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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. Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    Sankarshan Das Adhikari
    Their is no worst hate than hinduism, illegality of denial of truth absolute, and hindu's, denier's of truth absolute are worst hate monger by practicing hinduism, racism as faith. deserving nothing less punishment of elimination for their hinduism, illegality.
    Word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, negative, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativiry, hinduism, way of of negativity.
    one has to be a hindu, criminal to call his punishment hate, to make himself a victim. visit limitisthetruth.com to learn hinduism, illegality of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, GOD by hindu's, criminals..

    October 24, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  2. guest

    tomorrow is yawm al arafah inshallah. Fast. Taqabbal Allah.

    October 24, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  3. Sankarshan Das Adhikari

    I see a lot of hate in these comments. Any religion or philosophy which promotes hate is not fit for human beings. The fact is that all living beings come from a common source. Whether you call that God, Allah, Christ, Buddha, Jehovah, or the Origin of the Universe, we all come from the same place. The only way we can have peace and happiness is to live in a loving harmonious relationship with our common origin. This will bring us into a perfect state of peace and harmony with each other. We have to get back to our original pure state of consciousness before we descended into all of this egotism and exploitation. At http://www.backtohome.com we address and try to resolve these most important global issues. Happiness to all. Leave your hate at the door.

    October 24, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Inquiring minds want to know

      It is indeed true that we all come rom the same origin . . . MONKEYS!!!!!

      Hey hey, we're the monkeys!!!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEYNuU6Xtms

      That'll get some heads a-poppin'

      October 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Their is no worst hate than hinduism, illegality of denial of truth absolute, and hindu's, denier's of truth absolute are worst hate monger by practicing hinduism, racism as faith. deserving nothing less punishment of elimination for their hinduism, illegality.
      Word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, negative, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativiry, hinduism, way of of negativity.
      one has to be a hindu, criminal to call his punishment hate, to make himself a victim. visit limitisthetruth.com to learn hinduism, illegality of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, GOD by hindu's, criminals..

      October 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  4. Eliminate mullah ism, denial of truth absolute by pigs, for peace, omit Islam among humanity.

    Hajj, denier of truth absolute, corruption of travel ism, a passport to criminals to commit crime against humanity, self center ism, secularism, birthplace of terrorism.

    October 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      nduism, stupidity of a hindu.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  5. Not Free

    Americans 'think' what ever their politicians tell them to 'think'. About Islam you've been taught to think of it as terrorism. So that's what you are all doing. You are made slaves by making you think that you are free.

    October 24, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  6. lovUSA

    Here are the five lessons from hajj :
    lesson1 : Blow up people. Murder them and Call them Zi0nists and Kafirs.
    lesson2 : Blow up people. Murder them and Call them Zi0nists and Kafirs.
    lesson3 : Blow up people. Murder them and Call them Zi0nists and Kafirs.
    lesson4 : Blow up people .Murder them and Call them Zi0nists and Kafirs.
    lesson5 : Blow up people. Murder them and Call them Zi0nists and Kafirs.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Deserving punishment for being a hindu, criminal.

      October 24, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  7. WOW

    Is it me, or are the "life lessons" listed here incredibly obvious and banal?

    I mean, do you really need to go on some major religious pilgrimage to discover that getting prepared is something people ought to do?

    Do you really need to wander around the desert to discover that patience might be a good thing?

    Is it really necessary to hang out in large crowds of warbling nincompoops in order to realize that learning more might be something worth doing?

    Do you need to travel half way around the world and live with goats to get the amazing revelation that encouraging people is a nice idea?

    Maybe, just maybe it might be totally obvious that a tuning out the outside world is beneficial, even though you did not walk aroung a big rock throwing stones at it because it is the devil?

    Think about how clueless and ignorant you would have to be if these were the takeaway wisdoms of your great spiritual trek. Just bloody lame.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • sally

      I know – it's almost as dumb as people flocking to the Vatican or to some mega church somewhere. Religious idiots.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's place while outerspace is for the human race

      Like Wow that just sucks the brains out of young chickadees!!!

      Who's 'lickin the chickin now'?

      October 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  8. White Conservative Middle-Class Catholic Girl

    What the general public doesn't understand is that it is not ISLAM that treats women unfairly; it is THE ARABIAN / PERSIAN CULTURE that does so. Unfortunately, the way it goes in the Middle East is that the state and religion are too mixed and are one in the same. As for the people who claim that ISLAM demands conversion / hates Israel / justifies terrorism and killing innocent people, these extremists doing all these things are just crazies doing so in the name of Islam. Take the Holocaust, for example - Hitler made Germany and all its citizens look bad for killing millions of innocent people, but certainly the majority of Germans had nothing to do with it and opposed it (silently, for fear of being sent away and killed like all the other "infidels").

    Overall, this is not a religious issue. It is an issue of culture and national security (on the Middle East's part) and these zealots are using their religion as their scapegoat to abuse the power they have attained.

