Jordanians’ pilgrimage to Mecca epitomises Muslims’ spiritual journey of haj from everywhere

After performing haj, pilgrims return to their countries and observe Eid al-Adha — the festival of sacrifice.
Saturday 27/07/2019
Muslims pray at the Grand mosque ahead of the annual haj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
Annual rites. Muslims pray at the Grand mosque ahead of the annual haj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

AMMAN - Millions of Muslims make the journey each year to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, for the haj, one of the five pillars of Islam.

This year, 7,000 Jordanian pilgrims are expected to travel to the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad to perform haj, the greater Muslim pilgrimage, and umrah, the minor pilgrimage.

Last year, 46,000 Jordanians registered for the haj and 5,636 received approval to go. This year, 28,995 Jordanian citizens registered for the pilgrimage. Saudi Arabia has given permission for 7,000 Jordanians to participate in the haj, an increase of 1,000 permits from last year.

The selection process is set down in regulations, including that only those who have not previously performed haj to Mecca will be placed in an official draw.

Jordanians were able to apply for a visa online instead of the traditional paper visa, a development should ease visitors’ entrance to Saudi Arabia. While some people complain about the cost of the haj — and the exploitation of some travel companies — the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places said it is watching closely to help pilgrims have a spiritual and safe journey.

“This year, all aspects for the haj and umrah seem to be more organised, which might guarantee a smooth pilgrimage,” said Ziad Momani, who performed haj last year. “The haj is a great spiritual journey in which pilgrims leave all worldly things behind them and wear only two white pieces of cloth. It is a way of making everyone the same, whether rich or poor and it is called Ihram, which resembles the leaving of this world and preparing for the journey towards the hereafter.”

“There is a sense of equality when a person goes to haj or umrah because everyone is stripped down to their humanity. Millions gather in one place at the same time to perform the pilgrimage, during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah, according to certain schedules and rites,” he added.

Travelling to Mecca to perform haj can be costly depending on the level of accommodation, transportation and facilities required. Jordanians wishing to perform haj must pay a $285 registration fee in advance to guarantee a place in Mecca.

“This amount can be reimbursed if they don’t get approval and, if they do, it will be deducted from the pilgrim’s trip’s cost,” he said.

“The whole journey might cost around $4,500 but, of course, there are options that are less costly. Some people who can afford usually stay in five-star hotels that are closer to the Great Mosque of Mecca that surrounds the Kaaba and travel by plane while other people who pay less travel by bus and stay at reasonably priced hotels.”

The Ministry of Awqaf said it will watch to make sure everything goes according to plan because of the numerous complaints by travellers.

After performing haj, pilgrims return to their countries and observe Eid al-Adha — the festival of sacrifice, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son.

The Quran states that Abraham and his wife Hagar had a son after many years of praying. However, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of devotion. Abraham travelled to Mecca to undertake the sacrifice but, at the last moment, God provided Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead, establishing the tradition of sacrificing sheep.

“It is a celebration that marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca. People gather with families and honour Abraham’s devotion to God by sacrificing a sheep, goat, cow or camel. Here in Jordan it is usually a sheep,” said Sheikh Mohammed Abed Qader, a cleric.

“The celebration also is a way of thinking of the people who are less fortunate. That is why portions of the meat are given to poor people. Others donate money to charity. It is a life-changing experience. It is a moment of repentance and forgiveness.”

After returning from haj, families often decorate houses and streets with palm branches, lights and signs and offer sweets to neighbours and relatives to celebrate their return from Mecca. Pilgrims also return with gifts, such as prayer rugs, prayer beads and water from the Well of Zamzam in Mecca.

The Eid starts with an early call to go to mosques for a special prayer, called Salat al-Eid, which is usually followed by a sermon called a khutbah or a speech that usually addresses political, economic and social issues.

“Family gatherings are very important in the Eid and exchanging gifts and the traditional Arabic greeting ‘Eid Mubarak’ — or in English ‘Have a blessed Eid’ — is usually uttered during visits,” said Ala’ Saeed, a mother of two.

“Children wait patiently for the Eid because they usually receive toys and money from relatives in addition to sweets. The Eid is always welcomed when families sit together and enjoy a meal as this is usually a time for families to get together,” she said.

While people wait patiently for Eid, travel agents are busy arranging for Jordanians to benefit from the long holiday to travel abroad.