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Mecca journal: Sleepless in Mecca

November 16, 2010

After staying up all night, DW reporter Ali Almakhlafi is now wearing his new pilgrim's garment. In today’s segment he explains how fast a shopping mall can be turned into a prayer room.

DW reporter Ali Almakhlafi in his new Hajj outfitImage: DW

I'm now wearing official Hajj attire! And I'm curious to get reactions about how I look in my new outfit. So please check out my pictures. I’m pretty sure it will get a smile out of some of my friends and readers. But that's okay, because in my opinion, Islam should also be about humor and the joy of life.

Here in Mecca, I experience humor and the joy of life every day – even in the middle of huge crowds of people. During a bus trip with pilgrims from Austria, Italy, Brazil, and China all of us had some time to joke around in English which is our common language here.

GEDREHT Opferfest Islam Eid al-Adha Muslimische Pilger Mekka
Praying pilgrimsImage: AP

It reminds me of my time as a student in Damascus, where I and other international students lived with an Arabic-Catholic family. Of course, here all of us are Muslims and the atmosphere is quite spiritual. The other pilgrims are praying to God, they're praying in the bus even when it turns a sharp corner. But every once in a while during the ride we just shoot the breeze.

Today is the Feast of Sacrifice – the day when Muslims commemorate Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who's also worshiped by Christians and Jews. According to Islamic tradition, he was willing to sacrifice his son to God. But God refused his offering and a lamb was sacrificed instead. The story lead to a religious ritual: Every believing Muslim who can afford it is supposed to sacrifice an animal on the Feast of Sacrifice and then give its meat to the hungry and the poor. In Mecca, as you can imagine, this is taking place on a large scale.

Prayers in the shopping mall

Alis Mekka Tagebuch
Ali Almakhlafi at the KaabaImage: DW

But let me tell you about another intriguing sight I came across at the al-Haram Mosque. Right next to it, you can now find what is said to be the largest clock in the world. It's more than 600 meters high. It's absolutely breathtaking – I really have never seen anything like it in my entire life!

Equally astonishing to me was the fact there’s Starbucks coffee shop just next to the Kaaba. Also close by are a number of shopping malls and if the mosque is full, pilgrims simply venture over to shopping malls to pray.

In one of those malls, I met Layali and Farid – a couple from Vienna. For Layali it’s her second Hajj and she's really excited about it. In the middle of all the glittering shops and stores of the mall she tells me: "Material things have no relevance here. You really feel close to God and you understand how small you really are in relation to it all." After telling me that, she doesn't want to give any more interviews close to the Kaaba: "I want to focus on God exclusively."

I understand that, of course. Instead, I turn to Farid who says he has found his spiritual home at Mecca, but adds that "I'm a real Austrian – Austria is my homeland." Moments later, Layali and Farid vanish in the crowd.

Sleepless in Mecca

Alis Mekka Tagebuch
Masses of pilgrims at Namira Mosque in ArafatImage: DW/Ali Almakhlafi

Make no mistake, a pilgrimage is not a cakewalk. Last night I have been up and awake the whole night.

The day before, pilgrims prayed at the Mountain of Forgiveness and then travelled to Mina in order to collect stones for the symbolic stoning of the devil.

All of that made me think about a question posted by DW user Thomas Pudelko, who said that he had heard that the technical infrastructure in Mecca has been built with German support and asked whether this had a negative impact on the spiritual atmosphere.

No, I really don't think it does. The spiritual atmosphere is very intense and very impressive. And many people I meet say that the security has really gotten a lot better with the help of German engineers.

In Muzdalifah, the only stage of the Hajj where pilgrims spend their night outside, I dearly missed “good old German" organizational skills: It took us a three hours to get only a couple of kilometers ahead. And when we arrived, there was complete and utter chaos with hundreds of thousands of people running around aimlessly all over the place. Even worse, an old man got hit by a bus. I only hope he survived!

Answering the DW users

"How do you find your way through the crowd?" asked DW English user Sandhya Moirangthem. That's a good question, Sandhya. I wasn't really sure myself before I got here, but I learned pretty quickly. Most of the time the old rule applies: Just follow the crowd.

On the Facebook page of DW Arabic, Yuir Boston asked me to describe the life and daily routine in Mecca apart from the Hajj. Dear Yuri, besides the area of the Kaaba mosque, a lot of the places and Hajj-sites are abandoned and empty for most of the year – there's simply no one there, only the desert. I will describe the daily routine in Saudi Arabia in

more detail after my return.

Ali Mekka Tagebuch
This is supposedly the world's largest clockImage: DW

How do Saudi authorities make sure there are only Muslims attending the Hajj is a question posted by DW user "derks145". Well, you need a special Hajj-visa in order to get here in the first place. In most cases, you can tell the Muslim background by the names, too. Whenever there are any doubts, Saudi authorities also ask for proof in the form of certificates issued, for example, by a Muslim community.

And here's one more question posted by user Judith Puppe from Germany: "How much is the Hajj for Muslims?" Well, I asked around and suppose it's about 3000 euros. But I'm not sure about that really.

After not sleeping any last night, I will now attend the Feast of Sacrifice and the symbolic stoning of the devil. What’s more, pilgrims will also have their hair cut. So there are lots more interesting experiences to come in my next diary entries. For today I’ll end with this: Happy Feast of Sacrifice to all my readers – Muslims or non-Muslims!

Author: Ali Almakhlafi (ds)

Editor: Michael Knigge