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"I felt like I'd been catapulted from one end of the universe to the other"
November 4, 2011 11:17 AM   Subscribe

This weekend marks the time of the Hajj, a core pillar of Islam in which great tides of humanity venture to the ancient city of Mecca to honor God. Predating Mohammed's birth by centuries, the pilgrimage comprises several days of rites, from congregation like snow on Mount Arafat and the ritual stoning of Shaitan to the circling of the sacred Kaaba (the shrouded cubical monolith Muslims pray toward daily) and kissing the Black Stone (colored by the absorption of myriad sins, and believed by some to be a fallen meteorite). While the city has modernized to handle this largest of annual gatherings -- building highway-scale ramps, gaudy skyscrapers for the ultra-rich, and tent cities the size of Seattle -- it remains mysterious, as unbelievers are forbidden from entering its borders. Richard Francis Burton became famous for touring the city in disguise to write a rare travelogue, but contemporary viewers have a more immediate guide: Vice Magazine journalist Suroosh Alvi, who smuggled a minicam into the city to record The Mecca Diaries [alt], a 14-minute documentary of his own Hajj journey. Browse the manual to see what goes into a Hajj trip, or watch the YouTube livestream to see the Grand Mosque crowds in real time.
posted by Rhaomi (31 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I HAVE TOTALLY KISSED THAT STONE
posted by the mad poster! at 11:43 AM on November 4, 2011


I watched that vice travel episode a while back and it occurred to me that one of the fundamental problems with religion in the modern world is that in addition to being invented in the distant past for a vastly different cultural context, it was invented in the distant past for a vastly different scale of people.
posted by danny the boy at 11:45 AM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


My mother really wanted to do the Hajj this year but couldn't because last minute family drama so she is kinda envious, sentimental and dispirited right now. Judging by how fondly she and my father speaks of the hajj, it seems like a deeply personal and spiritual trip where Muslims replenish their faith. I'm not religious but the joy and peacefulness my parents and others seem to find during their journey is inspiring.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've always loved the idea of the Hajj -- it's a manifestation of a real belief. The lack of a Christian equivalent saddens and puzzles me: If I believed in Jesus's divinity, I'd want to learn his language, walk where he walked, and see some of what he saw.

As a non-religious person, Hajj is part of what makes Islam cooler than a lot of others. Thanks for this.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:05 PM on November 4, 2011


As a non-religious person, Hajj is part of what makes Islam cooler than a lot of others.

You should look into the Kumbh Mela. It's pretty much completely insane.
posted by aramaic at 12:12 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Michael Muhammad Knight writes in great detail about his hajj in the excellent Journey to the End of Islam. The part that really sticks with me is his speculation on the difference that Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X experienced during their respective hajjes. The former being an unknown black man from the US and the other being a celebrity from the US and how that difference led to vastly different experiences. And most importantly, how those experiences informs each person's version of mainstream Islam.
posted by NoMich at 12:15 PM on November 4, 2011


I haven't yet gone on Hajj, but I'd like to someday (funds willing, ha.). I've always had the impression that Hajj is--for many--a chance to feel like a part of a massive community, as opposed to their local religious community (and all the socioeconomic + cultural restraints therein). The day-to-day of going to the same mosque, seeing the same people and being in the same neighborhood probably dulls some peoples' resilence in their faith.

Hajj restores that wonder. A popular example of that would be Malcolm X's Letter from Mecca, where he writes
I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.
(on preview: NoMich kind of hit upon this as well. Thanks for the link!!)
posted by raihan_ at 12:17 PM on November 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


We are thinking of our former neighbour's family (my childhood home) this weekend - two years ago, their father went on Hajj, after completing all the rituals he came back to his hotel room and went to sleep. He went up to heaven that night. Their grief was tempered deeply by this knowledge.
posted by infini at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is interesting. And, no disrespect meant to either Islam or Christianity, but the disaffected young science-nerd who was the teenaged me might have been more reluctant to leave the (Methodist) church if its holiest-of-holy sites had been centered around a rock from outer space.
posted by aught at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2011


"The lack of a Christian equivalent saddens and puzzles me: If I believed in Jesus's divinity, I'd want to learn his language, walk where he walked, and see some of what he saw."

Plenty of Christians visit Israel every year for this very reason.
posted by PenDevil at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2011


Definitely worth watching, as are all the Vice travel episodes.

If you're a preservationist though, the future of Mecca is pretty grim.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:10 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wonderful post! Thanks for taking the time to put it together.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:16 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Plenty of Christians visit Israel every year for this very reason.

