Hajj homecomings and pilgrims’ gifts, past and the present

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A Muslim man shops for souvenirs and gifts at a shop in Makkah on Aug. 23, 2018, after completing his Hajj pilgrimage. (SPA)
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Pilgrips shop for souvenirs and gifts at a shop in Makkah on Aug. 23, 2018, after completing their Hajj pilgrimage. (SPA)
Updated 23 August 2018

Hajj homecomings and pilgrims’ gifts, past and the present

  • Long ago, they were simple, including hummus, nuts, sweets and toys for kids; now, they might include Zamzam water, gold and dates
  • In the old days, a special chair was made from wood and palm leaves for pilgrims to sit on the day they returned from Hajj

MINA: Since ancient times, there have been customs and traditions associated with Hajj, not least the joyous celebrations to welcome pilgrims home from their spiritual retreat and, of course, the gifts pilgrims bring back for relatives and neighbors. As larger numbers of people from the world began to participate in the Hajj, the customs spread to all pilgrims, not only Arabs.

The nature of the gifts has changed over the years. Long ago, they were simple, including hummus, nuts, sweets and toys for kids. Now, they might include Zamzam water, gold and dates. Some of the pilgrims at this year’s Hajj shared their memories of homecoming celebrations and gifts from years gone by, and the gifts they will take home this year.

Massaad Al-Otaiby from Taif recalled the customs he remembers from about 60 years ago. He said people of Taif held a gathering called Sararah to celebrate the safe return of their relatives from Hajj. It was a happy and joyful family event, during which pilgrims placed pieces of cake on children’s heads, and everyone took part in folk dancing. The pilgrims brought toys for the children, such as models of horses and camels, along with photographs of the Prophet’s Mosque, the Grand Mosque and other historical landmarks.

Satti Al-Dumaihi, a Saudi, said that in the old days, typical gifts included hummus and candy, which the children loved to receive. Now, pilgrims return with gifts such as Zamzam water, mats and copies of the Holy Qur’an.

Nasser Al-Azimi, from Kuwait, said the gifts for his family will include djellabas for the men, miswak teeth-cleaning twigs, Zamzam water and prayer mats. “Gifts are essential and have become a ritual in our Kuwaiti society,” he added.

Indonesian pilgrim Tomi Satryatomo said Hajj gifts are also part of the customs of his country, and that he will take home dates, which are hard to find in Indonesia, Zamzam water, Saudi abayas, robes and miswak. Some pilgrims like to buy gold in Saudi Arabia, he added, because of its high quality and affordable prices compared with Indonesia.

Medhi Khifaji, a Saudi, said that in the old days, a special chair was made from wood and palm leaves for pilgrims to sit on the day they returned from Hajj. People would also paint their houses white and chant a special song as the pilgrims returned bearing gifts, including Zamzam water and dates from Madinah.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.