90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
On The Hajj

We go to Mecca on the Hajj. The holy pilgrimage ground is being remade.

This aerial image made from a helicopter shows Muslim pilgrims moving around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws 2.5 million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP)

This aerial image made from a helicopter shows Muslim pilgrims moving around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. The annual Islamic pilgrimage draws 2.5 million visitors each year, making it the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. (AP)

Every Muslim who can do it is called on, in the course of life, to make the Hajj – the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Millions and millions do. It’s a big deal, spiritually and logistically. Even physically, pilgrim by pilgrim, with plenty of hot walking in the desert. Non-Muslims are forbidden from the holy city.

We all see the images, of vast crowds circling in the Grand Mosque. But there is much more going on in the pilgrimage and in Mecca than photos often show. Skyscrapers. Rebuilding.

This hour, On Point: We go inside the hajj and look at Mecca, where the pilgrimage ground is being remade.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Basharat Peer, a journalist and author, his latest article in the New Yorker on modern Mecca and the hajj is here.

From Tom’s Reading List

The British Museum has an online presentation of its hajj exhibit here. There’s also a great photo gallery here of the hajj.

The New Yorker “The hajj pilgrimage, which draws between two million and three million people  every year, has become a modern spectacle: it has been described by a Saudi  Arabian Minister of Hajj as resembling “twenty Super Bowls in one stadium, when  two million will come, and … these two million people will actually be taking  part in playing the game.” The hajj is one of the pillars of Islam—every Muslim  adult who can afford it is obliged to travel to Mecca for the hajj once, and  non-Muslims are forbidden to enter the city.”

Photo Gallery: The Hajj

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Umm Abdullah

    I’m writing before the interview has takenn place, and I’m lokin forward to hearing it. But as someone who has been to Hajj and has made umrah (the minor pilgrimage, which can be made at any time of the year several times), I don’t object to tearing down old buildings to make more lodgings close to the Sacred Mosque. The fact is that people don’t (or shouldn’t) go to Makkah to take sightseeing tours of old buildings; they go there to try to spend as much time as possible in the mosque – to pray each of the five prayers there (including the dawn prayer, which is like 4:30 a.m. around now) and to sit and read Quran, etc., so they should have an opportunity to be close, not blocks away. And of course, they need food and restaurants and certain basic items and even places to shop for gifts to take back home.

    What I think is wrong is that these new places are mostly luxury hotels, which many of the pilgrims could never afford to stay in. They should make more hotels close by that are basic, clean, and affordable. And there’s no need to take up precious space with malls containing chain stores that could easily be placed somewhere else in the city.

    • Umm Abdullah

      Oops – sent that before fixing the typos…

    • Patrik

      I wonder though…it would seem like, with anything in this age, commercialism is creeping in slowly and may, in my opinion, slowly (in the mind of the participants) devalue the actual event.

    • Isa

       simply not true: during Haj, the friends and relatives engaged in tourism, as have muslims for over 1400 years, before after and during haj.

      • Umm Abdullah

        Isa, they certainly engaged in commerce. My point is that it’s more important to have nearbylodging for pilgrims (as I said, not luxury lodging, though) so that they can be in the Haram as much as possible than it is to keep an old building that has no religious significance.

    • AshamedMuslim

      I agree with you on this one. 

  • U.S. Vet.

    I’m looking forward to the day when Christian Churches are being built in Mecca and throughout the Arab world.

    • Sera

      Well, I don’t see any mosques in the Vatican… Please take your reflexive proselytizing to another forum where you can make judgments before you have even heard the program! 

      • Another Guest

         The biggest mosque in Europe is a few blocks from the Vatican, actually

        • Isa

           but not IN the Vatican

          • Hood

            The analogy is Vatican:Rome :: Grand Mosque:Makkah

      • Kumar

        Sure not in The Vatican,but around it in ROME.At the same time absouetly NO religious artifact or Icons of any kind in the whole of Saudi Arabia.Get your fact right MAN!

        • Sera

          I’m a WOMAN fool! ….and spellcheck before you answer. You obviously were in such a hurry to condemn that you splattered typos all over the place! Peace be upon you my brother :)

    • jefe68

      Really. The 12th century called and they want their dogma back.

      • U.S. Vet.

        Yeah, you’re right, freedom of religon is so antiquated.

        • jefe68

          Your comment was not about freedom of religion. If it was it’s not apparent.
          Personally I find all religions to be wanting.
          But when you say you look forward to the day that Christian churches are being built in Mecca that’s right out of the ideology of the Crusades. Don’t try to be coy here.
            

