The final month of the Islamic calendar year Dhu al-Hijjah is met by faithful Muslims with enthusiasm each year. Meaning literally “The one of the pilgrimage”, this month includes the six consecutive days during which Hajj - a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites - takes place in and around the city of Mecca.
Hajj must be performed once in a lifetime. However, it is only compulsory if the person is able, financially and physically, and provided that it doesn’t negatively impact his or her surroundings at home. In fact, one of the prerequisites is for the pilgrim to pay all of his or her outstanding debts prior to making the journey.
The Kaaba, the direction in which Muslims worldwide pray, is a simple, cubic structure. Inside, it is empty, to emphasize the importance of one’s personal and immaterial connection with the divine – one God.
In 2015 around two million Muslims performed the ritual, compared with 100,000 in the early 1950s.
While a mobile phone is an essential part of ensuring a safe experience for pilgrims in a highly-crowded setting, connected devices have also arrived on the scene to ensure safety within the perimeter of the Mosque.
An e-bracelet was introduced in 2016 as a compulsory measure to all pilgrims. The strap features a QR (quick-read) code which, when scanned through the Hajj Bracelet app, displays the wearer’s nationality, and basic health information, which is essential in case of overwhelmed foreigners, or lost children.
Connected devices are becoming as essential as mobile phones, to ensuring a safe and full experience. A recently announced watch uses GPS and cellular technology to allow users to communicate over the terrain perimeter. Consider keeping a portable USB charger handy.
Physically and mentally: Hajj involves a lot of walking. Although the walking is mostly slow-paced, it is still test of stamina, and being surrounded by millions of people can intimidate certain people. Some pilgrims are surprised by the ethnicities encountered during Hajj: 62% of the world Muslim demographic is actually from the Asia-Pacific region.
Men in white
All men must wear a simple outfit made of two white pieces of unsewn white cloth, with no fancy embroideries. This acts as a social equaliser, however women are not required to adhere to these specifications.
Ministry of Hajj and Umrah
The Kingdom even has a Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. Umrah is a shorter version of Hajj, which can be carried out at any other time of the year.
Not much has changed, so wherever you’re from, get your visas sorted! For foreigners, sanctions are put in place to deter them from bypassing the system (arriving in Mecca without a Hajj permit). Even Saudi nationals wishing to perform Hajj expect issues if they haven’t registered, and they are only allowed one pilgrimage per three years, to give more foreign pilgrims a chance to fulfill their duty.
Get in touch with your respective Saudi embassy in advance, for information on how your country deals with quotas, and to choose a Ministry-approved tour operator (another must for most pilgrims) within and outside of Saudi Arabia.
While the visa/permit system is largely unchanged, your chances of going to Hajj are now slightly higher! A temporary 20% cut on the number of pilgrims permitted was imposed in 2013 by the Ministry, and removed in 2016. In fact, thanks to mosque expansions and organisational improvements, the City of Mecca can now receive a larger number of pilgrims than prior to the cut.
Powerful indoor and outdoor air conditioning solutions continue to evolve each year, and numerous hotels are being built in the area surrounding the Kaaba, for visitors’ maximum comfort.
Outdoors, cooling mist fans which spray water are suspended high above pilgrims (fun fact, battery-operated portable versions of these are also on sale).
In May 2017, the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah announced the implementation of an agreement to train 13,000 youths to guide and control the crowds expected in the upcoming Hajj season.