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October 14th, 2013
01:58 AM ET

Inside the hajj: The world's largest annual pilgrimage

By Sarah Brown, CNN

(CNN) - Millions of Muslims began the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, which represents one of the largest annual human gatherings on the planet.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, a journey every Muslim is expected to take in his or her lifetime if the person is physically and financially able.

This year, the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca is hosting more than 2 million Muslims, about 1 million fewer than last year, according to the Associated Press.

Our iReport team has asked pilgrims who have performed the Hajj about how the experience changed them - and for their advice to those undertaking the pilgrimage for the first time.

The result is a mix of spiritual and practical life lessons that transcend Islam.

1. Patience

iReporter Amir Abdul Latip from Brunei said the Hajj taught him a patience that’s carried over to his life after the pilgrimage.

“I'm still not perfect, but the Hajj has changed my perspective on the temporal nature life, the universe, and everything else,” he says.

“Just be patient and always try to help others,” Latip says, adding that the Hajj helped “widen my views to see a bigger picture of our existence.”

Read more about Latip’s Hajj experience

Patience is an order during the Tawaf, a Hajj ritual in which throngs of pilgrims circle seven times around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building considered the most sacred site in Islam.

The whole five-day event, which attracts around 3 million people, is slow going and sometimes chaotic.

CNN Explains: What's the Hajj?

“Several times things are not in control of the organizers – they try their best for pilgrims but they cannot do all due to some unforeseen circumstances,” said iReporter Muhammad Zafar from Simi Valley, California, who performed Hajj in 2011 with his family.

2. Down to earth

Ameer Hassoun, an Iraqi-born doctor who lives in New Jersey, said a key part of the Hajj is learning from other pilgrims.

“It taught me how to be very down to earth, to treat everything with humility, that there is no difference between us - no matter where we are," he said.

See images of Hassoun’s visit to Mecca in 2011

“People around the world share their own experiences from their home countries and so it’s a very fertile land for learning.”

For Hira Hasnain, a student in North Carolina who spent three weeks undertaking the Hajj, one of the most rewarding experiences was uncovering new aspects of her faith by meeting new people.

“It brings you closer, it provides a sense of unity.,” she says. “You realize that everyone around the world is striving to … achieve closeness to God and everyone has different ways of doing it.”

“Try to understand where everyone is coming from and your enjoyment of Hajj will be that much more meaningful,” Hasnain says.

Listen to more of Hasnain’s advice and see images of her hajj journey

3. Everywhere was white

iReporter Rafiu Olasunkanmi Yusuf, a Nigerian who works in Malaysia, said his 2003 pilgrimage revealed a “need to move closer to God.”

“Everywhere was white, that symbol of purity,” he said. “There was no distinction on the basis of race, country or color of the skin. One can feel the presence of the Almighty God as we perform the religious rites.”

Since then Yusuf, has tried to “devote more time to spiritual uplift and less time to worldly pursuits."

Haq, meanwhile, says his pilgrimage taught him to acknowledge God in “everything I do.”

“I pay close attention to my obligations as a Muslim,” he says. “My prayers, obedience to parents, fasting, zakat [gifts to charity - another of the five pillars of Islam] - I repent more often, and make more dhikr [prayers reciting the names of God].

“I also try to educate my Muslim and non-Muslim friends, co-workers and peers on Islam,” he says.

4. The hajj is hard

iReporter Amaan Haq from Woodbridge, Virginia, undertook his first Hajj in 2011 with his wife and said preparation was essential.

Read about Haq’s preparations for his Hajj

“Read and understand before embarking what acts are required from you,” he said. “The Hajj is hard even if you're young.”

The Hajj can be a physical and mental endurance test, with pilgrims sometimes walking miles each day. Haq advises pilgrims to take drinks or electrolyte salts to stay hydrated in the 90-degree Arabian sun.

Other iReporters recommended that first time pilgrims obtain a guide if possible, saying the complex sequence of rituals to be performed and the sheer size of the gathering can be overwhelming.

5. Just do it

Latip from Brunei said his final advice for those wishing to undertake the journey was to get going.

“Just do it,” he said.