          • U.S. Vet.

            So you agree with the religous intolerance and state sanctioned prejudice of Saudia Arabia?

            Judging from blogs you’ve posted, that sounds about right for you.

        • Chris B

          Freedom is alive and well.  It’s revealed religion that’s antiquated.

    • Chris B

       I look forward to the day when churches, mosques and all the rest have ceased to be anything but historically interesting.  Amazing how much strife the world has seen based solely on what the superstitious think will happen to them after they die.

      • Hood

        For better/worse, that day probably won’t come. Globally, religiosity is correlated with fertility. Recent research on the role of religiosity in evolution has begun to suggest why.

        • Joani

          WHY?in your opinion, and the recent research you mentioned )(truthiness?)

          Point is that as soon as people (read: women) forego some of their “religious ” precepts and   become educated about BIRTH CONTROL, AKA “family planning” the birth rate does go DOWN. THAT is a fact

    • NVDMO$T

      That is the most disrespectful thing you could say, ESPECIALLY BEING A US VET. #SMH (Shaking My Head)

    • Joani

      Yeh, you “vet. me RPCV (Peace Corps 2 1/2 years)BFD!

      and as far as Churches are concerned, didn’t they do that everywhere they went, the “Christians”? pillaging, slaughtering, raping and THEN stealing the building materials from people conquered to build their own temples/churches to…what?
      You should go to church more often and say a prayer of gratitude for remaining alive after your “service.”

      My “beef” is that it’s all about MEN in their holy travels.
      If you like being crammed in with thousands of others, go for it! Ugggh

      • U.S. Vet.

        For someone who was in the ‘Peace Corps’, you sure have got a lot of anger.

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Lady, I too detest the subjugation of approximately 1/2 of the population, by gender!
           As a man, I’m NOT afraid to compete, honestly, with women, for a job, for equal rights, for a woman.
           You, nor any other woman, scare me so much that I would feel compelled to lock you away, keep you as ignorant as possible, MUTILLATE you, and PUNISH you for crimes committed by a MAN(?).

    • Isa

       why should christians have rights over muslims world wide?

      • U.S. Vet.

        Muslims have freedom of worship in predominately Christian nations.

        Why can’t Christians or Jews have freedom of worship in predominately Muslim nations?

        • Umm Abdullah

          They have freedom of worship in every country but Saudi Arabia. You can object to that, but at least be accurate.

          • U.S. Vet.

            Is that why Coptic Churches are being blown-up my Moslems in Egypt?

    • Umm Abdullah

      With the exception of Saudi Arabia, there ARE churches throughout the Arab world. (And have been since the advent of Christianity!) I live in Kuwait, and there are various churches for various denominations. The English newspapers are full of announcements for church services, and Christians worship freely (in some respects, more freely than Muslims, whose charity donations are scrutinized and whose sermons must be approved). Makkah is an exception because it is a sacred area and place of pilgrimage for Muslims.

  • Gemli

    I’d rather imagine a world in which millions of people would flock to Galileo’s tomb.  If people are to be trampled to death, I’d prefer it be in the crush to climb Mt. Wilson and peer at the universe.  They wouldn’t be required to do it, and there would be no restrictions on who might be admitted.

    I was trying to think of all the good things that have come from millions of people marching in obedience to superstition, and from the kind of religious devotion that demands that we obey and restricts what we can know.  I can’t think of any.

    It’s true that New York has a new skyline as a result of the more ardent believers excercising their beliefs, but I don’t think that counts.

    • AshamedArab

      Ha ha ha
      And how many new skylines have been created (and recreated) by the ardent followers of capitalism?  There’s not enough space (or attention span) to list them here.  Ask Japan if they had to rebuild their skyline. Or Vietnam. Or Iraq. Or Iran. Or Chile. Or Argentina.  Or Panama. Or, really just about any country who tried to look after its own interest.  Please read history of colonialism and imperialism.  You’ll find that a lot more than simply skylines were rebuilt.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    There are several comments here about how good the world would be if religious buildings were now a historical curiosity only, but what about this:  What if Mecca were open to everyone, regardless of religion?  I can understand restrictions during the specific pilgrimage period, but letting non-Muslims in during the rest of the year would show an acceptance of different ways of seeing the world.

    • Isa

       mecca is open to everybody except for the religious areas which are holy 24/7

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         And that’s my point.  So long as we see holiness as being exlusive to one group at all times, no sharing of the planet is possible.

