Mecca - Saudi Arabia

Every healthy, adult Muslim with enough money should visit Mecca once in his life. Every year, some three million pilgrims make the journey to Mecca, Islam's holiest city.

Just as a compass points north, Muslims, in their prayers, point toward Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Every healthy, mature believer with enough money should once in his life should go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Unfortunately, for non-Muslims, Mecca is still off limits.

Every year, some three million pilgrims make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Because all these people visit the holy place within a short time frame - the actual hajj lasts five days and a hadj visa is valid for 30 days - this surge in visitors puts enormous pressure on Saudi infrastructure, especially in and around Mecca.

Especially when the hajj takes place in the summer months, as it will for the next two years, temperatures of often above 40°C take their toll. Pilgrims often have to wait for hours in line for the buses that take them from the airport in Jeddah to Mecca. But danger lurks especially when the hajj begins in earnest. In 1998 at least 118 pilgrims died from trampling, in 2006 362 pilgrims died during the ritual of the Stoning of the Devil, and in 2015 there were 2,236 deaths from oppression at Mina, the tented camp where pilgrims temporarily stay.

If you are a believer participating in the hajj, move around the edges of the inevitable crowds whenever possible. Try to keep an overview at all times.

The hajj

Before pilgrims arrive in Mecca, they wash ritually and adopt ihram, a state of spiritual purity. Men exchange their daily clothes for two unsewn white cloths, while women prefer to wear black clothes. The first ritual at al-Masjid al-Haram, the large mosque that seats four million Muslims, is the tawaaf. Pilgrims circle seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba, a cube clad in black brocade cloth that is considered the House of Allah. Even before the advent of Islam, this was a sacred place where various gods were worshiped. This is followed by the sa'ie, which involves walking between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times.

Pilgrims spend the first night of the hajj in the Mina tent camp, a place in the desert to come to their senses and collect seven stones for the jamrah, the ritual Stoning of the Devil. Because this involved quite a few accidents, the three stone pillars that were targeted were replaced by a long wall in 2004.

The hajj concludes with the three-day Feast of Sacrifice. During this feast, a sheep, cow or camel is sacrificed. Finally, pilgrims circle the Kaaba again.

Mecca is also often visited during Umrah. See here for more information on umrah, umrah plus and umrah custom trips.

Mecca pilgrimage: In the footsteps of the prophet

Al-Masjid al-Haram is not the only site of religious importance in Mecca. On the outskirts of Mecca is the cave of Hira, atop Mount Jabal an-Nour. On this Mountain of Light, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad. Those who wish to follow in the prophet's footsteps can climb the steps carved into the mountain here. Arafat, or Mount of Mercy and the place where the Prophet delivered his last sermon, is also visited by many believers during the hajj. Visit these places at other times of the year and you will have them practically to yourself.

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