Stairway to heaven: the spiritual journey of Hajj

Published September 28th, 2014 - 12:38 GMT

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Hajj — it’s that time of year, again!

When Muslims from all around the world pack their bags and head for Saudi Arabia to take part in the holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

Set by the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh),
this 1,400-year-old tradition is one of the world’s largest gatherings. Muslims from all over the world, of every race and color, make their way towards the holy city of Mecca to take part in this spiritual journey. 
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Hajj is one of the Five Pillars, the five core acts in Islam that serve as the foundation of Muslim life. All Muslims must perform the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca at, so lo least one time, if they are physically and financially able to do so. A tall order, as the experience isn’t cheap.
Reduce

Image 1 of 17:  1 / 17Hajj is one of the Five Pillars, the five core acts in Islam that serve as the foundation of Muslim life. All Muslims must perform the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca at, so lo least one time, if they are physically and financially able to do so. A tall order, as the experience isn’t cheap.

Enlarge
The pilgrimage is a potentially deadly microbial swap meet. Saudi banned Hajj visas for three nations most affected by Ebola (at least 5,800 cases between them). Tough luck for the faithful from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia! And congrats to Muslims in Nigeria which has contained the outbreak and are getting in this year.
Reduce

Image 2 of 17:  2 / 17The pilgrimage is a potentially deadly microbial swap meet. Saudi banned Hajj visas for three nations most affected by Ebola (at least 5,800 cases between them). Tough luck for the faithful from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia! And congrats to Muslims in Nigeria which has contained the outbreak and are getting in this year.

Enlarge
Hajj takes five days. Pilgrims wear specific clothing (two white cloths for men, wrapped around the waist and shoulder; and modest Islamic dress for women) and abstain from activities like having sex and getting married. Also, killing animals and carrying guns - rules some of you will argue should apply year-round.
Reduce

Image 3 of 17:  3 / 17Hajj takes five days. Pilgrims wear specific clothing (two white cloths for men, wrapped around the waist and shoulder; and modest Islamic dress for women) and abstain from activities like having sex and getting married. Also, killing animals and carrying guns - rules some of you will argue should apply year-round.

Enlarge
For a mere six weeks each year the Hajj Terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport serves as a temporary city for millions of pilgrims destined for Mecca. The number of hajjis (pilgrims) grows annually due to increasingly accessible air travel. This architectural gem has been doing it’s job for over 30 years.
Reduce

Image 4 of 17:  4 / 17For a mere six weeks each year the Hajj Terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport serves as a temporary city for millions of pilgrims destined for Mecca. The number of hajjis (pilgrims) grows annually due to increasingly accessible air travel. This architectural gem has been doing it’s job for over 30 years.

Enlarge
As Hajj nears, drivers hike fares to Mecca charging 10 (to 20!) times more than normal for illegal expats and permitless pilgrims who travel early to avoid visa checkpoints. Drivers set prices based on whether pilgrims are Saudi residents, and how posh their lodgings will be - making NYC cabbies seem surprisingly fair.
Reduce

Image 5 of 17:  5 / 17As Hajj nears, drivers hike fares to Mecca charging 10 (to 20!) times more than normal for illegal expats and permitless pilgrims who travel early to avoid visa checkpoints. Drivers set prices based on whether pilgrims are Saudi residents, and how posh their lodgings will be - making NYC cabbies seem surprisingly fair.

Enlarge
KSA cut foreign pilgrim numbers by 20 percent this year and scaled domestic pilgrims down by half, citing disruption caused by ongoing expansion works at the Grand Mosque. Visa restrictions due to MERS and Ebola further constrained numbers. In total, 2013 hajjis were down 37 percent compared with 2012. What's up with  that?
Reduce

Image 6 of 17:  6 / 17KSA cut foreign pilgrim numbers by 20 percent this year and scaled domestic pilgrims down by half, citing disruption caused by ongoing expansion works at the Grand Mosque. Visa restrictions due to MERS and Ebola further constrained numbers. In total, 2013 hajjis were down 37 percent compared with 2012. What's up with that?