        • Dave_in_RI

          I disagree. I think we can share the planet AND all have places that we deem holy or sacred which may not be open to just anybody. The analogy for me is my home. I decide who I will allow into my home. The US decides who it will allow to enter the country. I think the same idea applies to a community’s spiritual home.

      • AshamedMuslim

        What does that mean?  Are you saying that only Muslims can visit the holy places? Again, first define who a Muslims is.  But more importantly, what if I’m a ruthless dictator who’s killed thousands of people for no crime other than breathing (or more accurately posing a danger to my authority)?  What if I’m a corrupt leader of a “Muslim” nation that has engaged in every kind of sin known to man?  Would I still be allowed just because I profess to be a “Muslims”?  You do realize I’ve just described 98% of the “Muslim” leaders, right?  Maybe you should look at the actions of people rather than their names before deciding who can enter holy places.

    • Umm Abdullah

      Makkah is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. (And there are pilgrimages all year round; the major one is at the time of the Hajj.) Why would you want to go there anyway?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         The same reason that I’d enjoy visiting any place of cultural significance.  It’s an important place in human history.

      • AshamedArab

        Where in Islam does it say that non Muslims can’t enter Mecca?  The Prohpet even allowed a group of Christians to pray inside a mosque.  Muslims who defend this foolish policy are fools themselves and render Islam as a religion for fools.  What exactly is the harm in allowing non Muslims into Mecca?  I have non Muslims come to my house all the time.  What should I do about these folks?  Ask them to eat outside?
        Besides, who exactly is a Muslim?  Shia, Sunni, Ahmadiyya, Suffi, etc? 

  • Julia

    Tom, can you ask about who is allowed to touch the black stone or be near the Kaabah? Is it only men or are women permitted there, too?

    • Isa

       everybody on haj is equal… men women children

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Just NOT everywhere else?  Islamic men(?) are so afraid of the power of women, that they keep them in seclusion, hidden, un-educated, and PUNISH women, for the CRIMES OF MEN?

  • J__o__h__n

    Modernize the religion not the buildings.

    • AshamedArab

      And what would you ‘modernize’?  Which practice (secular or otherwise) in the world today isn’t abuse by someone?

      • J__o__h__n

        Treatment of women.  Treatment of gays.  Inability to ignore books and cartoons that they find offensive. 

        • AshamedArab

          Now you’re confusing Islam with “Muslims”.  What does Islam say about the treatment of gays?  Please cite your references.  What does Islam say about the treatment of women?  I have been married nearly 15 years and have two daughters, so I can tell you that my treatment of women is better than you can possibly imagine.  What does Islam say about intolerance?  In one of the most beautiful verses of the Quran, God reminds us: “And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant addrss them, they say, ‘Peace!’” 

  • Michael from Newton

    I was intrigued to hear about the Haj experience of a Muslim friend of mine who was born in India. 

    He described to me how because he clearly looked like he was of a different ethnicity and not Arab, that he felt he was treated like a 2nd class Muslim by local Saudi officials not only in that massive airport scene that the guest described, but also elsewhere in the country e.g. when he tried to visit other cities and was almost treated abbusively by policemen who restricted his movement because he didn’t have special permits to travel anywhere else in the country.Can the guest comment on this, and reflect how local attitudes towards different ethnicity and backgrounds play out when visiting Saudi Arabia for the Haj?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    So Mecca is now McMecca?  Dang.

  • U.S. Vet.

    Are LBGT Muslims allowed to take place in the Hajj?

    I’m just curious to know since according to Wikipedia, homosexuality is punishable by death in the very ‘enlightened’ nation of Saudia Arabia, where the Hajj takes place.

    • Dave_in_RI

      Surveying the views on homosexuality of mainstream Christian churches brings to mind the phrase, “People in glass houses . . . .” 

    • AshamedMuslim

      First of all, why does everything have to be viewed through the lense of LBGT community?  Homosexuality is clearyly an abomination according to God’s teachings.  Having said that, we’re all sinners in some way.  As long as “Muslims” go to Hajj for their reformation, no one can be stopped.  If LBGT are going there and publicly “putting on a show”, they would meet the same justice that a straight couple would endure. 