“Don’t wait until you’re too old and frail,” he says. “And with costs rising year after year, it’s better to do it sooner if you can.”

That advice can apply to journeys other than Hajj, too.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Saudi Arabia

soundoff (779 Responses)
  1. TopCat

    blind faith must trample underfoot, all sense, reason and understanding. – Martin Luther

    October 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • shuyaib

      In that case Islam will be the only religion left.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Fudge Sickles

      Martin Luther – he was that zealot guy who triggered off 300 years of religious war, as well as mistrust and hatred that linger to this day?

      Yeah, he's a good source of wisdom.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  2. Heywood

    shuyaib

    Please tell me why non muslims cannot visit mecca and see the kaaba? is there a valid reason?

    October 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Can a muslim visit Jerusalem?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Heywood

      Yes of course they can. And they can visit the vatican too. So whats the answer to my question?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Heywood

      And why would you ask about Jeruselem? Admiting it is the Jewish capital and your prophet was never on the mount even though you built a mosque ontop of Judiasms holliest site?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Shakira

      It is a Saudi thing really, non-Muslims lived in Mecca during the time of the Prophet (pbuh). However since Mecca is in the sovereign lands of the Kingdom, they have the right to say so and so is only allowed. It is right no but they have the judicial right to do so.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Heywood

      shuyaib

      so am i getting an answer to my question?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Shakira

      Jerusalem is not the Jewish capitol, that would be Tel Aviv. The city should be under International protection so one religion or another does not claim and start WW III over it. It is holy to all and should be that way for all.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Heywood

      Shakira

      And the answer is? im still waiting. if i ask you the time i dont want to know how to build a clock. answer my question, why?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Shakira

      @ Heywood I replied to you as to why or is that not good enough.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Heywood

      And you or anyone else has the right to tell a sovergn country where there capital is because? Before they made up your religion there was a Temple there for the Jewish people.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Shakira

      Because the Saudi government said so period. Is it right no but since they are in charge they can make the rules. They don't have to justify as to why, although I would like to see why they do. Being in charge of a country and those cities in that country they can say only Muslims are allowed. That is what it comes down to. Have a problem with it, take it up with the Saudi Government as they are in charge of Mecca.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Heywood

      Shakira

      Ok, why do the Saudis ban non muslims form mecca? that easier to avoid then my previous question. what is the reason, that is what im asking.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Shakira

      I am well aware of history, however if you want WW III to break out them go ahead. Its' called being pragmatic and realizing that Jerusalem is a hot button issue for all three major religions and to claim it for one and only one would be bad. They can say Jerusalem is thier capitol all they want, notice how no nations on the planet have embassies there, could it be because there is a reason behind that.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Heywood

      Because the Saudi government said so period. Is it right no but since they are in charge they can make the rules. They don't have to justify as to why, although I would like to see why they do. Being in charge of a country and those cities in that country they can say only Muslims are allowed. That is what it comes down to. Have a problem with it, take it up with the Saudi Government as they are in charge of Mecca.

      So your saying the muslims in charge of saudia arabia are closed minded barbarians who have no respect for anyone from any other religion and do not respect other religions because one cant even bring a bible to saudi from another religion. is that what your saying? the center of your 'peaceful' religion discriminates against other religions?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Heywood

      notice how no nations on the planet have embassies there, could it be because there is a reason behind that.

      its because other nations are scared of the followers of your 'peaceful" religion flying airplanes into their buldings.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Shakira

      God you are dense are you not, because they can, period. I do not know their reasons, my guess is it is rooted in the fundamentalist strain of Wahabbism they practice that is puritanical at its core. That being said it comes down to they can ban non-Muslims because they are in charge. How much clearer do I have to be.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      hindu, denier of truth absolute God has no place in domain of truth absolute GOD, is it enough for you?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Shakira

      The Saudi's practice a strain of Islam that is puritanical and wrong. Many of the laws in the Kingdom are based on culture not Islam. ie the banning of women driving. Saudi Arabia does not represent Muslims around the world and if you think they do you are ignorant.

