complaint and I can solve his problem, and I see him leave my office happy, I feel a great satisfaction. Everybody who works for the Hajj feels the same way."

Eman Raffah

Age: 42

Occupation: Lecturer in Islamic studies at King 'Abd al-'Aziz University, Jiddah

Occupation during Hajj: Editor of Al Qasswa magazine and religious program director for Qasswa Hajj Providers, a company that arranges Hajj travel packages for Saudi pilgrims

"I've been publishing Qasswa magazine for the last 12 years. In the beginning it was just a stapled pamphlet, but now it has become a professional-looking volume. Qasswa is published only at Hajj by Qasswa Hajj Providers, and it is distributed among our 600 client hajjis. It contains religious and spiritual guidance about Hajj and Islamic life.

"I begin to prepare the magazine and my program for Hajj about six months earlier. As the mother of seven children and with an eighth on the way, I am very busy, so I need to start early. My work involves a great deal of research, and in addition I have an educational program that is presented to the hajjis on the buses as they travel from point to point. We also prepare a daily newsletter that is distributed to the hajjis.

"Our goal is to take care of the spiritual requirements of our hajjis. I try to get to know them on a spiritual level, and help them to obtain the best Hajj. At 'Arafat we teach them prayers, and on the day of 'Id [the Feast of the Sacrifice], we decorate the tent. Throughout the Hajj, we help them plan to start a new life.

"Being spiritual doesn't mean spending the whole day isolated and worshiping. We should be comfortable and use technology for the sake of God. People think that if you are observing Hajj precisely, you can't be clean and comfortable, but Hajj can be completed with all of the comforts of a home. Hajj is not required to be difficult.

"My work helps people to be close to God. I have a role and objective in my work and my life. I enjoy working on the magazine most of all because it lasts beyond the days of Hajj. The best days of my year are the last days of Ramadan and the days of Hajj. The rest of the days of the year don't even come close."

Mohammed A. Zaidan

Age: 60

Occupation: General manager, Electrical and Electronics Contracting Company, subcontractor to the Ministry of Hajj and other Hajj-related agencies

Residence during Hajj: Khandama Mountain

"My job is to establish good radio communication channels between the Ministry of Hajj and all the support organizations through the entire holy journey. It starts at the airport. We provide the radio services so that the supervisors at the airport and the representatives of the transportation companies and their teams can move the hajjis to fulfill their lifelong dream of visiting these holy sites. Without these communication channels it would be difficult for anyone to fulfill their jobs: All Makkah is congested, and there is a lot of work to be done at the same time, at a certain time, and within a short time. We also try to provide an early warning system for emergencies.

"From the month of Ramadan [three months before the Hajj] we begin checking the radio stations and testing them, tuning them. I mainly concentrate on the main tower here, at Khandama Mountain. My engineers go to different sites, erect the antennas and prepare the links. Daily, I supervise the channels, deal with quality control, receive complaints from my clients, sort out interference problems and coordinate for my clients.

"The work of Hajj has two meanings. It is a blessing from God to be able to serve his guests, and also a challenge to me and my staff. As a strong believer, I don't feel any frustration—ever! Whatever good comes to you is from God, and whatever bad is from God also, and you are blessed, and you cannot avoid it."

Of her month behind the scenes of Hajj, Jiddah-based free-lance photographer Samia EI-Moslimany ([email protected]) writes: "This was the most physically grueling assignment I have ever done, but also the most enjoyable. Over the years, I have made the Hajj four times as a pilgrim, and each time my memory filled with images I didn't have the chance to capture on film. This was different: I am sated with the thousands of images I did capture, and yet I remain hungry to do it again. I am more amazed than ever at the complexity of the Hajj and, having rubbed shoulders—literally—with pilgrims of every color, shape and size, suffered with them the heat, the dust, the thirst, the waiting, the traffic and the lack of sleep, I am all the more in awe of their faith and the endurance that is born of faith. I am also aware of how easy it is as a pilgrim not to notice all the people who are doing so much work around you, and I found that whenever I went up to someone and told them that I was covering the work behind the Hajj, they were always pleased and very welcoming to me, from the government officials and ministers down to the guards and street sweepers. From them I learned how much people who do this really are doing it on a spiritual level, with passion, commitment and selflessness. Every pilgrim's last act of worship is the Farewell Circling of the Ka'bah, and it is accompanied by the prayer, 'Oh Lord, do not make this my last visit to Your House, and grant me the chance to return here again and again.' I prayed the same prayer, and, God willing, I will photograph the Hajj and its people again."