Enlarge
The Ministry of Hajj declared 53 touristic companies (out of a total of 203) in violation of pricing policies for domestic Hajj services. Punishments varied from fines to a one-year suspension of service. The Ministry is keen to protect pilgrims by keeping prices sane. High-rollers can pay top dollar, most pilgrims cannot.
Reduce

Image 7 of 17:  7 / 17The Ministry of Hajj declared 53 touristic companies (out of a total of 203) in violation of pricing policies for domestic Hajj services. Punishments varied from fines to a one-year suspension of service. The Ministry is keen to protect pilgrims by keeping prices sane. High-rollers can pay top dollar, most pilgrims cannot.

Enlarge
At Hajj 2006, a stampede occurred during the stone-throwing ritual, killing at least  363 people. This was the highest fatality accident on record, although during Hajj 1987 more than 400 people, mainly Iranian Shiite pilgrims, were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces during anti-Western protests in Mecca.
Reduce

Image 8 of 17:  8 / 17At Hajj 2006, a stampede occurred during the stone-throwing ritual, killing at least 363 people. This was the highest fatality accident on record, although during Hajj 1987 more than 400 people, mainly Iranian Shiite pilgrims, were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces during anti-Western protests in Mecca.

Enlarge
Last year’s records indicate pilgrims from 188 nations travelled to Mecca for Hajj. Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said international numbers were down 21 percent from 2012 to 1.37 million pilgrims, likely due to fears of the newly-rampant MERS virus. MERS remains a concern.
Reduce

Image 9 of 17:  9 / 17Last year’s records indicate pilgrims from 188 nations travelled to Mecca for Hajj. Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said international numbers were down 21 percent from 2012 to 1.37 million pilgrims, likely due to fears of the newly-rampant MERS virus. MERS remains a concern.

Enlarge
Hajj has pre-Islamic roots, tracing to the time of Ibraham (Abrahim) in 2000 BCE.  It marks how he left his missus Hagar and son alone in the desert, as God commanded. Seeking water, Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times with baby Ishmael. Open the Quran to see how the story ends, and learn the bonus story of the Kaaba.
Reduce

Image 10 of 17:  10 / 17Hajj has pre-Islamic roots, tracing to the time of Ibraham (Abrahim) in 2000 BCE. It marks how he left his missus Hagar and son alone in the desert, as God commanded. Seeking water, Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times with baby Ishmael. Open the Quran to see how the story ends, and learn the bonus story of the Kaaba.

Enlarge
Pilgrim spending is off the charts! Foreigners spend an average of more than $4,500 each and locals shell out around $1,300 each. Male pilgrims have been found to spend more than female pilgrims - hopefully, it’s a sign that chivalry is thriving and they are picking up the checks.
Reduce

Image 11 of 17:  11 / 17Pilgrim spending is off the charts! Foreigners spend an average of more than $4,500 each and locals shell out around $1,300 each. Male pilgrims have been found to spend more than female pilgrims - hopefully, it’s a sign that chivalry is thriving and they are picking up the checks.

Enlarge
About 5,000 Arab-Israelis perform the hajj each year, but since Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, Jordan issues the pilgrims temporary passports which they use to apply for a visa at the Saudi embassy. This year, for the first time, Israeli Muslims will be able to fly to Jeddah via Amman, instead of hopping on a bus.
Reduce

Image 12 of 17:  12 / 17About 5,000 Arab-Israelis perform the hajj each year, but since Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, Jordan issues the pilgrims temporary passports which they use to apply for a visa at the Saudi embassy. This year, for the first time, Israeli Muslims will be able to fly to Jeddah via Amman, instead of hopping on a bus.

Enlarge
Is there a doctor in the house? Mena Emergency Hospital, between Mecca and Arafat (where the pilgrimage begins), treated 11,000 patients a day during Hajj 2013. Built exclusively for Hajj, it’s closed the rest of the year. Meanwhile 22,500 health workers staffed 25 area hospitals and 141 health centers to serve the crowd.
Reduce

Image 13 of 17:  13 / 17Is there a doctor in the house? Mena Emergency Hospital, between Mecca and Arafat (where the pilgrimage begins), treated 11,000 patients a day during Hajj 2013. Built exclusively for Hajj, it’s closed the rest of the year. Meanwhile 22,500 health workers staffed 25 area hospitals and 141 health centers to serve the crowd.

