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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 12:47 GMT
Diary of the Hajj
Pilgrims circulate around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque
Huge numbers of pilgrims have arrived for the Hajj
As millions of people stream into Saudi Arabia for next week's Hajj, the BBC's Rabiya Parekh has joined the pilgrims and is writing a diary for the BBC News website.

You can also hear her talking about her Hajj experiences on World Have Your Say on the BBC World Service from 1800 GMT, Monday to Friday.


Myself and my colleague are now back in Jeddah after six days away from our hotel base.

It has been an extraordinary week, although after a while events seemed to merge into one sleepless day.

One thing I have learned from reporting on this Hajj is this sense of Chinese whispers and how they feed through the city, particularly about the tragic hotel collapse.

This seemed to resonate throughout the Hajj, particularly when regarding the numbers of pilgrims attending.

One stallholder selling gowns for women told me confidently that up to 30 million people could fit in the Grand Mosque.

It actually holds "only" around one million.

We met some fascinating people during our time here, but everyone was similar in the sense that they were desperate for their Hajj to be accepted.

Everyone sensed this as they prayed and bent in supplication to God. It is not enough just to perform the rituals here.

I also will always remember walking to where the stampede had occurred in Mina last Thursday.

We were quite close to the bridge of Jamarat and we watched people walking back from where the stampede had taken place. The sheer look on their face and the shock in the women's eyes was frightening.

I also remember the aftermath of the building collapse earlier in the Hajj. The first thing I remember seeing was bodies being pulled from the wreckage and people in obvious pain.

It was a real shock to the system.

So, despite all the magic of the Hajj - my second - and the special journey we have taken, it was not the same as my first journey.

I will always associate much of this time with the pain I saw.


More than two million Muslims congregated today at the Jamarat Bridge in Mina to hurl stones at pillars representing the spot where the devil appeared to Abraham amidst tight security.

At the same time, Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, is being celebrated.

I spoke to two Somali pilgrims who now live in America: Mohammed, from Washington DC, and Nasim, who lives in Atlanta.

Mohammed revealed that he had been coming to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj for the past six years and expressed relief at the tight security for today's ritual.

Nasim, meanwhile, admitted that the past week's events had been challenging.

"It is physically demanding," he said. "It's a challenge to have to walk long distances, to sleep outside, to throw the stones and go through the crowds.

"But still, it is a sign of worship. Everything we do, wherever we are - in Mina or Mecca - is a form of worship.

"People may feel tired and hungry but they know they are fulfilling their worship. Everyone is happy."

I had wondered if any of the pilgrims felt cut off from the outside world, but Mohammed reassured me.

"In this new era of technology we can connect whenever want with cell phones," he said.

"We are in touch with our offices and we also talk to our families and friends."

As for me, I've had about four hours sleep in the past two days.

I'm trying desperately to catch up, but with so many commitments it is exhausting.

I think there is going to be a much lighter Rabiya when I get back.


Most of the pilgrims have now arrived in the city of Mecca.

For Friday prayers, hundreds of thousands of people were crowded into the Grand Mosque.

Those who could not get in were praying in the streets as far as the eye could see. It was an amazing site to see a wave of people, dressed all in white, praying behind the imam in the mosque.

For many people here it is their first Hajj, although some will have performed the lesser Umrah pilgrimage.

I spoke to a few pilgrims today.

One told me: "It is wonderful to see. It is so busy here with so many people.

"Whenever it gets to prayer time everyone rushes to the mosque to pray and between prayers you can read and talk to fellow Muslims."

I also spoke to pilgrims Hissam and Hanka from Holland.

"It's like a family gathered together comprised of all Muslims from around the world," Hissam told me.

"There are different nationalities, race and colours here. There are white American people here with blond hair, people from north Africa, all gathered together.

"It is beautiful to sit and talk to people and to hug them as friends."

I asked Hanka if she felt a sense of fear from the sheer amount of people, especially after the tragic hostel collapse.

"You don't feel any fear, because people have the same thing in mind here," she tells me.

"It's not a rock concert. You want to pray and be close to Allah, but the crowds remind us Muslims of judgement day, when all people from Adam to those born at the end of time are gathered together.

"This is like a sneak preview of that."


A real mixture of emotions today. Thursday started off relatively well - we had planned to perform the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah today and woke up early so we could get in to the city of Mecca early and miss the crowds.

I went for Hajj in 2004 with my wife and it was the most memorable thing I've ever done
Bashir, Blackburn, UK

Understandably many security measures have been put in place at the present time, and there are numerous checkpoints to get in and out of the city.

It means that we are at the mercy of our Ministry of Information's official driver's time-keeping, and today picking us up at 0800 actually meant him arriving at our hotel in Jeddah at 1100... Patience, patience, patience...

Performing the Umrah and the Hajj requires the pilgrim to enter into a state of Ihram, where a code of conduct must be followed.

Firstly dress: Women can wear any form of clothing in line with the rules of sharia but men must wear two pieces of unstitched cloth. It is a symbol of equality - all men and women are equal in God's eyes.

The state of Ihram requires the pilgrim to abstain from talking ill of anyone, intentionally harming anyone and abstaining from sexual relations with their spouse.

From the moment you make the intention to enter into the state of Ihram, you must also spend your time in remembrance of God, focussing on why you are performing these rituals.

On reaching Mecca I knew the task was not going to be an easy one. The closer we got to the Grand mosque the harder it was to make our way through the crowds.

