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. Dad Dee Oh

    What about "stoning"? What do muslims learn when they throw stone at the site? Does it has anything to do with stoning punishment in Sharia?

    October 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Wasi

      Stoning of the pillars is following the actions of Abraham when he was commanded to sacrifice his son the satan appeared in 3 different human forms to disuade him and disobey God's command to sacrifice his son. Muslims repeat the ritual stoning by throwing stones at 3 pillars. It reminds us to be mindful and vigilant against satan's constant attempts at leading us astray.

      October 14, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • Sheila

        Wasi, how come your god is not powerful enough to just cause satan to stop bothering us?

        Maybe you should consider a god like the Flying Spaghetti Monster instead, who nurtures and feeds us, and for whom devils cannot exist (other than a few tea party Republicans, who are on their way out the door anyway).



        October 15, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  2. HRABX

    This is all good but I am more curious why participation has dropped 30%. The article states that 2 million people are doing it this year "one million fewer than last year".

    October 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • asti

      This is due to the expansion of the mosque, the mosque of Mecca is under construction, so the Saudi government has reduced the number of hajj visa for pilgrims coming to the hajj this year.

      October 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • jack

      because they are all Hajjing to western countries for free handouts

      October 15, 2013 at 3:15 am |
  3. Commenter

    Ooooh, oooh, oooh, are we about to get a "Like this" feature. Yay!

    I have often thought that having only "Down" votes (Report Abuse) counted (thus resulting in the post's disappearance) was not fair.

    Eds, I guess you know that it is making the page jump and stall while "loading", but hopefully you will work out the bugs.

    October 14, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
  4. Like this

    What no "friend me"?

    October 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Like this

      This new link is impacting the site performance.

      October 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  5. TimeTraveller

    I think the Kaaba would look good broken down and ground into dust and turned into a peaceful Shinto sand garden in my living room.

    October 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  6. Phoniv

    The last slide with the soldiers marching with sky masks on is a bit inexplicable.

    October 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Abujess

    Is'nt haj gathering an idol worship. Allah is believed to be ommi present. Revolving around a black stone in faith with prayers is akin to idol worship.

    October 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • Phoniv

      how about that meteorite that is sometimes inside, sometimes not

      October 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  8. Abujess

    The Kumbhmela ; and the Sabarimala pilgrimage (season) -both for Hindus are much larger in crowd gathering.

    October 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  9. Ken

    OK, I bet that they wouldn't welcome me setting up an "Say No to ISLAM" booth at the event. So I guess they wouldn't embrace counter religious ideas there. Race is only one form of tolerance. Until they embrace freedom of religion this festival is great big Islamic racist/idealistic picnic. The idea of race transcends just color. They are no better than neo-Nazis who I despise as well.

    “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.”

    October 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • ME II

      This "event" is held in and around Mecca. Non-Muslims, if I understand correctly, are not allowed in Mecca. So, No.

      October 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • Ken

      I am not of any religion (even atheist) and I would not deny anybody the right to make up their own mind on the truth of the universe. The very foundation of Islam rejects the tolerance of anything dissimilar to itself. What if something else is right and everything you have been told is s lie, in a religious state you would be branded a heretic. Islam is so afraid, it refuses to let you make up your own mind. Any religion that has zero tolerance is....

      October 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • ME II

      Doesn't any religion in effect make a claim of being right, even if the claim is to tolerate other. What if intolerance is the "correct" way to behave?

      October 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
      • ken

        Circular argument....

        October 14, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
      • Mostafa

        The first word in Quran that was delivered to prophet Mohamed is " Read". Allah want us to read and use our brain to find Allah. Allah do not say just be a stupid and follow me. Quran includes so many scientific facts, which were discovered few years ago but were written in Quran more than 1400 years ago. Allah give us brain to use it to find Allah.

        October 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
        • ME II

          Not sure what science you are talking about specifically, but any such claims should be viewed with skepticism.

          October 14, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      I can't imagine they would welcome you with that sign in the same way pilgrims visiting the Vatican wouldn't like you if you had a sign that said "Say no to Jesus." I sense you have a much deeper hatred for Islam as opposed to other religions.

      October 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  10. JB

    One word... rhymes with cones..... drones!!!

    October 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Reality # 2

    Only for the new visitors to this blog:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than FIVE seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc.) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request

    October 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      From Google Translate:

      فقط لصالح الفريق الضيف الجديد ل هذا بلوق :

      وضع kibosh على الدين كله في أقل من خمس ثوان : لا تقدر بثمن !