      As for embassies not being in Jerusalem, nations moved the embassies out pre-1970 and the rest moved out in 1980 so that was before 9-11 but nice try. Learn some history first.

      Saudi does not have Freedom of Religion like we do in America and comparing the two, putting your cultural and national ideals on other is comparing apples to oranges.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • ADY

      Same reason why USA Govt restricts the number of Green card application to 7% .. To block the unneccessary ...

      October 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • Heywood

      Shakira

      God you are dense are you not, because they can, period. I do not know their reasons, my guess is it is rooted in the fundamentalist strain of Wahabbism they practice that is puritanical at its core. That being said it comes down to they can ban non-Muslims because they are in charge. How much clearer do I have to be.

      so its ok to discriminate agains other religions. That was the answer i was looking for. Because they can is not an answer. im not a child asking why i cant have candy before dinner. All your saying is that your religion practices state sponsered descrimination of other religions. Great. peaceful and compasionate. where do i sign up?

      FYI dense is the person who cannot answer a simple question with a reasonable answer. I guess peaceful members of your religion kept you out of school also.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • ADY

      Also to avoid any non muslim take th place of muslim who could performing his sacred obligation. .. Why is it possible in West to deny any massacre on muslims but not holocaust ...

      October 24, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • ADY

      Is it enough or you need more... how a Govt or a religious body manages its Sacred sanctorum is in their hands .. this cannot be challenged by you ... else how would you answer so many whys that latinos and Native Indians have... or Palestinians have ..

      October 24, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • CW

      Shakira, so you are saying discrimination is ok, because the Saudis say so! Wow. Who knew? I guess apartheid and racial discrimination in the US South were ok, too, since it was the 'law of the land'. Comments like yours are priceless. Quit bending over backwards to defend intolerance.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • aisha

      So the hold point of Hajj is to to fulfill one of the 5 pillars of Islam. Now everyone one there is there for one purpose and one purpose only. It is NOT considered a tourist spot, it's non stop prayer. It is a difficult journey to accomplish. Non muslim believers are more then welcome in Mosques and in Saudi Arabia. Now im sure you have no actual desire to make this jouney, and you think you are proving a point, which you have failed at.

      October 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • mm

      @Heywood for your kind info all the bridges, buildings and other resource are develop my western companies in Mekkah. There is only a small area that is restricted. Why you want to visit Makkah, when you have evil thoughts and always think bad about Muslims.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  3. Guest

    I laugh at life lesson number 2 considering how they judge everyone else.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Really, and who judged you?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Shakira

      Who judges, athiesits, Christians, Jews, Muslims. People of all faiths, colors, nations judge so don't make it out like only Muslims do it.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • CW

      Even more so since scientific thought has been dead in that region for 1000 years.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  4. Innerspace is God's place while outerspace is for the human race

    Does 2001 A Space "Odditty" come to mind?

    October 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • shuyaib

      In america, perhaps believing in Aliens is more acceptable than believing in God. That's why American quote movies, and muslim quote Quran.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
      • G to the T

        They're statistically more probable certainly...

        October 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Try the southern part of the US. Christards quote the bible all the time and you don't dare tell anyone that you're not a believer lest you get fired and harassed.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • littlebigman

      @Shuyaib May be you god was an alien too...ever thought about that?

      October 24, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • littlebigman

      @Moby Schtick: "Christard"...that's funny.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  5. Shakira

    Sad to see so much hate and ignorance on here. No wonder most of the world hates us American's, and with most of the comments on here who can blame them.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • CW

      When Islam starts being an example to the world through the majority of its actions rather than the latest 'reason' for the suicide bombing do jour, we might agree with you. You will be judged by the company you keep. You can count on it.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • dadomac

      Shakira, you're a typical muslim. Threatening a wolrd war iii.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  6. Babak from LA

    Why is the picture gallery expired? the Article is from today!

