“And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass …” (Qur’an 22:27)
The pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia, known to Muslims as the Hajj, is of the utmost importance to Islamic communities worldwide. A component of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Hajj is an exceptional experience undertaken by all physically able and financially capable Muslims at least once in their lifetime. Taking place every year from the 8th to the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijja (the Hajj month according to the Hijri calendar), the Hajj is first and foremost a religious occasion and a chance to meet in faith. At the same time, it also gives Muslims from all over the world the opportunity to trade and engage in intellectual and social activities. Over the centuries, Islamic rulers prided themselves in supporting all aspects of the Hajj. For over 400 years the Ottomans in particular exerted much effort in this regard, also facilitating the production of the Kiswa
(the cover of the Ka‘ba at the heart of the Holy Mosque in Mecca) and its transportation; it is conveyed within a special ceremonial tent (the Mahmal
), as part of the official Hajj procession. At the same time, Ottoman rulers also took pride in maintaining and expanding the architecture of all the Holy Places, as well as honouring them with precious gifts, which included luxurious textile hangings for both the Ka‘ba and the precinct of Mecca and the Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina (Madinah). With the opening of the Hijaz Railway in 1908, at least part of the pilgrims’ route was made easier, faster and more comfortable.