Enlarge
Saudi issued 15,300 temporary work visas to Egyptians this year, a sharp reduction from 70,000 five years ago, according to the Ministry of Hajj. A total of 20,000 Egyptian drivers, butchers, veterinarians and other professions had applied for work, but only 15,300 were hired - as competitive as The Dragon’s Den.
Reduce

Image 14 of 17:  14 / 17Saudi issued 15,300 temporary work visas to Egyptians this year, a sharp reduction from 70,000 five years ago, according to the Ministry of Hajj. A total of 20,000 Egyptian drivers, butchers, veterinarians and other professions had applied for work, but only 15,300 were hired - as competitive as The Dragon’s Den.

Enlarge
Checkpoints in Taif have nabbed over 24,000 illegal pilgrims making their way to the holy city. People without Hajj permits, who cannot afford to pay for travel with a licensed establishment, often make agreements with smugglers who transport people via mountainous routes from Taif to Mecca in an attempt to avoid security.
Reduce

Image 15 of 17:  15 / 17Checkpoints in Taif have nabbed over 24,000 illegal pilgrims making their way to the holy city. People without Hajj permits, who cannot afford to pay for travel with a licensed establishment, often make agreements with smugglers who transport people via mountainous routes from Taif to Mecca in an attempt to avoid security.

Enlarge
A study by the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicts that 600,700 domestic pilgrims will perform Hajj this year, joining an anticipated 1.4 million foreign pilgrims. Who ever said that three’s a crowd probably hasn't been to Hajj.
Reduce

Image 16 of 17:  16 / 17A study by the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicts that 600,700 domestic pilgrims will perform Hajj this year, joining an anticipated 1.4 million foreign pilgrims. Who ever said that three’s a crowd probably hasn't been to Hajj.

Enlarge
Hajj revenues this year are expected to reach $8.5 billion, a three-percent increase from 2013, according to the same study. Spending spans travel, lodging, tour fees, visas, food and souvenirs sold at eye-watering prices. Nearly 90 percent of that spending is chalked up to pilgrims from abroad.
Reduce

Image 17 of 17:  17 / 17Hajj revenues this year are expected to reach $8.5 billion, a three-percent increase from 2013, according to the same study. Spending spans travel, lodging, tour fees, visas, food and souvenirs sold at eye-watering prices. Nearly 90 percent of that spending is chalked up to pilgrims from abroad.

Enlarge

1

Hajj is one of the Five Pillars, the five core acts in Islam that serve as the foundation of Muslim life. All Muslims must perform the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca at, so lo least one time, if they are physically and financially able to do so. A tall order, as the experience isn’t cheap.

Image 1 of 17Hajj is one of the Five Pillars, the five core acts in Islam that serve as the foundation of Muslim life. All Muslims must perform the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca at, so lo least one time, if they are physically and financially able to do so. A tall order, as the experience isn’t cheap.

2

The pilgrimage is a potentially deadly microbial swap meet. Saudi banned Hajj visas for three nations most affected by Ebola (at least 5,800 cases between them). Tough luck for the faithful from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia! And congrats to Muslims in Nigeria which has contained the outbreak and are getting in this year.

Image 2 of 17The pilgrimage is a potentially deadly microbial swap meet. Saudi banned Hajj visas for three nations most affected by Ebola (at least 5,800 cases between them). Tough luck for the faithful from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia! And congrats to Muslims in Nigeria which has contained the outbreak and are getting in this year.

3

Hajj takes five days. Pilgrims wear specific clothing (two white cloths for men, wrapped around the waist and shoulder; and modest Islamic dress for women) and abstain from activities like having sex and getting married. Also, killing animals and carrying guns - rules some of you will argue should apply year-round.

Image 3 of 17Hajj takes five days. Pilgrims wear specific clothing (two white cloths for men, wrapped around the waist and shoulder; and modest Islamic dress for women) and abstain from activities like having sex and getting married. Also, killing animals and carrying guns - rules some of you will argue should apply year-round.

4

For a mere six weeks each year the Hajj Terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport serves as a temporary city for millions of pilgrims destined for Mecca. The number of hajjis (pilgrims) grows annually due to increasingly accessible air travel. This architectural gem has been doing it’s job for over 30 years.