  • Isa

    going on haj [i have been to haj 2 times, and visted mecca the kaaba and medina 6 other times] is the most profound event in my life. coming out of the kaaba mosque and seeing macdonalds burger king nathens hot dogs from atlantic city and nothing but us shopping mall architecture  was one of the most painful shocks of my life. no one can put haj into words. it is literally an experience of the last day, the day of judgement. tell them all how the saudis have transformed haj. my first haj was beyond all description. every time after that it was more and more just a matter of total tourism. haj is not fun. it is the greatest challenge a believer can have. now that challenge is transformed into something far less. i could detail it. but that would take pages. suffice it to say that no muslim ruler before king saud dared build any palaces in the presence of the kaaba. now it is overwhelmed by saudi worship of the almighty, and their almighty is not recognizable to me personally.

  • Webb Nichols

    Do not fool oneself. Capitalism and profit have drowned the spirit of man and their spiritual practices.When push comes to shove self interest reigns.

    consider reading “All that is solid Melts into Air” by Marshall Berman. The tragic abandonment of the past and memory in the favor of Progress appears to be our fate.

  • U.S. Vet.

    Delta adopts Saudia Arabian Airlines’ No Jew policy
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-jason-miller/delta-airlines-saudi-arabia_b_883202.html

    Want to visit Mecca?  Not if you’re Jewish.

    • jimino

      If someone has a visa to visit Saudi Arabia, Delta will fly them there.  If they don’t, they won’t.  It’s not too hard to understand if you are rational.

    • Umm Abdullah

      Airlines always make sure you have a visa to enter the country of your destination if you need one. If not, you obviously aren’t going to be admitted, and they’re going to have a problem and will have to fly you back out. It has to do with your immigration status.

  • Mario Valdes

    Although Mr. Ashbrook asked a number of times about the content of the Kabbah, I was surprised that Mr. Peer did not mention the “mo’allaqa” of Antar.

    Born ca. 550 AD, the son of an important Arab chieftain and an Abyssinian mother, he became the most famous of the pre-Islamic poets.  Prodigious both as a fighter and as an orator, Antar pursued his military career for the love of his woman and the honour of his tribe.  He eventually succeeded to his father’s paramount position even though his initial status had been that of a slave.   As the author of one of the seven “mo’allaqa” or Golden Odes which are prestigiously suspended on the walls of the Kaaba at Mecca, Antar was lauded by the Prophet Mohammed who declared him to the “the only famous Bedouin warrior that I have wished I could have known.”  Furthermore, the Prophet commanded that Antar’s feats were to be propagated through Islam, “for thus will their hearts be steeled harder than stone.” 
      Possibly even more famous than his “mo’allaqua” are the thousands of poems ascribed to him which are scattered throughout the “Sirat Antarah” (The Romance of Antar) and which includes the work of many of his literary followers and imitators.  Known as “Antareeyeh,” these narrators have bequeathed to posterity a rich treasury of legends and adventures so expansive that when compiled in the 12th century, it was divided into some thirty two books.   Responsibility for establishing and defining Antar’s influence in the development of Western literature is to be attributed to the Orientalist Movement in European academic circles of the 18th and 19th centuries.  So impressed, for example, was the philologist, W. A. Clouston, by the material in the “Sirat Antarah,” that in 1881 he would write, “It is far from improbable that the famous Arabian Romance of Antar furnished the model of the earliest of the regular romances of chivalry which were current in Europe during the Middle Ages; indeed, a comparison of incidents which others have found in the so-called Gothic Romances will show some very striking parallels, sufficient of themselves to lead to this conclusion.”    This enthusiasm was also expressed by the Blunts who described the black hero as “the true prototype of the knights errant of our own Age of Chivalry and, like Charlemagne and King Arthur, has a legendary character which is somewhat difficult to separate from his character in history.”  They also stated that the “Sirat Antarah” was “the most important of the Oriental originals on which some of our own Christian romances of the Middle Ages were founded.”
    In his study of Antar which was published in “Phylon” XV, 1954, the noted British historian “of colour”, Cedric Dover, examined the neglect of this important Arab poet in the West.  His rather persuasive argument was that racial prejudice of the 18th and 19th centuries intimidated scholars from making the necessary effort to translate and then popularize poems written by or in imitation of a black poet.  He pointed out that European shipping and colonial interests had been horrified by the revolution in Haiti and slave revolts elsewhere, and the publication of a major work by a talented black, himself a renowned warrior, could only have been regarded as extremely dangerous.

    Perhaps the most well known endeavour to celebrate the memory of Antar in Europe has been a musical one. Interestingly enough, the symphony named for him was the creation of the Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov, who, like his compatriots, had been profoundly influenced by their own black literary giant, Alexander Pushkin.

    The opening passage of the composition is by the Stockholm Sinfonietta under the baton of Neeme Järvi. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btUeG2S7t6c

    Perhaps Carlos Acosta, the black Cuban dancer now with the Royal Ballet could be persuaded to choreograph it for himself.