Hajj By the Numbers
Written by Saleem Bukhari

Total number of pilgrims in 2002: 2,371,468

Percentage of women among them: 45

Pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia: 1,596,525

Pilgrims from Indonesia: 198,544

Pilgrims from Saudi Arabia who were Saudi citizens:182,737

Pilgrims from Saudi Arabia who were resident non-Saudis: 592,206

Ratio of pilgrims to year-round residents of Makkah: 2.4:1

Ratio of pilgrims to year-round residents of Jiddah: 1:1

Total number of pilgrims in 1965: 294,000

Minimum number of pilgrims permitted in an international pilgrim group arranged by travel agents licensed by the Saudi government: 50

Number of international pilgrims admitted who were not part of such groups: 0

Minimum number of times a Muslim must make Hajj, if physically and financially able: 1

Maximum number of times a Muslim may make Hajj:  unlimited

Number of styles of ihram for men: 1

Pieces of cloth in an ihram: 2

Number of times the cloth used in ihrams worn by male pilgrims in 2002 could cover New York City's Central Park: 1.7

Number of flights arriving at Jiddah with pilgrims in 2002: 6226

Number of flights arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, daily average: 2490

Floor area of a standard tent at Mina: (684 sq ft) 64 square meters

Average number of pilgrims per tent: 40

Number of tents: 43,200

Percentage of tents that are made of fireproof, Teflon-coated glass fiber: 100

Estimated percentage of pilgrims who camp in their own tents or stay in hotels: 20

Area given over to tents in Mina: (618 acres) 2.5 square kilometers

Total area of the Mina valley:(939 acres) 3.8 square kilometers

Amount of water misted over the plain of 'Arafat on the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah: (2,338,000 US gal) 8850 cubic meters

Percentage of this that evaporated before hitting the ground: 100

Average number of degrees by which this reduced air temperature at the ground: (11°F) 6°C

Estimated average speed of 2.3 million people moving from 'Arafat to Muzdalifah after sunset on ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah:

(1.25 mph) 2 kilometers/hour

Time it takes for all pilgrims to make this journey: All night

Estimated percentage of pilgrims who walk rather than take a bus: 16

Number of times by which the floor area of the Holy Mosque exceeds that of St. Peter's Basilica: 20

Number of times by which the capacity of the Holy Mosque exceeds the capacity of Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the world's largest: 5

Number of floor levels of the Holy Mosque that can be used for prayer: 3

Number of people whose job it is to check that animals sacrificed for the 'Id al-Adha meet health and religious standards: 1330

Number of goats and sheep that merchants bring for sale: 1,200,000

Number actually sacrificed: 1,120,000

Percentage of meat processed and shipped as global relief and charity: 50

Government-regulated price of a sacrificial sheep, if reserved in advance: (SR350) $131.57

Number of meals served by commercial organizations over five days of Hajj: 10 million

Additional meals distributed by charities: 2 million

Loaves of bread distributed: 40 million

Number of postal drop-boxes placed for pilgrims in the Makkah area: 415

Number of garbage trucks in the Makkah area: 550

Number of hours per day that each truck works during Hajj: 24

Number of workers involved in cleaning and trash removal: 14,000

Ratio of garbage storage capacity at Mina to daily garbage output of New York City: 12:11

Number of people trained in 2001 and 2002 by the Hajj Research Center to provide better assistance to pilgrims: 10,000

Percentage by which the Saudi government plans to increase the accommodations available in Makkah over the next six years: 50

Hospitality in Hajj
Written by Ahmad Ibn Saifuddin Turkistani

"And proclaim the Pilgrimage among people," says the Qur'an in Chapter 22 ("Hajj"), Verse 27. "They will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways." And in Verses 29 and 30, "Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House. Such (is the Pilgrimage): Whoever honors the sacred Rites of God, for him it is good in the sight of his Lord."

Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah, is one of the five pillars of Islam, the duty of every Muslim who is physically and financially able to perform it, and a journey different from any worldly travel. In the 19th century BC, Muslims believe, Ibrahim—the Patriarch Abraham of the Bible, revered by the followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism—was instructed by God to build a house of worship in a narrow valley between two barren ridges. He built it in a place called Bakka, today called Makkah, on the present site of the Ka'bah, the cubic structure inside the Grand Mosque.

Since that time, Makkah has been a city of pilgrimage. Toward the end of the fifth century of our era, under the dominance of the Quraysh, one of the Makkan tribes, both commerce and pilgrimage flourished in the city, yet the monotheism that Ibrahim had preached had been nearly forgotten: Idols representing as many as 360 different deities are believed to have been erected in and around the Ka'bah during this era, many placed there by travelers of the caravan routes. These remained until the Prophet Muhammad's return to Makkah from Madinah in 629.

Two years later, Muhammad himself made the first Hajj and by his example showed Muslims the rituals that have been followed ever since. Near the Mount of Mercy on the plain of 'Arafat, he gave his farewell sermon, in part of which he emphasized kindness toward pilgrims: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve," he said. "Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood."

For the better part of the next 14 centuries, the journey to Makkah remained arduous and lengthy, with many pilgrims taking not days but months or years to reach Makkah. On their way, they were exposed to storm, shipwreck, banditry, heat, disease and extortion, to name a few of the common hardships. It became incumbent on the tribes of Makkah to receive the pilgrims warmly, in recognition of the hardships they had endured en route.

Caliphs who followed the Prophet honored the Hajj in two major ways: First, by caring for and improving the Sacred Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah; and second, by working to mitigate the journey's hardships by providing caravan security, clear roads, fresh wells and khanas, or rest areas, along the routes. However, it remained the duty of the Makkan people to host the pilgrims. Jurists have long debated whether a Makkan may even charge a pilgrim—who is God's guest, really—for accommodation at all, or whether a modest charge is acceptable. The modern outcome of this debate is that the Saudi government currently regulates the prices pilgrims may be charged for most necessities, and many people do indeed provide accommodation to pilgrims without charge, as an act of charity.

Such practices have deep roots. Al-Karim, or "the generous one," is one of the names of God, and the Qur'an praises generosity and its synonyms in at least 50 places. The sayings of the Prophet, known as the hadith, further emphasize generosity. Accordingly, caring for those in need, regardless of color, ethnicity or religion, became a divinely reinforced principle.

During the Hajj season, which lasts from the ninth to the 12th month of the lunar calendar, hospitality is at its peak. Within the Quraysh tribe, clans developed guilds around three major types of Hajj-related hospitality: siqayah, supplying free water, often cooled in earthenware jugs; rifadah, feeding pilgrims without charge or at only modest cost; and sidanah, the cleaning and maintenance of the Ka'bah and the Grand Mosque.

Today, these functions are carried out by various combinations of Saudi government agencies, charitable organizations, individuals and—especially in the case of the siqayah—by the descendants of the guilds that inherited the roles from the original clans. The only role still filled by an original clan is the keeping of the keys of the Ka'bah, which is the responsibility of the Bani Shaybah today as it was even several centuries before Islam.

Over time, the concept of sidanah has been embraced by people of all sorts, from humble men who literally wash and sweep the Holy Mosque to caliphs and kings who have undertaken hospitality-related building projects. Structural renovations and additions have been made in every era, the first in AD 605, when a flood destroyed parts of the Ka'bah. After that, the first expansion of the holy mosques took place shortly after Muhammad's death, and later Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman rulers made further, often munificent, efforts.