Image 4 of 17For a mere six weeks each year the Hajj Terminal at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport serves as a temporary city for millions of pilgrims destined for Mecca. The number of hajjis (pilgrims) grows annually due to increasingly accessible air travel. This architectural gem has been doing it’s job for over 30 years.

5

As Hajj nears, drivers hike fares to Mecca charging 10 (to 20!) times more than normal for illegal expats and permitless pilgrims who travel early to avoid visa checkpoints. Drivers set prices based on whether pilgrims are Saudi residents, and how posh their lodgings will be - making NYC cabbies seem surprisingly fair.

Image 5 of 17As Hajj nears, drivers hike fares to Mecca charging 10 (to 20!) times more than normal for illegal expats and permitless pilgrims who travel early to avoid visa checkpoints. Drivers set prices based on whether pilgrims are Saudi residents, and how posh their lodgings will be - making NYC cabbies seem surprisingly fair.

6

KSA cut foreign pilgrim numbers by 20 percent this year and scaled domestic pilgrims down by half, citing disruption caused by ongoing expansion works at the Grand Mosque. Visa restrictions due to MERS and Ebola further constrained numbers. In total, 2013 hajjis were down 37 percent compared with 2012. What's up with  that?

Image 6 of 17KSA cut foreign pilgrim numbers by 20 percent this year and scaled domestic pilgrims down by half, citing disruption caused by ongoing expansion works at the Grand Mosque. Visa restrictions due to MERS and Ebola further constrained numbers. In total, 2013 hajjis were down 37 percent compared with 2012. What's up with that?

7

The Ministry of Hajj declared 53 touristic companies (out of a total of 203) in violation of pricing policies for domestic Hajj services. Punishments varied from fines to a one-year suspension of service. The Ministry is keen to protect pilgrims by keeping prices sane. High-rollers can pay top dollar, most pilgrims cannot.

Image 7 of 17The Ministry of Hajj declared 53 touristic companies (out of a total of 203) in violation of pricing policies for domestic Hajj services. Punishments varied from fines to a one-year suspension of service. The Ministry is keen to protect pilgrims by keeping prices sane. High-rollers can pay top dollar, most pilgrims cannot.

8

At Hajj 2006, a stampede occurred during the stone-throwing ritual, killing at least  363 people. This was the highest fatality accident on record, although during Hajj 1987 more than 400 people, mainly Iranian Shiite pilgrims, were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces during anti-Western protests in Mecca.

Image 8 of 17At Hajj 2006, a stampede occurred during the stone-throwing ritual, killing at least 363 people. This was the highest fatality accident on record, although during Hajj 1987 more than 400 people, mainly Iranian Shiite pilgrims, were killed in clashes with Saudi security forces during anti-Western protests in Mecca.

9

Last year’s records indicate pilgrims from 188 nations travelled to Mecca for Hajj. Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said international numbers were down 21 percent from 2012 to 1.37 million pilgrims, likely due to fears of the newly-rampant MERS virus. MERS remains a concern.

Image 9 of 17Last year’s records indicate pilgrims from 188 nations travelled to Mecca for Hajj. Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said international numbers were down 21 percent from 2012 to 1.37 million pilgrims, likely due to fears of the newly-rampant MERS virus. MERS remains a concern.

10

Hajj has pre-Islamic roots, tracing to the time of Ibraham (Abrahim) in 2000 BCE.  It marks how he left his missus Hagar and son alone in the desert, as God commanded. Seeking water, Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times with baby Ishmael. Open the Quran to see how the story ends, and learn the bonus story of the Kaaba.

Image 10 of 17Hajj has pre-Islamic roots, tracing to the time of Ibraham (Abrahim) in 2000 BCE. It marks how he left his missus Hagar and son alone in the desert, as God commanded. Seeking water, Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times with baby Ishmael. Open the Quran to see how the story ends, and learn the bonus story of the Kaaba.

11

Pilgrim spending is off the charts! Foreigners spend an average of more than $4,500 each and locals shell out around $1,300 each. Male pilgrims have been found to spend more than female pilgrims - hopefully, it’s a sign that chivalry is thriving and they are picking up the checks.