    October 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • The Life-Lessons People Actually Learned on the Hajj, But Were Afraid To Say

      1. Disneyland would have been a LOT more fun. And the fantasies seem real there too.

      2. Damn I'm glad I don't live in Saudi Arabia!

      3. The whole bit about shaving your head then performing ritual animal sacrifice just doesn't seem the kind of thing a real god would want, but I'm not going to say anything about it around these bin Laden-looking guys.

      4. One would think Allah would provide better toilets.

      5. Next year, if I decide to go into the middle of a blazing hot dusty desert packed full of strange people doing weird rituals and shit, I'm going to Burning Man and get my freak on ! ! ! At least hippies know how to have fun.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  9. umm..

    watching the tolerance these good christians show here in these boards make me want to puke. Their god said when someone slaps one cheek, turn the other.. what do these followers of that faith do here? spew hate, make idiotic jabs and remarks about something they only have a passing knowledge about..

    Wonder what they feel about others making fun of their god/faith! It is not like there are no holes in their beliefs.. even a grade schooler can find more holes than answers..

    October 24, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  10. harrisonhits2

    I've got 5 things I've learned about Islam

    1. islam is a sick, twisted disgusting philosophy
    2. islam views women as slaves and property, not human beings
    3. islam is the greatest evil in the world today
    4. The koran is useful mostly as toilet paper
    5. islam must be exterminated the same way Naziism was

    October 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • God

      You are right!!! Omniscient One has already made a plan for them!! Their destruction!!

      October 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Yeah Right

      Ah, but omniscient omnipotent one didn't bother to stop them, causing much misery.

      So who will judge God for his many nasty transgressions and his evil ways, and what hell do you throw his cruel butt into?

      October 24, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. Ringo65

    We should give the Muslims as much access to Jerusalem as they give Jews to Mecca.

    October 24, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Alain

      Mecca isn't holy to Jews. Mecca is holy only to Muslims. Jerusalem is holy to all the Abrahamic faiths, which includes Islam.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      You own nothing and your hinduism, absurdity of hindu Judaism, filthy self center ism, secularism, to hind, lie has no value, hindu, ignorant.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • islm

      Go back to Europe where you came from...

      October 24, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • dadomac

      @alain: that's the problem with you muslims- me, me, me, mine, mine. For the non muslims- you give boom boom boom.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Ringo65

      Jews aren't even allowed in to the city of Mecca...maybe not even into Saudi. It's about tolerance and discrimination and respect, none of which is evident in the Muslim religion despite what many Muslims say. It's how they act not what they spout.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  12. fjoejfoewjfo

    #6: dont be a muslim

    October 24, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • islm

      be a practicing one...

      October 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • J. Wangsness

      to fjoe: Thanks for pointing out the obvious.

      October 24, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  13. ob@ma 2012

    5 lessons from Hajj:

    1)Suicide bombers
    2)Shooting inocent girls (Malala)
    3)Terrorist attacks.
    4)Denying Israel the right to exist
    5)Converting everyone to Islam so everyone can be ignorant like all muslims.

    October 24, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      hinduism, illegality and hindu's, criminals have no right to exist, a hindu criminal in his hinduism, denial of truth, by hindu Judaism, filthy secularism is not any better than a hindu rabid dog, cause of hinduism, sickness among humanity. Get rid of every one of them , to have peace, Islam among humanity.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Ringo65

      Where else can you get 3 million Musilms to circle the drain.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's place while outerspace is for the human race

      Funny thing drains, they tend to plug up. Overflow rates need watching. Opening the drain wide open might plug up the whole thang!

      October 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Innerspace is God's place while outerspace is for the human race

      Well aren't we just dandy?

      October 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  14. Alain

    To all Muslims: Have a happy Eid and may God accept your pilgrimage!

    October 24, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • MAGICUNDIES

      haiij just one big SEWER

      October 24, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • guest

      Thanks Alain

      October 24, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  15. Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

    The word Hajj is derived from Latin word Ḥaǧǧ, means going backward, for some goons, evil souls, self-centred, take it literally, and come back, criminals, Hajj, a passport to crime of humanity, criminal secular goons, do not deserve a place in Jinnat, next to ALLAH, with beautiful hoors, goons.

    October 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • MAGICUNDIES

      allah is dead and mohammed never existed

      October 24, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      hinduism, stupidity of hindu's, denier's of truth absolute.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  16. KeyserSoze

    One lesson from the Haji: Jerusalem is not the sacred site for Muslims. Mohamed never set foot there. The Koran has no mention of it.

    May you pray in peace.

    October 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Alain

      Jerusalem is one of Islam's most holiest cities, in addition to Makkah and Medina.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Alain

      The Quran mentions Jerusalem plenty of times.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • MAGICUNDIES

      koran what a joke..mohammed has nothing to do with jesus and there is only one name under heaven whereby a man can be saved and it aint mohammed or allah fu&&&in idiots

      October 24, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Only a hindu ignorant can say, as you hind, lie in your hindu Judaism, filthy secular ism.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  17. Sean

    It is incredible to see how far brainwashing can take people. The Hajj brings so much money to Saudi Arabia, who does not need it since they discover oil. However, so many people use their life saving to go and walk between dusty mountains and look at a black stone so they would go to haven, incredible!!!

