Hajj: Millions of Muslims are heading to Mecca right now. You’ve seen the photos, you’ve seen the videos, you have seen the snaps. But why are they going? Well, it’s Hajj.
The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam (Faith, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, Hajj) a requirement for every Muslim who is physically and financially able to take the trip to Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime. It happens during the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah and takes place in the holiest city for Muslims: Mecca.
The pilgrimage commemorates the story of Ibraham (A.S), who Muslims believes was commanded by God to build the Kaaba as a representation of His house on earth.
The Hajj Involves performingseveral rituals over the course of three days that includes the circuling the Kaaba, an iconic scene from Hajj you’ve probably seen lots of pictures. When the hajj is complete, pilgims and their trip by visiting Madina, referred to as the city of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.W).
Meanwhile the rest of the Muslim world is celebrating the biggest Muslim holiday: Eid ul Adha. Not the Ramdan Eid. That is Eid al Fitr.
The Hajj is believed to be the most important spirtual journey a Muslim will take. But it’s pricey.
The Hajj Package for an American pilgrim, for example includes transportation, Food and lodging, and can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $16,000 per person.
Some pilgrims spend their whole lives saving for the basic package, But for others, it’s a more luxurious experience. Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia has spent billions modernizing the Holy City and the Hajj itself.
In Mecca you’ll not only find five-star hotels, but also high-end shopping and gourmt dining. And it’s paying off. In 2014 the goverment earned an estimated $19 billion in revenue from the Hajj.
Saudi Arabia also maintains sole control over how many pilgrims get to do the Hajj each country. And that means some countries get to send fewer pilgrims, for reasons ranging from political disagreements to health concerns.
But another reason behind the quota is to limit overcrowding that can lead to dangerous situations like stampedes. Despite the Saudi government introducing measures to improve security and crowd control, stampedes have been a major problem. 2015 was the deadliest Hajj in recent history.
Saudi Arabia estimates that nearly 800people died in the crush. Other estimates say the death toll was closer to 2,000. But stampedes and expenses aside, million of Muslims will continue to visit Mecca every year and the Hajj will go on.