    October 24, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  7. irock

    This when 100`s of thousands of brainwashed sheep gather together. All it takes is one joker to stand up and say allahu akbar and open his dress and people stampede each other to death by the thousands. One thing I have learned about this tradition by watching the news is stay away, stay far far away.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Interesting that brain washing happen without mind experiements, or, CNN, or ABC, or propaganda, or missiles raining from space. It was just a book that people could identify with. They want to feel accountable for the lives they lived. They believe life is a little more than money can buy.
      ... and they spend of their own money to travel, and they know Americans have napalm, and nukes, and they know American views islam just as Nazis viewed jews... and yet they go, and yearn to go. Truely crazy by american standards.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • CW

      shuyaib, develop a cogent argument sometime leaving out the Jews as bogeymen.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  8. Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    Wahhabis are one step ahead of goon scientist's, astrologers, deniers of truth absolute, GAWD, WAHABI FATWA DECLARES: THE WORLD IS FLAT, TRUTH ABSOLUTE.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • shuyaib

      I understand you are awashed with hatred, but alteast base your opinion on facts. No muslim EVER said earth it flat. In fact, muslim scientists prove it was spherical.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      100% hinduism, absurd, world is flat and the sun is smaller than the earth, see claims by muslim scholar, goon.
      http://youtu.be/wppjYDj9JUc

      October 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      hinduism, stupidity of a hindu, stupid.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • littlebigman

      this is what happens to science when religious fundamentalists (any religion, including Christianity and Islam) mess with it. The zealous embrace of a religion makes you lose objectivity.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  9. Innerspace is God's place while outerspace is for the human race

    Ain't Life Special?

    October 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  10. That Guy

    Animal sacrifice is still a staple for one of the most holy events of this religion. Enough said.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • shuyaib

      That's right. It's free meat for the poor.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  11. Desi

    I am a muslim, but unfortunately its goody good only during hajj, after that people are back to their selfish lives. Talking of unity, there is no unity outside the kaaba, every sect have their own accomodations and do not belive in sharing it with other sects. e. g the Boris, khojas. Sad state.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Change begins from self.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Andy Wilson

      Same way with us Christians... God on sunday, Self M-Sa....

      October 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  12. NorthVanCan

    always a lesson from the religious but never any progress.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  13. Guinness56

    Dinner!

    October 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  14. Really

    Pretty sad when you need a religion to help you figure out that you ought to be patient, learn more, not be so bothered by the outside world, encourage others, and be prepared.

    Those things seem quite obvious to us atheists.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  15. Mike

    Isn't the #1 lesson taught by hajj is to kill non-muslim infidels?

    October 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Really? .... and isn't it obvious where you get your news from?

      October 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  16. DustyOnes

    6. It made me wonder why in the hell they banned naphalm

    October 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Exactly. Then the world would have known that n a z i s aren't gone... they just immigrated to US

      October 24, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Andy Wilson

      shuyaib, they did give us the jet engine, which brings things to your desert...

      October 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  17. Joebob

    Lesson #1 Islam – The religion of Piece- “KABOOM” a piece of you here, a piece of you there.

    October 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Sorry for your state of mind. If that was the case, 1.2 billion people are smarter than you one brain to decide what is right for them.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • mpmicale

      You are a real PIECE of work. Ignorance must be bliss for you.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Mike

      Don't confuse the extremists with the vast, vast, majority of Muslims who're just people – like everyone else.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • shuyaib

      Sorry for your state of mind and hatred. I feel the same sentiment in you that third reich made in Germany post WWI

      October 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  18. TribalBeat

    Eid Mubarak to you all and God Bless you all. 🙂

    October 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • ThinkB4USpeaky

      Eid Mubarak!

      October 24, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  19. shuyaib

    Peace be to you.
    Hajj is an excellent experience to know so many people of different colors, cultures and nations come to one place in one uniform cloth, becoming one in front of God. It is a solemn reminder for believers that we will be raised the same in front of Allah, the Merciful and Just, and we will be held accountable for all our deeds.

    October 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Heywood

      Why is it that non muslims cant visit mecca? And why no churches in saudi arabia? interested to hear an explaination

      October 24, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • CW

      So why can't women have the same rights as the hajj as men? Answer that one.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  20. Life Lesson from the Haaj #1

    As the picture above shows, the goats get to ride in the car but the children have to walk.

    October 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Heywood

      no, it is an arranged marrage.

      October 24, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.