    Enjoy!

  • J__o__h__n

    Mecca was a tourist trap for pilgrims even before Mohammed.  He violated his truce with the Meccans, entered the city and destroyed all of the idols except the Black Stone, and then restricted it to only Muslims. 

    • Umm Abdullah

      As I’m sure you’re already aware, the Black Stone is not an idol. The bedrock belief of Islam is worshiping God alone with no partners… no idols. Muslims don’t worship the Black Stone, and there is no requirement to touch it or anything while making Hajj.

      I’m sure you also know that he didn’t violate the truce. Are there really all these non-Muslims who’ve been everywhere else in the world and have a burning desire to get to Makkah, lol?

      • J__o__h__n

        Calling it not an idol doesn’t make it so. 

    • AshamedArab

      Assuming you’re not a troll, you’re perspective on history is rather twisted.  The Prophet’s mission was to guide people towards the One God (the God of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.).  According to the Quran, Abraham and his son Ismael built this house as a place to worship God. With the passage of time, the tribes started worshiping idols.  Just like Abraham destroyed the idols in his time, the Prophet destroyed the idols that had been placed in the house that was built solely for the worship of God.
      And what truce did he violate with the Meccans?  It was the other way around–the Meccans had violated the truce. 
      The irony is that Arabs didn’t learn from their ancestors–just like before, they have started to worship idols once again (the dollar, oil, gold, weapons, etc.). I gues some people never learn. :)

      • J__o__h__n

        He wanted the lucrative trade from the pilgrims and it is easier to convert people by adopting some of their original beliefs.  Like the Christians changed the pagan holidays and traditions, he adapted the pilgrimage to fit Islam.

        • AshamedArab

          And what’s your proof of that statement; that he wanted the lucrative trade?  If you knew anything about his life, you’d know that he shunned worldly desires.  When he married the wealthy Khadija (ra), he virtual gave away her wealth to help the poor. In a well known narrative, his uncle once approached him and said that the people of Mecca are willing to give you all the wealth and the best of women if you simply stop preaching.  His response was that even if you place the moon in my right hand and sun in my left, I still won’t stop preaching this message of God. 

  • Slipstream

    Thanks for another excellent show and for offering us some insight into a world that Westerners rarely set eyes on.  It is interesting to hear that some Muslims have many of the same complaints about Mecca that many American Christians do regarding the Christmas holiday – excessive commercialization and materialism.

  • Mehji

    Hi,

    I recently attended the Hajj Exhibition in London and found it fascinating to see the knowlege of the pillar in Islam explained thoroughly. However I was not impressed with the fact the Saudi family had sponsered this exhibition. Yet another instance for them to show off their wealth and regime. These are the same people who plan on destroying important architecture from the Prophets (PBUH) time just to make way for more lavish shopping malls and making the whole area commercialised!!!

    Anyways , before I end up displaying my annoyance, the question I wanted to ask was, does anyone know what became of the comment book within the exhibition? Where does it go / get displayed / filed?

    Thanks

ONPOINT
TODAY
Sep 18, 2014
Flickr/Steve Rhodes

After a summer of deadly clashes between Gaza and Israel, we talk to Jews on the left and right about the future of liberal Zionism. Some say it’s over.

Sep 18, 2014
(Flickr/AisleTwentytwo)

Billionaires. We’ll look at the super super rich, and their global shaping of our world.

RECENT
SHOWS
Sep 17, 2014
Bob Dylan and Victor Maymudes at "The Castle" in LA before the 1965 world tour. Lisa Law/The Archive Agency)

A new take on the life and music of Bob Dylan, from way inside the Dylan story. “Another Side of Bob Dylan.”

 
Sep 17, 2014
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson watches from the sidelines against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of a preseason NFL football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP/Ann Heisenfelt)

The NFL’s Adrian Peterson and the emotional debate underway about how far is too far to go when it comes to disciplining children.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Talking Through The Issue Of Corporal Punishment For Kids
Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

On Point dove into the debate over corporal punishment on Wednesday — as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson faces charges in Texas after he allegedly hit his four-year-old son with a switch.

More »
2 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: September 12, 2014
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

In which you had varied reactions to the prospect of a robotic spouse.

More »
Comment
 
Beverly Gooden on #WhyIStayed
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

Beverly Gooden — who originated the #WhyIStayed hashtag that has taken off across Twitter — joined us today for our discussion on domestic violence.

More »
1 Comment