In one of John Updike's stories, Henry Bech goes to Jersualem where he walks along the Via Dolarosa and notes the availability of "Kodachrome where Christ stumbled, bottled Fanta where He thirsted".
posted by Trurl at 2:20 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great post! I always show this video (3 parts) from Ted Koppel's ABC Nightline to my World History students. It's about 15 minutes long and shows an American Muslim reporter's Hajj. It's a bit dated from the 90's but still good in explaining what the Hajj is all about.
posted by dealing away at 2:22 PM on November 4, 2011


I first encountered this idea in a science fiction novel, but I didn't think it had actually happened yet:

A Muslim Astronaut's Dilemma: How to Face Mecca From Space
Malaysia's space agency, Angkasa, convened a conference of 150 Islamic scientists and scholars last year to wrestle with these and other questions. The resulting document (.doc), "A Guideline of Performing Ibadah (worship) at the International Space Station (ISS)", was approved by Malaysia's National Fatwa Council earlier this year. According to the report, determining the qibla should be "based on what is possible" for the astronaut, and can be prioritized this way: 1) the Ka'aba, 2) the projection of Ka'aba, 3) the Earth, 4) wherever.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:51 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


...it remains mysterious, as unbelievers are forbidden from entering its borders.

Hardly, in the modern era. There's the Vice Guide that you've linked too. I also remember watching an hour long new documentary about 3 people and their hajj (Frontline, perhaps). Millions of people go every year and I don't think there is an edict against describing it in detail. Plus you can learn all you want to about the process online and Wikipedia.

Sure, I can't visit myself in my current state. But I'm also unlikely to visit Antartica yet I wouldn't call it mysterious.

I think that what happens in LDS temples, or the inner circle of Scientology, is much more mysterious. But those people are actively trying to keep it secret, whereas the muslims are not.
posted by sbutler at 3:53 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link. The vice video was interesting to watch.
posted by Fizz at 3:59 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Snark, my apologies.)

The video reminds me of Vegas, a place packed to the gills with people that can't really afford to be there, and are too busy convincing themselves what a great time they're having to acknowledge they are miserable.

And the image of the clocktower hotel seems profane towering as it does over the holiest site in the religion.
posted by Keith Talent at 4:06 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you have the chance, I highly recommend watching Journey to Mecca: In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta on an IMAX screen.
posted by rustyiron at 4:29 PM on November 4, 2011


Seeing something like this reminds me of why I'm not a theist.
I build palaces in my own mind, but this is fairly ridiculous. Having to travel to Mecca and spend that money to kiss a meteorite seems the definition of obscene.
posted by el riesgo sempre vive at 4:42 PM on November 4, 2011


how is something people actually pine for and feel fulfilled by a mandatory miserable experience? really, the knee jerk "I don't get it" is not insightful
posted by the mad poster! at 4:49 PM on November 4, 2011


because you can transpose a disdainful mental state to any social or cultural ritual and decide it's a sad cold experience in a hypothetical way but it doesn't get to the truth of the experience of the people involved
posted by the mad poster! at 4:50 PM on November 4, 2011


You know who else worshipped other-dimensional beings in a cube?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:16 PM on November 4, 2011


I just took my copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X off my bookshelf the other day to peruse at whim. I'll have to reread his account of his Hajj. That part of the book left a deep impression that I've had since I was a teenager.
posted by luckynerd at 7:50 PM on November 4, 2011


Having to travel to Mecca and spend that money to kiss a meteorite seems the definition of obscene.

Kissing the Black Stone is not obligatory, nor is it even remotely close being central to Hajj (most of which takes place outside the city of Mecca). Good Job on reducing an event that is transformative to millions into your own prejudice, however.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:13 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


More on the ... as a preservationist, I must say appalling building boom in Mecca. Skyscraperpage, lots of photos. It's impressive, but all I can think about is what's been bulldozed. It's like a religious theme park.

I can imagine the experience remaining quite spiritual, of course; it's all about how you approach it. But I'm surprised that the Saudi Wahabbis haven't received more criticism from the rest of the Muslim world for this.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 AM on November 5, 2011


I was just telling a co-worker about the 'Black Rock' and how cool it looked.

A shame I will never get to visit :(
posted by rosswald at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2011


Good Job on reducing an event that is transformative to millions into your own prejudice, however.

Good Job on missing that the point was about spending money to be near an inanimate object to satisfy the whims of an imaginary being rather than, say, using that money to do good works to alleviate the real suffering of others, however.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:16 PM on November 6, 2011


While that sounds "sensible" it sounds just very wrong.
posted by infini at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2011


obiwanwasabi, the pilgrimage is one of the main pillars of Islam in addition to alms and charity (among other things). It really isn't an either/or deal, fyi.

dhartung, I agree w/ the building boom, too! The clock seems way over the top.

luckynerd, that portion of the book changed many things for me. Stunning.
posted by raihan_ at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2011


Update: Exemplary photoblogs The Big Picture and In Focus both have new features out today showcasing this year's Hajj.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:44 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


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