Mecca is considered to be the holiest city in Islam, and is important to Muslims for a number of reasons. The Prophet was from Mecca and returned there before his death. The Hira cave, on Jabal al-Nour, is reportedly where the Prophet received his first revelation.
Islam is also an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion that is strongly rooted in the traditions associated with Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe that Mecca is the place where Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka‘bah. According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad returned the Ka‘bah to its former status as a monotheistic site, rescuing it from the polytheism that had taken it over in previous centuries.
Various rites are performed during this highly spiritual journey, and pilgrims are expected to follow a simplistic and pure lifestyle during the days of Hajj
There has been a substantial increase in the number of pilgrims during the last 100 years, particularly among foreign pilgrims.
Traditionally, the pilgrimage to Mecca was mainly an overland journey using camels as a means of transport. During the second half of the nineteenth century steamships and railways began to be used This continued for some time until air travel came to predominate; Egypt introduced the first airline service for Hajj pilgrims in 1937.Today, many airlines and travel agents offer Hajj packages, and arrange for transportation and accommodation for the pilgrims.
In 2017, the number of pilgrims coming from outside Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj was almost two million.
Between 1940 and 1945, foreign pilgrims were restricted from arriving in Saudi Arabia as a result of WW2. All pilgrimages from 2020 onwards will be severely restricted as the country deals with the coronovirus pandemic.
Main image: Hajj 2008, Al Jazeera English, Flickr Creative Commons