Trip Report: The Hajj
October 1, 2014 11:28 PM   Subscribe

The Trip Reports section of the venerable Flyertalk forums contains a lot of things you might expect: a fastidious appraisal of AA Flagship Suites, a Taste of Turkey in TK economy class, even a review of the business class product from Paris to Havana. But every once in a while someone posts something really out of the ordinary: Hajj, A Journey of a Lifetime: An Insiders Look.
posted by milquetoast (33 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
You know it's an all-time great trip report when the author writes "I don’t remember much of the flight back into the States" and nobody cares.

Although that last bit about the "Hajj cough"... chills.
posted by acidic at 12:16 AM on October 2, 2014

I'm, reading, but...

I only found this out as I was doing my typical OCD checking. Of course, when I went to buy the ticket again, it was priced at $400. After a few calls with United, they suggested buying the ticket and they would offer us a $200 voucher. Since we were going to spend the $400 anyway, we might as well get the ticket with good timing. So, luckily, it all worked out in the end.

but WTF airlines? Almost the exact same thing happened to us the other week for holidays. They do it on purpose I reckon, knowing full well that you will never ever use the voucher.
posted by mattoxic at 12:58 AM on October 2, 2014

This was really interesting, but also in that "here's something I'll let other people do" way. Burning Man, Coachella, the Hajj, anything with large crowds in deserts.

I love that this is such an exotic report for me, until I see his comment "When asking them (Lufthansa) for extra water, juice, snacks, they were very happy to oblige. I didn’t feel like they were bothered as usually the case with US based airlines.".

Then I realise that this guy has truly hit some universal truths on his journey.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:14 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given my ethnic and religious background, it is unlikely that I will ever make the Hajj, but if I do, now I know to save up for the "executive" package. You might stay in the same accommodations, etc., but you probably get better treatment along the way.

This passage particularly struck me,
Imagine my OCD brain going nuts as my passport and all the other group’s passports were tossed in a plastic bag and rung over a teenager’s shoulder. Hajj is really a hard-core training to truly depend on God. We would hopefully see those passports again right before our departure.
Also, I had of course heard about the casualties during past Hajj during the Jamarat, but hadn't heard that after the deaths in 2004 the Saudi authorities decided enough was enough and began a 20 year development project on the Jamaraat Bridge that can safely accommodate millions of pilgrims per day.

In the end, it was obviously extremely fulfilling for the author. It almost makes me envious of his ability to take that away from a religious pilgrimage.

acidic: Although that last bit about the "Hajj cough"... chills.
Cf. Con crud.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:16 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have never been able to understand devotion myself but I love reading about others' experience of it.
posted by fullerine at 1:20 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

How timely, as Eid-ul-Adha (or Aidiladha, as how I grew up saying it) is approaching this weekend (Saturday or Sunday, depending on the country, subject to the new moon sighting of course).

I'm ambivalent about going, now that news of the destruction of Meccan historical architecture by the Salafist administration just makes me sad.
posted by cendawanita at 1:50 AM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

Additionally, the cost and logistics of going for Hajj is no laughing matter. FWIW, the Malaysian Pilgrims Fund have often been cited as a successful example (it's a savings fund that facilitates pilgrims' haj - once you're an account holder, you can save towards your haj, and the fund itself will organise the haj for you). It's been cited in a lot of case studies (one example in pdf) for many Muslim/Muslim-majority countries as a way to manage the haj and protecting hajgoers from fraud.
posted by cendawanita at 1:55 AM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

cendawanita: I'm ambivalent about going, now that news of the destruction of Meccan historical architecture by the Salafist administration just makes me sad.
That's really unconscionable. They bulldozed a mosque from the 7th century? All so they can build more shopping malls? It's criminal really.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:15 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Muslim Pilgrims Are Taking "Hajj Selfies" And Clerics Are Not Happy, Tasneem Nashrulla, Buzzfeed, 01 October 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 3:48 AM on October 2, 2014

Inshalla that report's font will be wiped from the earth like sheitan's scratchings in the desert sands blown away by a holy wind.
posted by lalochezia at 4:43 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Srsly: Good report. Also note that the comments on FT are universally respectful.
posted by lalochezia at 4:58 AM on October 2, 2014

A lovely and very timely post, with Eid just around the corner; thank you! I am sure I would never have come across it otherwise.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:08 AM on October 2, 2014

FT goes on the warpath about FF program changes, or, God help us, seat reclining.
posted by eriko at 5:09 AM on October 2, 2014

That's a really fascinating report, even if there might be a bit too much concern about his goolies chafing. I really can't imagine having such an experience--passing out and being nearly crushed!--and coming away so positive about it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:20 AM on October 2, 2014

This account is very accessible, and the pictures added a lot to my understanding of what the Hajj includes. Now I want to know more about the theological aspects. Off to Wikipedia!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:23 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

wenestvedt : After you come out of your wiki-hole. Look up Ramadan, and then enjoy your excursion into Lunar calendars and Islam's exclusion of intercalary days.
posted by DigDoug at 6:28 AM on October 2, 2014

Wow, the kid who wrote the AA Flagship First Class report is pretty intense.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

acidic: "Although that last bit about the "Hajj cough"... chills."

ob1quixote: Cf. Con crud.

