Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Virtual Hajj

This year, because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Hajj pilgrimage has been limited to only one thousand pilgrims. For Muslims the sacred Hajj pilgrimage is an essential life journey, a trip which they must make (if they are capable) at least once in their lifetime.

The Kontinentalist has created an interactive story map, Inside the Sacred Hajj Pilgrimage, which explains how people undertook the Hajj in the age before air travel. Before the age of flight pilgrims would often travel by kapal haji (ships). For many Muslims traveling from Southeast Asia Singapore was an essential hub for the journey to Mecca. Pilgrim brokers, boarding houses, and stores in Singapore all catered to the needs of the many pilgrims taking the Hajj.

The Kontinentalist article also maps out a step-by-step guide to the Hajj. Using another story map the article explains some of the rituals, journeys and prayers that pilgrims must make over the many days of the Hajj.

Nowadays of course many pilgrims undertake the journey to Saudi Arabia by plane. The Kontinenalist explains how the numbers taking the Hajj has surged since of the advent of air travel. In fact since 1988 Saudi Arabia has introduced a quota system to manage numbers, issuing one pilgrimage visa for every 1,000 Muslims in each country.

Despite the quota system millions of people still make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by plane. In Flying to Hajj Al Jazeera visualizes and explores the 16,888 flights made to Mecca during last year's annual pilgrimage. The map shows the thousands of flights from all around the world which converge on Mecca during the  Hajj.

To reach Mecca many pilgrims fly to Jeddah,  the nearest airport, which is 80 km from Mecca. Alternatively pilgrims fly to Medina to visit the Prophet's mosque at al-Masjid an-Nabawi, before then completing the 450 km trip south to Mecca. Al Jazeera's Flying to Hajj map visualizes over 10 million individual GPS co-ordinates from all inbound flights to Jeddah and Medina over the Hajj period. On the map you can view the tracks of individual planes arriving from all around the world as they approach and land at Jeddah and Medina.

The country with the most flights to Jeddah and Medina last year during the Hajj was Egypt, with 1,618 flights. The UAE, Pakistan, Turkey and India, in that order, sent the next most flights to Mecca. The top three airlines (by number of flights) were Saudia, Turkish Airlines and EgyptAir.

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