What Do People Who Live in Mecca Think of the Annual Influx of Pilgrims?

Muslim pilgrims arrive to throw pebbles at pillars during the ‘Jamarat’ ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, last fall.

Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Ibtehal Noorwali, Saudi by law:

As a Meccan, I have to say that it does get hectic during Hajj and the month of Ramadan. For example, a 20-minute ride to a certain location on a normal day may easily become a two-hour drive during high season, especially if that location happens to be close to the Holy Mosque or a holy site. Doctors and hospital staff are given very long shifts, stores and supermarkets open past their regular working hours, city hygiene plummets, and of course, prices of almost everything skyrocket.

To answer the question, I can think of four different stands that people may take with regard to the annual influx of pilgrims. These observations are based on my interactions with many families and individuals in Mecca:

  1. Joy.There are those people who are simply overjoyed by the multitudes of people and buzzing atmosphere. They prepare for these busy seasons beforehand, whether by preparing food, providing accommodation, or offering transportation, to name a few. I am not referring here to official, governmental preparations, which usually begin when Hajj of the current year is over, but preparations by the people and families of Mecca. My grandmother and uncle have been renting their building to pilgrims for many years now, and I believe they will continue to do so. They also provide dates for breakfast everyday during Ramadan for an entire section of the Holy Mosque. Even if no preparations are made, they go out to meet and interact with the pilgrims, help out those in need, and/or give rides and directions. They believe that these times are exciting and provide enriching experiences that should not be missed.
  2. Indifference. These people do not hate the busy seasons, but they do not take any part of the seasonal activities or preparations and simply stay at home, restrict their outings to necessary errands, and wait until the crowds subside if they live in/close to one of the heavily crowded areas. If they live in one of the unaffected areas, they go about their lives as they usually do.
  3. Aversion. Some people dislike the traffic, crowds, visitors, and all the changes that occur during Hajj and Ramadan in general. They either remain in the city, continue to complain and express their distaste, or leave the city altogether and come back when the season is over.
  4. Participation. Finally, these are the people who remain in Mecca mainly to participate in the rituals by performing Hajj, praying Taraweeh in the Holy Mosque every night during Ramadan, performing Umrah, etc.

Personally, I enjoy the liveliness, diversity, and overall festive/holy atmosphere during Hajj and Ramadan. Receiving pilgrims is the main thing that distinguishes Mecca and gives it its reputation, and which we Meccans take pride in. Not to mention the relative ease with which we are able to participate in and perform the different rituals. A great blessing in our opinion!

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