I'll raise you one MERS.
posted by k5.user at 7:17 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, the kid who wrote the AA Flagship First Class report is pretty intense.

All the mania of an unboxing video, except you are putting yourself in the (flying) box.

The FT meetups must be interesting...
posted by at 7:33 AM on October 2, 2014

Thank you for sharing this. One of our closest family friends, the neighbours I grew up with, were an Indian Muslim family in Malaysia. Uncle died the night he completed the rituals of the Hajj, out there in Saudi Arabia, a few years ago, right around now, as cendawanita points out the season. He was truly blessed by god and this helped me get a peek into the experience.
posted by infini at 8:00 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm happy for him that he got to have such meaningful experience and share it with everyone, and also in a bit of awe at his patience with some of the logistics. I would have died from a massive rage-induced stroke around about Hour Three of waiting in the airport for passport control.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:34 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The FT meetups must be interesting...

Having both participated in and organized several "dos" (FT-speak for meetups), I can assure you that they are.
posted by armage at 8:43 AM on October 2, 2014

There are some interesting distribution-of-scarce-resources economics going on during his trip, with the most interesting variation being in resources involving who gets to go first:

Sometimes, distribution was first-come, first-serve: For "the formal Passport and Visa check... [w]e lined up..."

Sometimes, distribution was via force and persistence: At another kiosk, "as there is no such idea of a line structure, I pushed my way to the front for processing".

And sometimes, distribution was via random selection: "Buses are assigned to groups based on a lottery system to determine the order of pick-ups."

I like examples like this, because they give the lie to the neoliberal idea that everything can and should be enveloped in a market system where he who pays most gets the goods.
posted by clawsoon at 9:16 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was great, thank you so much for posting it. I vaguely knew how important the Hajj is and that there was an industry supporting it, but I had no idea of the economic details or the scale.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:41 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having grown up in Pakistan in the 70s and living in northeast Africa for a bit , I don't have a hard time visualizing this entire journey.

I was coming back from Somalia in the early 80's and had a eight hour layover in Jeddah and had obtained a visa so I could go sightseeing, there was much concern at the airport and they asked if I was Muslim. I asked what this had to do with anything, but they declined to explain and would not let me out of the airport, but they did pay me for my suitcase that had been mangled.

I did not find out why I was not allowed into the country until years later when I found out that the consulate in Mogadishu had given me a Hajj visa. I still have it, it is very elaborate and colorful.
It is tragic what is going on regards to the ancient structures and landscape around Mecca.
posted by boilermonster at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2014

Falling down the rabbit hole, I just read a review of a new book out by Ziauddin Sardar, Mecca: the Sacred City which traces the development of Mecca. Really interesting all around.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:14 AM on October 2, 2014

It sounds like his trip went a little smoother than mine did. I remember the bus from Jeddah to Mecca took us right up to our hotel -- we could see it -- and then we weren't allowed to disembark... for six hours. That was hardly the only hours long wait we spent on a bus, just the longest.

Then there was that last night in the Jeddah airport, when our bus load of pilgrims was told by the tour company, whoops, we left your bag o' passports back in Medina. Sorry bout that, we'll go pick them up now, please rebook all of your flights. We spent the night there, and the author of this trip report is not kidding, there are almost zero amenities in this terminal. The terminal is open-air and IIRC only used for pilgrims during Hajj. I remember the only food available were these foil trays of suspicious-looking chicken and rice for around 18 riyals.

One of my favorite memories ever was the flight into Jeddah. We had stopped in Cairo to visit family, so our flight from Cairo to Jeddah was quite short, and everyone on the flight was wearing their ihram, the simple pilgrims' robes, already. As the author of this trip report describes, on the way to Hajj, pilgrims chant an Arabic chant called the Takberat. We were doing it in the car on the way to the airport, tons of people were doing it in the airport, and everyone on the plane was doing it. I've never been on a flight anything like that one. This was late 2005, when back here in the states 9/11 still loomed large and the idea of an obviously Arab looking person on a plane was supposed to be scary. I just wished I could pluck some red state American and drop them on this flight and see how badly they would shit themselves.

I'm sure there is a huge amount of logistics going on that as a pilgrim you don't see, but the whole thing is so ramshackle it's hard to believe they pull it off at all. All in all, it was an extraordinary trip full of extremes -- hardship, and wonder.
posted by malapropist at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Hajj Logistics

The Saudi government has designated an entire Ministry to this enormous task: the Ministry of Hajj. Its role is to manage the entire Hajj experience. The Ministry coordinates with other agencies to provide logistical support for the pilgrims. They also arrange and supervise licensing contracts with local and international agents who are responsible for groups of pilgrims while they are in-country. Anyone who wants to travel for Hajj must book through a licensed agent in their home country, who is required to provide all passport, visa, transportation, shelter, and food arrangements for the pilgrims in their charge.

