All Roads Lead to Mecca
In all of Islamic history, no location has equaled Mecca's prestige. From Muhammad's first supernatural encounter to the Qur'anic sermons given in its ancient streets, this city is inseparably part of Islam. Today, Muslims’ prayers from across the globe are physically directed toward Mecca, its Grand Mosque, and the Ka'ba. Looking to the future, most Muslims believe Mecca will play a major role in an Armageddon-type battle and the final Day of Judgment. For conservatives and liberals, Arabs and Malaysians, rich and poor, the city of Mecca holds an eternal place in the heart of every follower of Islam.
While some Saudis use the Qur'an and other Islamic texts to legitimize their militancy and are willing to kill for their faith, the majority abstain from such actions. Though conservative Wahhabi practices and interpretations are popular in Saudi Arabia, there are also other shades of Islam within the kingdom. Worldwide, Islam is understood and observed in as many ways as any other major religion. Despite differences of opinion regarding faith and practice, nearly all Muslims look forward to a common experience—the pilgrimage to Mecca, known in Arabic as the Hajj.
In accordance with the specific directives of Muhammad, Sunnis and Shi'ites, “Twelvers” and Ismailis, literalist Wahhabis and mystical Sufis, conservative clerics and liberal librarians, moderate mailmen and militant mujahedin all travel to Arabia each year to complete the Hajj. While in the Saùdi kingdom, Muslims from around the globe visit the cities of Mecca and Medina to take part in prescribed rituals that date back to at least the seventh century. From the symbolic stoning of Satan, to the seven counterclockwise trips made round the Ka'ba, multitudes of men all dressed in white separate themselves from hordes of women all dressed in black as they re-enact rituals conducted by Muhammad and countless faithful after him.
Each year, about 2 million Muslims hailing from more than seventy countries enter the Saùdi kingdom during the month of pilgrimage to take part in the Hajj. This annual pilgrimage injects the Arab Wahhabi nation with a mosaic of ethnic and theological diversity. Not only that, but this yearly event brings a steady flow of money to the Islamic Holy Land and its Wahhabi custodians. Though every “true” Muslim is called to visit Mecca at least once in his lifetime, some are excused from this duty for physical or financial reasons. Even those who cannot make the sacred trek find their faith intimately connected to this Saudi city.