Young hajjis transform Mecca pilgrimage
The hajj is no longer an old person's ritual as a new generation of youthful Muslim pilgrims has transformed both the annual rites and Mecca itself.
"The younger you are, the easier it is," says Saniah, a British pilgrim who, at 25, was on her second trip to Islam's holiest site in Saudi Arabia. "Twelve years ago my family and I came for umrah," the lesser pilgrimage which can be performed throughout the year, she says, elegantly veiled in green and black.
This year, Saniah returned for the hajj because it is a religious obligation and "a radical change of life", said the Briton, preferring not to give her last name.
Saniah is among roughly 1.5 million people from across the world attending the hajj which formally began on Saturday. The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, which capable Muslims must perform at least once, marking the spiritual peak of their lives.
A can of soft drink in one hand and a cone of French fries in the other, Saniah eats with her husband at one of the many modern commercial centres dotted around the Grand Mosque in Mecca after performing Friday prayers.
"In early generations young people waited to be old before doing the pilgrimage," Saniah says. "But the new generations, we're more aware of our religious obligations."
Smiling, she adds that the long hajj marches and prayers under a burning sun "are easier to bear when you're young".
Omar Saghi, author of "Paris-Mecca, Sociology of the Pilgrimage", says the hajj is no longer "the mystical horizon of an entire life but a rational event" which has become almost routine.
Mohammed, 33, who travelled to the hajj with his wife from Paris, says a number of their friends have already performed the hajj. Their travel agency told them it is also sending many other young couples.
"The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam," says Mohammed, a physical education teacher. "It's an obligation and so, as soon as we had the means and while we're healthy, we decided to do it," he says, waiting in line at a luminous fast food counter with his wife Madiha, 28, a student of education science. "Rather than buy material things like a car, better to spend our money on something that is going to benefit us on a spiritual level," she says.
The hajj: Pilgrims in their millions
Millions of devout Muslims are again conducting the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage this year takes place amid a backdrop of political and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and conflicts still flare in Yemen, Syria and Libya. Muslim minorities also face increased threats, including in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a sweeping curfew is in effect. By Janina Semenova
Religious joy: an experience that must be captured and recorded. For many Muslims the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the crowning moment of their faith. It is the religious duty of every Muslim to carry out the hajj – a journey that lasts several days – at least once in their lives, providing the individual is in good health and can afford to do it. Saudi Arabia is responsible for organising the pilgrimage
Anti-clockwise: the final destination on the pilgrimage is the holy city of Mecca. All worshippers visit the Grand Mosque in the Saudi Arabian city. In the inner courtyard of the mosque is the Kaaba, the "House of God", in the form of a black cube. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times, always in an anti-clockwise direction
Buried under rubble: around two million people travel to Mecca every year. The pilgrimage has been frequently overshadowed by misfortune – for example, on 15 September 2015. Just as the hajj was about to begin, a storm caused a crane to collapse onto the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing more than 100 people
Trampled to death: the next tragedy occurred nearly two weeks later, on 24 September 2015. Thousands of pilgrims were trampled to death in a mass panic in the town of Mina near Mecca. This is where pilgrims are supposed to conduct the ritual stoning of the devil
Travel ban for Muslims from Iran: it is thought that some 469 Iranians were among the dead. Following the incident, Iranians demonstrated outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. The Iranian government accused Saudi Arabia of negligence. This further exacerbated the already tense relationship between the two nations. Iran has banned its citizens from making the hajj this year
High-tech support: in response to the fatal accidents, Saudi Arabia has tightened security procedures. These include the introduction of electronic wristbands to identify each individual worshipper in the crowd. The wristbands will store personal data including health details and location, as well as inform pilgrims about prayer times
Praying on the mountain: one of the most important stations on the pilgrimage is the walk on Mount Arafat. It is here that the faithful supplicate to Allah to forgive their sins. According to Islamic tradition, this is where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Another high point of the hajj is the Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid, celebrated by Muslims all over the world, regardless of whether they are taking part in the pilgrimage
Mohamed Khazma, who works on the security team at a hospital in Tripoli, Libya, is searching for a table to eat his fried chicken.
At 27, he says he is delighted he was able to gather enough money to come to Mecca, because "it's an opportunity that not everybody has".
The rising number of such young people, "more educated and already used to tourism and mass consumption", has slowly helped to change the face of Mecca, the author Saghi says. "The big (advertising) signs, the big companies, capture this new clientele that the classical market of hotels and family restaurants can't satisfy," he says.
Saniah recalls that, during her first visit to Mecca 12 years ago, they ate in the street. "It's a lot better (now). We have the option of five-star service."
Khazma, however, wants nothing to do with the shopping centres, their air conditioning, restaurants and shops.
"I forget all of that," says the young man with a short trimmed beard and long grey jalabiya robe. "I take my Koran, some dates and some water and I stay in the Grand Mosque from afternoon until the middle of the night," says Khazma.
Mohammed also says he is sometimes uncomfortable with all the modern conveniences which are "very far from the time of Abraham and the harshness of the desert" thousands of years ago. He says he and his wife were obliged to accept their travel agent's plan and hotel to perform the pilgrimage in the footsteps, they believe, of the Prophet Muhammad and Abraham before him.
"But we often wonder if all of that is in line with our spiritual quest," Mohammed says. "The shops, the luxury, the commercial centres, it clouds the spiritual aspect." (AFP)
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