    October 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Alain

      Would a Jew be considered "brainwashed" for visiting Jerusalem? The purpose of the Hajj isn't for Saudi Arabia to make money; in fact, the Saudi government spends millions just to accommodate the pilgrims and to make sure things remain safe, up to date, etc.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  18. biden-is-a-genius

    Five lessons from the Hajj:

    1. Kill the infidels
    2. Kill the infidels
    3. Kill the infidels
    4. Kill the infidels
    5. Kill the infidels

    October 24, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Kill hindu, bigamy
      Kill hindu infidel
      Hill hinduism, denial of truth absolute
      Kill hindu's denier of truth absolute
      have peace, Islam on earth.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  19. 1gadawg

    I see that 'Cube' and all i can think of is Star Treks 'The Borg'......

    October 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  20. Educateyourself

    1. For all the people who posted ignorant comments, please educate yourself because there is no truth to anything you are saying about Islam. This is why the world is what it is, because it is full of ignorant people who think they know what they are talking about when in actuality they know nothing or they receive their information from bias sources which they believe to be truthful, if they ever received a good college education and learn the basics of research to get credible information then your comments or stances on issues would be more meaningful instead of full of ignorance like is displayed on many of these comments.

    2. If you do not care about Islam why are you selecting a story that is about Islam or maybe you don't have a life and you like to be a hypocrite who spends their time practicing hate while accusing others of it, STOP with your double standards.

    October 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • TheProtagonist

      Thank you.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Christian one

      You are right, and I'm as christian I don't accept hurting others, Happy Feast.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Answer

      The problem with Islam starts at Islam.

      Don't blame the West for having these views if YOUR OWN KIND are the cause of the casualty from the fallout of your own religion. You backward camel herders need to EDUCATE YOUR OWN KIND to not do violence. PURGE YOUR STUPID KORAN of your 'jihad'. PURGE YOUR OWN rhetoric of "infidels".

      Do your own criticism of your OWN RACE FIRST. SPEAK OUT and PUNISH YOUR OWN KIND FOR THE VIOLENCE THEY CREATE.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • itsme

      If you do not care about Islam why are you selecting a story that is about Islam or maybe you don't have a life and you like to be a hypocrite who spends their time practicing hate while accusing others of it, STOP with your double standards.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • MAGICUNDIES

      you are an overeducated idiot

      October 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • BG

      Educate myself?

      I did – many years ago. I read the Koran. I read the Hadiths. I became aware of how the Shari'ah was used as a club over the Muslim people, how selective and corrupt the al-fiqh Islamic judgments were and how the entire 'religion' is nothing more than a political tool to encourage hate and rationalize conflicts with imaginary enemies, even among various sects of Muslims. I learned that pillars of Islam are designed to encourage, if not demand, that the world respect the contrivance of the Muslim superiority-complex over infidels.

      And who do I have to thank for 'educating me' about the Islamic 'faith?'

      The action (and inaction) of it's followers – and for this I thank each and every one of you.

      Your 'religion' is a scam designed to create the illusion of supremacy and righteousness of it's 1-point-whatever-billion followers.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Being a hindu, ignorant from hindered gutter of hinduism illegality have no right to speak view of the world, stay in your hindu filthy cage, hindu, filth of the world.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • dadomac

      Educatemyself- Perhaps if the lessons learned by muslims from this experience could also be applied to their non muslim brothers, there would be peace. That's the big problem, the lessons apply only to themselves. Tell me it isn't true- koran teaches war agaisnt the infidels.Contrary to the christian teaching to love the enemy, which of course is largely ignored. At least the latter teaches good manners.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Farid

      Thank you for your response

      October 24, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • ALI RAJAOI

      I honestly agree with your comment. Any human should respect other human religion no matter where they came from, we all the son of Adam and Noah we all came from clay and will go back to clay the majority is 9 months pregnancy or less or more no difference at all. Tolerance is very important. Co exist with each other respect one another, do to other what you wanted done to you. How long are we going to be this way for?? Do some reasearch learn about the topic have an open mind and make some comon sense before saying anything especially the negative stuff. Learn about any religion before you comment on it. As far as the US we love it to death and it is the place to be but who really contribute to the success of the USA culture and people from all over the world and not only one kind of people so every one have the right to leave and exist as long as they are Legal, obey the law, be good citizen, pay taxes, defend the nation from any harm or evil. I could write more but that is enough for right now GOD IS GREAT AND ABOVE ANYONE

      October 24, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • BG

      @ ALI RAJAOI

      "Any human should respect other human religion no matter"
      Bullshít. There is nothing to respect in your 'religion.' Islamists say they want 'respect', but the only way they can achieve it is through fear. You are a liar, and Islam is a fraud.

      "Tolerance is very important. Co exist with each other respect one another."
      Islam: the religion of hypocrisy...

      "Do some reasearch [sic] learn about the topic have an open mind and make some comon [sic] sense before saying anything especially the negative stuff."
      I did. What I found is negative. What are going to do, shoot the messenger?

      "As far as the US we love it to death..."
      Interesting choice of words... but accurate if Britainstan is any example.

      October 25, 2012 at 2:06 am |
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About this blog

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.