In this tradition, the Saudi kings have carried out the most ambitious expansion projects to date, many of them in the last 20 years under King Fahd, spending some $27 billion on the two Holy Mosques alone since 1955, and more than $70 billion on the general infrastructure of the Hajj areas, including building highways, roads, bridges and dozens of tunnels, leveling hilly areas, and manufacturing or building tents, offices, warehouses, smaller mosques, parking lots, ablution areas, toilets and even modern slaughterhouses for the ritual sacrifices the pilgrims make at the end of Hajj. And the benefits of this extensive investment aren't only for the Hajj pilgrims: Year-round, Makkah hosts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims performing 'Umrah, or "the lesser pilgrimage," which can be undertaken at any other time of year, as well as another two million who come to perform supplementary tarawih prayers every night during the holy month of Ramadan.

Since the time the Saudi state began its rule of western Saudi Arabia in 1926, one of its main concerns has been the security of the pilgrims as they make their way to Makkah. Formerly, tribes along the Hajj routes often threatened pilgrim caravans, which were charged arbitrary, often exorbitant "taxes" for safe passage. These fees hit the pilgrims' purses far harder than the long-standing, official and more modest "pilgrim tax" levied in Makkah itself. King 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud gathered the heads of the tribes, gave them each generous gifts—and then threatened them with punishment if they ever bothered the pilgrims again. Later, in 1952, he abolished the official pilgrim tax: Today, the fee of $275 paid by each pilgrim when he or she applies for a Hajj visa covers guidance through the Hajj, Zamzam water, tent accommodation and local transportation; all other travel costs are paid only to government-approved agencies.

For some pilgrims, costs are partially or wholly waived by charitable programs. One of the largest is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Hajj Sponsorship Program that this year brought 1300 pilgrims to Makkah from the US, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and several nations of Central Asia at the expense of King Fahd, whose formal title is "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques." Similar programs are also offered by Saudi Arabia's National Guard, the Ministry of Hajj, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and other Saudi cabinet ministries.

Meals and other services for pilgrims are donated by numerous organizations. Prominent are two royal charities: The King 'Abd al-'Aziz Charitable Organization, which provides food both to poor pilgrims and, year-round, to poor Makkans; and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Charity for Cooled Water, which has operated a bottled-water plant in Makkah since 1984 and distributes an average of 10 million bottles without charge every Hajj season.

Other food supplies come in from throughout the kingdom, sold or donated to agents who distribute them free to the pilgrims from the backs of trucks that line the roads in hundreds between Makkah and 'Arafat. One private charitable group, Makkah Humanitarian Storage, recently distributed to pilgrims more than 60,000 containers of spring water, 45,000 containers of buttermilk, 34,000 packages of dates and 150,000 meals, and their generosity is typical of dozens of diverse groups.

Individuals make their marks as well. In the early 1990's, for instance, Abdulrahman Al Fa-Faqeeh of Makkah sponsored the planting of hundreds of trees in the largely barren 'Arafat area. He also provided the enormous water-misting system that takes the edge off the day's heat in that same area.

With all this modernization, some wonder whether the Hajj has become less spiritual. It is true that pilgrims nowadays are not aware of the difficulties that their predecessors encountered in the past: The burning heat of the desert on one's feet isn't familiar to people who travel in air-conditioned aircraft and buses. However, unanimously, those who make the pilgrimage find that words are inadequate to describe the depth of their experience. In a letter written from Makkah during his pilgrimage in 1964, Malcolm X wrote, "Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land...."

While the facilities may have changed, the rites and the bonds of common humanity among the pilgrims have remained the same. Where else on Earth can you find more than two million men and women, from nearly every country in the world, speaking more than 100 languages, all united in faith and purpose, acting with complete cooperation, goodwill, self-discipline and generosity?

Ahmad ibn Saifuddin Turkistani, Ph.D., is director of the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, based in Fairfax, Virginia.

