Mecca and the Modern Day Hajj

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Millions of Muslims from around the world will start the hajj this week, the annual religious pilgrimage which begins in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The hajj is one of the pillars of Islam and it is considered the religious duty of every Muslim who is physically and financially able to participate at least once in his or her lifetime.

In October 2011, the author Basharat Peer went on the hajj and found himself ill-prepared for the modern day Mecca that greeted him. In recent years, the holy city has been rapidly commercialized with towering skyscrapers, vast shopping malls and luxury hotels. Peer described his experiences and the transformation of Mecca in The New Yorker: "I had not prepared myself for contemporary Mecca, a city of more than one and a half million people. In my imagination, it was dominated by the Kaaba, the minarets of the Grand Mosque, the stories of Muhammad, and the desert that formed the landscape of the Prophet’s life.”

Peer, a writer based in New Delhi and the author of Curfewed Night, reflects on the Saudi government’s ongoing redevelopment of Mecca, and his experience of the hajj, which he says in The New Yorker has become something of a modern spectacle: "It has been described by a Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj as resembling 'twenty Super Bowls in one stadium, when two million will come, and…these two million people will actually be taking part in playing the game.'"