As 2 million plus Hajjis now embark upon returning home, having completed their Hajj and of one of the five pillars if Islam one wonders at what price?
Arguably the immediate cost in modern times is the financial cost which if current Hajj inflation rates go will soon be out of the reach of the ordinary Muslims as £5,000 a person in the UK are now becoming standard for ordinary packages. It truly will become in some ways a once in a lifetime experience along the affordability scale. Mind you, it shouldn’t and wasn’t always like this.
In days gone by aspiring Hajjis took all forms of routes to get to the holy Khabba and there was a firm believe that where there was a will, Allah would create a way. Hajji’s a century ago would travel thousands of miles by foot, horse and latterly trains and planes. You set your goals and you set off free from the bureaucracy as we know it whether it be from the requirements of the NHS or Saudi Government for immunisation and need to register and remain with approved Tour Operators. There were no Tour operators as we know over 50 years ago. In fact any physical sufferings and hardships were expected and indeed welcomed as windows that cleansed impurities from your soul and made that path to heaven in the hereafter possible. The last thing on a Hajjis mind over a century ago would be food, hotel arrangements, Ziyarat itineraries in comfortable modes of transport. What you found during the journey and on arrival is what you accepted. Every 24 hours in the holy lands were essentially an opportunity to connect spiritually and seek forgiveness and cleanse ones self for the day of judgement.
These days it seems Hajj is big business all round and the modern Hajji expects.
During my first Hajj in 1997, I stumbled across a hotel across the road occupied by a South African group. Much to my horror I witnessed them dining with knifes and forks and waited upon each table by local servants. Perchance i requested to see a room and saw 4 poster beds included with curtains for that intimate privacy. Each couple and family had their own quarters which I envied as I hurriedly returned back to my economy packaged hotel and small room. This I shared with 5 other men with my single luggage separating me from my newly found allocated colleagues from over the Pennines in Yorkshire. Women folk were segregated as sacrosanct from the men.
Modern packages remain a far cry from my experiences and to those a century ago. The modern hajji expects value for money. In fact the norm is ‘Expectation’ all round. The Hajj remains the biggest money spinner outstripping even Las Vegas for revenues in such a short time, has all the trimmings of a win win situation all round. Saudi Government coffers bulge fat balances as do the profits of Tour Operators at this time. Everyones a winner it seems. But modern consumerism deems that the customer must obtain customer satisfaction. Health and Safety laws, food hygiene, lectures and tours edifying the travellers minds all ensure that they get value for money. Inevitably at the end of the ardous and challenging religious obligations the Hajji will partake in great celebrations amidst a party atmosphere in the hotel as he bids farewell on his final Tawaf e Ziyarat. So so different than say in 1917. But is the price paid really enable one to truly feel the salvation felt as in days gone by? I once heard an elderly man in my mosque announce, ‘its one big holiday where the real meaning is lost nowadays’.
I heard of a dozen or so males that cycled from London to Mecca in 6 weeks – a feat which even professional cyclists would be proud of. Then there was an Indonesian man that set off last year walking and made the plains of Arafat, Mena and Mecca in time. I suspect there were countless more also that still attached to the ways of the old Hajjis. For they will truly have connected to the almighty in their efforts. But today as the price of doing ones Hajj continues to rise so do the home comforts that go with it. As I focus on the trends and wonder when the music stops metaphorically will muslims awake to the reality of whether the price paid really reflects their true intended religious aspirations for this most important journey.