The Steps of Hajj

An annual gathering at Makkah long predates the coming of Islam, but the Muslim Hajj, the last of the five "pillars" of Islam, is ordained in the Qur'an, and it was the Prophet Muhammad who, by his example, defined its elements exactly. Muslims from around the world follow in his footsteps to this day. The Hajj always takes place on the same six days of the lunar calendar, beginning on the eighth and ending on the 13th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the year. The rituals take place in five locations in and near Makkah: On the outskirts of the Holy City; in the Holy Mosque; on the plain of 'Arafat; at Muzdalifah; and at Jamarat. Each ritual must be completed at or within a prescribed time.

1. Ihram ("purification"): up to 14 days before Hajj

Before entering Makkah, pilgrims clean themselves physically and spiritually at designated times and places at the edge of the sacred precinct surrounding the city. At this time they announce their intention to perform Hajj by reciting an invocation called talbiyah. (See page 20.) Men don a garment of two seamless pieces of white cloth called ihram, which they wear for the duration of Hajj. Women wear modest and unobtrusive dress of any color, and cover their heads. (Pilgrims arriving by air may don the ihram before or during their flight.) For the next six days, all outward differences among pilgrims are erased.

2. Tawaf at the Holy Mosque: before Hajj

Between their arrival in Makkah and the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims walk seven times counterclockwise around the Ka'bah, the cubical structure at the center of the Holy Mosque in Makkah. This circumambulation, which expresses the centrality of God in life, is called tawaf. Afterward, along the eastern side of the Holy Mosque, pilgrims run seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, commemorating the desperate search for water of Abraham's wife Hajar. This ritual, undertaken now in a 400-meter (1300') covered arcade, is called sa'y. The spring that God brought forth for Hajar and her baby son, Ismail, is Zamzam, which flows copiously still.

3. Encampment at Mina: the first day of Hajj

On the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims gather in the flat valley of Mina, about five kilometers (3 mi) east of Makkah. Meditating and praying in preparation for the next day, most spend the night in tents.

4. Wuquf ("standing") at 'Arafat: the second day

In the morning of the ninth, pilgrims continue 10 more kilometers (6 mi) east to the plain of 'Arafat. From noon prayers until sundown, this is the emotional climax of the Hajj and the devotional apogee of Muslim spiritual life: Pilgrims stand or sit—some for minutes, some for hours—and before God reflect on their lives and pray for mercy and renewal. Some climb Jabal Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy, a rocky hill at the foot of which the Prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon.

5. Muzdalifah: the second night

After sundown at 'Arafat, pilgrims turn back toward Makkah and stop for the night at Muzdalifah. There, most pick up 49 stones that they will throw at the three pillars of Jamarat over the next three days.

6. Stoning at Jamarat and 'Id al-Adha: the third day

At dawn on the 10th, pilgrims begin moving to a place just west of Mina called Jamarat ("stoning"). There they throw seven pebbles at the first of three pillars which have come to represent

Satan. This symbolic repudiation of evil commemorates Abraham's three rejections of Satan when God asked him to sacrifice his son; afterward, pilgrims further commemorate Abraham's faith by sacrificing a sheep, as God commanded Abraham to do. Thus this day is the first of the three-day 'Id al-Adha, the "Feast of the Sacrifice." After throwing stones at the first pillar, men shave their heads, and women cut off a lock of their hair. Male pilgrims may return to their customary clothes, although many remain in ihram for the duration of the three-day 'Id or until they leave Makkah.

7. `Id al-Adha and tawaf al-ifadhah: the third through sixth days

Pilgrims return to the Holy Mosque in Makkah at any time during these days, again circle the Ka'bah seven times and perform sa'y again. After this, many return to the tents at Mina and, from there, pass through Jamarat again on the fourth and fifth days, stoning each of the three pillars with seven pebbles. On the 13th of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims return to the Holy Mosque to make a third, final, "farewell" circumambulation called tawaf al-ifadhah. At this point, pilgrims are deconsecrated, and the state of ihram is ended.

8. Departure: up to 14 days after Hajj

To ease crowding, pilgrims do not leave Makkah and Saudi Arabia all together. Many pilgrim groups go north to visit Madinah, the second Holy City of Islam, and the Prophet's Mosque there.

This article appeared on pages 8-29 of the May/June 2002 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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