      • بقدر ما أحد يعرف أو يمكن أن أقول ، لم يكن هناك أي إبراهيم أسس اليهودية والمسيحية و الإسلام هي غير موجودة .

      • بقدر ما أحد يعرف أو يمكن أن أقول ، لم يكن هناك أي موسى دعائم اليهودية والمسيحية و الإسلام ليس لديهم قوة العزيمة .

      • كان هناك فشل لا غابرييل أي الإسلام كدين . فشل المسيحية جزئيا .

      • كان هناك فشل لا عيد الفصح أي المسيحية تماما كدين .

      • لم يكن هناك أي موروني المورمونية هو ليس أكثر من عبادة الأعمال.

      • المقدسة / التبجيل الأبقار ، الآلهة القرد والطوائف و التناسخ ، وبالتالي فشل الهندوسية كدين .

      • الدهون بوذا هنا ، نحيل تماثيل بوذا هناك ، انبعث / تولد من جديد تماثيل بوذا في كل مكان يجعل ل لا على البوذية .

      • دورة مستمرة من التناسخ حتى يتم التوصل إلى التنوير والمعتقد أن مختلف الكائنات ( الملائكة ؟ ، أجراس العبث ؟ الخ ) موجودة أننا ، كما البشر ، لا يمكن فهمه يجعل ل لا على السيخية .

      وأضاف التفاصيل المتاحة بناء على طلب خطي

      October 15, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  12. Mary

    They are required to do it, I wonder what hideous punishment awaits someone who doesn't want to participate.

    October 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Amine

      Hi Mary, Thanks for the interest, actually no punishement, only people who can afford doing it can do it !

      October 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • 2811

      Dude there's no hideous punishment, you have to do it if you are physically and financially able. You people have to read the article before starting to spread your hate, you're jumping into conclusions without knowing anything about this religion, you should try to learn new things and make yourself more interesting. The wise does not reject anything, on the contrary so please leave your hate somewhere else.

      October 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
      • Alias

        2811 DUDE,
        You're wrong.
        This is required of all muslims who are able. It is a valid question, from a non-muslim perspective.
        No one said anything about te poor or disabled, you threw in that idea.
        The answer is you risk eternity in Hell.

        October 14, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
        • sam stone

          Question: Is every Muslim required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca?

          Answer: Performance of the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is required of every adult Muslim, male or female, if physically and financially possible.

          from about.com islam

          October 15, 2013 at 5:34 am |
  13. Madtown

    “I also try to educate my Muslim and non-Muslim friends, co-workers and peers on Islam,”
    Certain people here wouldn't want to listen. According to certain people here, there's only 1 "true" path to God.

    October 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  14. Apple Bush

    What Time does B.T.O. play, or is it Starship tonight?

    October 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |

    $3.00 up to three flavors!

    October 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Thai Satay and Sauce

      Chicken or Beef. Peanut sauce available. $4.00 a plate.
      Drinks $1.00

      October 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
      • Lion's Club BBQ

        Pulled Port Sandwich $3.00
        With chips and drink $5.00

        October 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
        • ACHS Cheerleaders

          Hotdogs $3.00
          Drinks $1.00

          October 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
        • CHURROS and TACOS

          Tacos 3 for a dollar (street tacos)
          Pollo, Asada or Pastor
          Hot or mild.

          Drinks $1.50

          October 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
        • CHURROS and TACOS

          Churros 1.00

          October 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • YMCA

      Cotton Candy, Popcorn, Nachos and Sodas

      Everything is: $3.00

      October 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • Pretzel King


        October 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  16. Gary Borges

    I thought the Kumhba Mela of the Hindus was the biggest pilgramage in the world? I think it has around 7 million participants.

    October 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  17. Tutuvabene

    If you don't like crowds, the hajj is not for you.

    October 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  18. doctormink

    Where will rhey park Air Force 1??

    October 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • MikeyZ

      Please, go hunt for a birth certificate or something, and let the grownups talk.

      October 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      Wait, birthers still exist? I thought you all died off from your unsurvivably low IQs.

      October 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  19. 2 million only?

    pope gets a few hundred thousand every sunday, and over a few weeks in the summer, probably get 5 million to vatican

    October 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • I think....

      we get more people in al sharpton or jesse jerk rallies here in Washington.

      October 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  20. donald

    this will be a great time for a stampede.

    October 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
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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.