The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage

The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage

The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage

The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage


The Qu ran admonishes Muslims that the pilgrimage to the temple is an obligation due to God from those who are able to journey there. Today over one and a half million pilgrims annually fulfill this Fifth Pillar of Islam, the Hajj. Saudi Arabia conquered the Hijaz in part to protect Hajjis from abuses in the management of the Hajj. How does that country now administer the religious event that brings so many people, often poor and illiterate, into one small area to perform a variety of complex rituals? How does the government protect its visitors health and safety, and ensure their proper guidance through the necessary rites? How does it move so many pilgrims in and out of what is essentially an out-of-the-way desert?

David Long has set this thoughtful examination of the twentieth-century Hajj within its historical framework. He first provides a clear, concise description of the rituals either necessary or traditional to the proper performance of the Hajj; he then relates how the inhabitants of Mecca used to manage the pilgrimage and finally, relates how the new Saudi rulers gradually brought the Hajj service industry under government regulation. Today there is probably no agency of the Saudi government which is not at least tangentially concerned with the Hajj. Only in the area of health did there exist a history of public management. By the early nineteenth century it had become all too clear that the Hajj served to carry diseases endemic to the Orient to Europe, and by the end of that century health and quarantine procedures were under international control. Today the Saudi government has sole control of these matters. Oil revenue vastly exceeds Hajj revenues once a major source of Saudi income but the Hajj continues to play an enormous role in the religious, social, and political life of the country. And even in economics it structures the Saudi businessman's year and provides part- or full-time employment to more Saudi citizens than does the oil industry.

This volume contains an extensive bibliography, appendixes containing statistical material on recent Hajjs, maps, and a glossary."


Over 1,500,000 people annually attend the Hajj, or Great Pilgrimage to Makkah, making it one of the largest exercises in public administration in the world. Nearly every agency of the Saudi government becomes involved, either in regulating the privately operated Hajj service industry, or in providing direct administrative services. Such a task would tax the most sophisticated government bureaucracy; and yet Saudi Arabia, where public administration is still in a developing stage, manages to get the job done each year. Moreover, since non-Muslims are not allowed in Makkah, it is done with almost no administrative assistance from more developed countries.

I first became interested in the Hajj during three years' residence in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, from 1967 through 1969. Jiddah is western Saudi Arabia's principal sea and air terminus and the gateway to Makkah for most Hajjis (Hajj pilgrims). Although non-Muslims are not allowed in Makkah, living and working in Jiddah was sufficient for me to realize how large and complex the task of administering the Hajj is, and under what adverse conditions it is accomplished.

Hajjis come from every corner of the Muslim world and from all classes of society. They bring with them many different customs and habits, speak many different languages, and are often not literate in any. Adding to the problems of administration, most of the Hajj rites are conducted in the open air, where the desert heat sometimes exceeds 126 degrees F. Hajjis must be supplied with sufficient food, water, shelter, health and sanitation facilities, and transportation for a period of several weeks or more. Many of these services are supplied by the Hajj service industry; others are supplied by the Saudi government.

Given the size and scope of the modern Hajj, it is surprising that there is virtually no scholarly research on the current administration of the Hajj or on the impact of the Hajj on the host country, Saudi Arabia. Bernard Lewis has stated the case, "The effect of the pilgrimage on communications and commerce, on ideas and institutions, has not been adequately explored: it may never be, since much of it will, in the nature of things, have gone unrecorded."

This study is an attempt to fill that gap, at least partially. It is divided into three parts. the first part, consisting of two chapters . . .

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