Image 11 of 17Pilgrim spending is off the charts! Foreigners spend an average of more than $4,500 each and locals shell out around $1,300 each. Male pilgrims have been found to spend more than female pilgrims - hopefully, it’s a sign that chivalry is thriving and they are picking up the checks.

12

About 5,000 Arab-Israelis perform the hajj each year, but since Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, Jordan issues the pilgrims temporary passports which they use to apply for a visa at the Saudi embassy. This year, for the first time, Israeli Muslims will be able to fly to Jeddah via Amman, instead of hopping on a bus.

Image 12 of 17About 5,000 Arab-Israelis perform the hajj each year, but since Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, Jordan issues the pilgrims temporary passports which they use to apply for a visa at the Saudi embassy. This year, for the first time, Israeli Muslims will be able to fly to Jeddah via Amman, instead of hopping on a bus.

13

Is there a doctor in the house? Mena Emergency Hospital, between Mecca and Arafat (where the pilgrimage begins), treated 11,000 patients a day during Hajj 2013. Built exclusively for Hajj, it’s closed the rest of the year. Meanwhile 22,500 health workers staffed 25 area hospitals and 141 health centers to serve the crowd.

Image 13 of 17Is there a doctor in the house? Mena Emergency Hospital, between Mecca and Arafat (where the pilgrimage begins), treated 11,000 patients a day during Hajj 2013. Built exclusively for Hajj, it’s closed the rest of the year. Meanwhile 22,500 health workers staffed 25 area hospitals and 141 health centers to serve the crowd.

14

Saudi issued 15,300 temporary work visas to Egyptians this year, a sharp reduction from 70,000 five years ago, according to the Ministry of Hajj. A total of 20,000 Egyptian drivers, butchers, veterinarians and other professions had applied for work, but only 15,300 were hired - as competitive as The Dragon’s Den.

Image 14 of 17Saudi issued 15,300 temporary work visas to Egyptians this year, a sharp reduction from 70,000 five years ago, according to the Ministry of Hajj. A total of 20,000 Egyptian drivers, butchers, veterinarians and other professions had applied for work, but only 15,300 were hired - as competitive as The Dragon’s Den.

15

Checkpoints in Taif have nabbed over 24,000 illegal pilgrims making their way to the holy city. People without Hajj permits, who cannot afford to pay for travel with a licensed establishment, often make agreements with smugglers who transport people via mountainous routes from Taif to Mecca in an attempt to avoid security.

Image 15 of 17Checkpoints in Taif have nabbed over 24,000 illegal pilgrims making their way to the holy city. People without Hajj permits, who cannot afford to pay for travel with a licensed establishment, often make agreements with smugglers who transport people via mountainous routes from Taif to Mecca in an attempt to avoid security.

16

A study by the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicts that 600,700 domestic pilgrims will perform Hajj this year, joining an anticipated 1.4 million foreign pilgrims. Who ever said that three’s a crowd probably hasn't been to Hajj.

Image 16 of 17A study by the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicts that 600,700 domestic pilgrims will perform Hajj this year, joining an anticipated 1.4 million foreign pilgrims. Who ever said that three’s a crowd probably hasn't been to Hajj.

17

Hajj revenues this year are expected to reach $8.5 billion, a three-percent increase from 2013, according to the same study. Spending spans travel, lodging, tour fees, visas, food and souvenirs sold at eye-watering prices. Nearly 90 percent of that spending is chalked up to pilgrims from abroad.

Image 17 of 17Hajj revenues this year are expected to reach $8.5 billion, a three-percent increase from 2013, according to the same study. Spending spans travel, lodging, tour fees, visas, food and souvenirs sold at eye-watering prices. Nearly 90 percent of that spending is chalked up to pilgrims from abroad.

Reduce

Translated roughly, the word itself is “to intend a journey,” and its meaning is two-fold. The Hajj is both a pilgrimage to afar and an inward journey into one’s spirit.

The trek is a religious duty meant to be carried out by all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lives.

Neat, right?

We rounded up a list of some more neat things about Hajj, this year and over the ages. If you’re not Muslim, think of how well-read you’ll sound at dinner parties. And if you are, let us know if we missed something by commenting below!

God bless! 

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