Pretty much every pilgrim wanting to perform the Hajj this year was now in the city.

Everywhere I looked all I could see was a sea of white, people from all walks of life; young, old, black, white.

Everyone had congregated here to perform one thing - it was a truly incredible sight.

On entering the Grand Mosque we made our way to the middle - towards the Kaaba.

The first ritual requires pilgrims to walk around the Kaaba seven times. This is known as the Tawaf.

But before that, a worshipper is blown away at seeing Islam's holiest site. No matter how many times a Muslim makes their journey to the mosque, one is always overwhelmed by the size of it.

The slow journey down the marble steps into the courtyard is difficult because so many people are going in the same direction, but you don't mind.

The presence of the Kaaba keeps your gaze fixed.

On performing the Tawaf, we offered two units of prayer, followed by the drinking of water known as Zam Zam.

We then completed our Umrah by walking between the hills of Safa and Murwah, seven times.

Finally, men must then either shave their hair or cut it short and women must cut a lock of hair to end the rituals of Umrah.

So, we completed our Umrah and made our way back to our hotel to get to work with gathering some material for broadcast.

All that changed when news came through that a hostel close to the mosque housing pilgrims had collapsed and many were feared dead.

It was almost time for evening prayers and you could not move around Mecca because everyone was making their way to the mosque.

I dodged my way through street after streets of pilgrims laying out their prayer mats in the road to get to the site of the collapsed building.

Part of the building had fallen away, crushing anyone beneath.

It was a long and trying day, I was grateful to finally get to back to our hotel in Jeddah.

But my mind was never far away from those people who had come to this holy city to fulfil their religious obligation, but would never make it despite being only days away from the start...


We finally got to Mecca on Wednesday. It was, by all accounts, a unique visit.

The Saudi authorities are reluctant to allow any kind of broadcasting from within the compounds of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, so we spent most of the day trying to find a building we could broadcast from to get a clear signal.

In theory, it seemed a simple enough idea, since the Grand Mosque is surrounded by five star hotels and shopping plazas.

However, trying to explain to our guide and security officials what we were trying to do proved very difficult.

We managed it in the end, by getting to the roof of the 34-storey Hilton Hotel right in front of the mosque.

It is a spectacular view - just after mid afternoon prayers, the sun was starting to go down but there was enough light to capture the majesty of the Haram.

It was my first sight of the Kaaba on this trip and the thousands upon thousands of pilgrims walking around it.

From where I was looking down it certainly looked orderly; a gentle stream of people filing in to the mosque, making their way in and walking around the Kaaba seven times.

I will be performing my Umrah later, so we shall see just how orderly it is down on the ground.

The mood in Mecca at the moment is one of anticipation and anxiety.

There is something very sacred and magical about praying in the Mosque facing the Kaaba. It is something Muslims envisage doing every day in their five daily prayers.

However, when in prayers you must concentrate on the imam leading the prayer. I cannot do this when I am here watching all the pilgrims go down in prostration at the same time.

It is like a blanket, all in unison, all adhering the same code and conduct

Watching as many as two million people do that at this time of year is incredible. You share a sense of community - we are all here for the same purpose, we are all equal.

It is a truly unifying experience.

Undoubtedly, millions of people converging on one place brings with it all sorts of logistical problems, ones we became all too aware of.

Getting around Mecca on foot is the only real way of travelling, but you must have patience.

People will push and they only push to get past because the person behind them is being pushed and the person behind him is being pushed.

It takes three times as long to get from one end of the Mosque to another, but that is all part of the experience!

After a long day yesterday there is another early start on Thursday and as per usual our ride is late. Time keeping here leaves a lot to be desired, but maalish [no problem]!


What a journey! I left home to get to Heathrow airport at 5am on Monday morning - what should be an eight-hour flight can take up to 24 hours from London during the Hajj season.

A stopover in Bahrain, coupled with official checks at customs and passport control, meant I did not end up getting to my hotel room in Jeddah until 0500 local time this morning.

I have to admit, my journey seemed relatively easy compared to most pilgrims who have travelled out to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.

Once pilgrims land in Jeddah, they must make their way to the holy city of Mecca to make the lesser pilgrimage of Umrah.

This should only really take around an hour. But because of the sheer number of pilgrims - estimates range from two and a half to three million - pilgrims must go through a series of rigorous checks at the airport which can take anything up to eight hours.

Then they board official buses to take them to Mecca. Traffic and random pit stops prolong the journey by another six hours and make for an incredibly tiresome start to their Hajj.

But the most amazing thing is the level of tolerance they have.

Many have saved up all their lives to undertake this journey, but they do not seem to mind all the waiting around.

Their patience is commendable.

I spent the day catching up on sleep and taking a tour of the old city of Jeddah.

Jeddah was once the primary gateway into Mecca for those undertaking the Hajj by foot or camel.

We were shown the old routes and photographs of how much the city has changed to accommodate the increasing number of Muslims who undertake the journey.

It is extraordinary to see how such a small city has developed to make the journey easier for pilgrims.

Wednesday is a really big day for me as we are going to Mecca, to visit the Great Mosque that houses the Kaaba.

Although I have been a few times before, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming feeling you have when you first see the Kaaba.

Muslims pray five times a day in the direction of the Kaaba, the house of God, and believe it was built by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael.

But that is all for tomorrow, I need to catch up on some sleep...


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