My own rabbit hole discovered this little tidbit from Indian history. Apparently all 136,000 of this year's pilgrims arrived safely. The numbers are mind boggling.
posted by infini at 10:39 AM on October 2, 2014

cendawanita posted about this article upthread, but I wanted to put it here again: Ziauddin Sardar's OpEd in the NYT, "The Destruction of Mecca", is a very interesting / sad read.

Apart from the Kaaba itself, only the inner core of the Sacred Mosque retains a fragment of history. It consists of intricately carved marble columns, adorned with calligraphy of the names of the prophet’s companions. Built by a succession of Ottoman sultans, the columns date from the early 16th century. And yet plans are afoot to demolish them, along with the whole of the interior of the Sacred Mosque, and to replace it with an ultramodern doughnut-shaped building.

The only other building of religious significance in the city is the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived. During most of the Saudi era it was used first as a cattle market, then turned into a library, which is not open to the people. But even this is too much for the radical Saudi clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. The clerics fear that, once inside, pilgrims would pray to the prophet, rather than to God — an unpardonable sin. It is only a matter of time before it is razed and turned, probably, into a parking lot. [....]

The erasure of Meccan history has had a tremendous impact on the hajj itself. The word “hajj” means effort. ... Drained of history and religious and cultural plurality, hajj is no longer a transforming, once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. It has been reduced to a mundane exercise in rituals and shopping.

posted by RedOrGreen at 11:13 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Again this:
Imagine my OCD brain going nuts as my passport and all the other group’s passports were tossed in a plastic bag and rung over a teenager’s shoulder. Hajj is really a hard-core training to truly depend on God. We would hopefully see those passports again right before our departure.
In 1988 -- that's before the Berlin Wall came down and we won the Cold War, children -- I flew into Berlin to meet my best friend and his dad. I had a smiliar experience of handing over my passport and watching it disappear into a chute before we were waved away. *gulp*

We had spent one afternoon walking around East Berlin trying to spend our wretched Marks, but the next morning we got into our crappy little French car with British plates (yes, "Roast beefs!") and started driving southeast. The first stop was the DDR border. We drove up into the back edge of a half-full parking lot of parallel lanes painted on the ground and…turned off the car.

We copied what the others did: we rolled down the windows and settled in to wait. Every so often one line or another would advance a car length. It was usually easier to just hop out and push the car forward when it was our line that moved; sometimes we turned the key partway in order to play a Clash or Bob Marley tape for the edification of the scowling border police.

Eventually our car reached the kiosk and the guard asked for our papers. We gave him our three passports, but he also wanted "papers" for the car. My friend's dad had bought it at a public car auction in Whitechapel a few weeks before, so we gave them the sales slip. He wanted more papers, so he also got what I recall as the receipt from a London garage for some parts to make a small repair, and something entirely random from the glovebox. It all went into a tray that the guard set down through a hole onto a little conveyor belt. And….away it went.

The guard grunted, waved us forward, and broke eye contact. There we sat, in a crummy car in a huge border shed in East Germany with no papers. Confused, yes, nervous, yes: we had all seen Stripes, so we knew what Eastern Europe was like -- and we wanted no part of an anonymous labor camp without Coca-Cola or sleeping in on weekends.

Around us other cars were driving forward to the far end of the shed and stopping again, so we shrugged and did the same. Down there, another guard just handed us our precious passports (and worthless car papers) and waved us away. I guess we didn't look like our vehicle was worth searching: it may have been the black men's dress socks drying on the dashboard, or our truly terrible ride, or the awe inspired by our GLOBAL SUPERPOWER/WORLD'S POLICEMAN blue, be-eagled passports. *shrug* Whatever, we didn't stick around to ask.

Reader, I never let that passport out of my sight for three more weeks. I emailed my dad the other day and he says he still has it; I hope to be reunited with that old friend pretty soon, and I can't wait to look at the East German immigration stamps, the French tourist visa, and other marks of a bygone age.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:34 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

A scary paragraph in this report:
Saudi Arabia: 2 million in Mecca for start of hajj
[...] Earlier this year, Saudi authorities banned people from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — the countries hardest hit in the Ebola epidemic — from getting visas as a precaution against the virus.[....]
Wow, can you imagine?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:22 PM on October 2, 2014

I wonder how much you have to pay in order not to have to wait for 6 hours every time they say 'hurry, hurry, the buses are here'?

So much of this trip is spent waiting for transport.
posted by asok at 2:17 AM on October 3, 2014

Lovely post, thank you.
posted by glasseyes at 11:54 AM on October 3, 2014

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