Historic routes to Makkah symbolize Hajj pilgrims’ devotion to their faith

Special Pilgrims, seen here on Hajj in 1948, have traveled down the ages, building communication link between Islamic cities and kingdoms. (AFP)
Pilgrims, seen here on Hajj in 1948, have traveled down the ages, building communication link between Islamic cities and kingdoms. (AFP)
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Updated 06 July 2022

Historic routes to Makkah symbolize Hajj pilgrims’ devotion to their faith

Historic routes to Makkah symbolize Hajj pilgrims’ devotion to their faith
  • Muslims reached Makkah using four main routes that recall perilous journeys of pilgrims down the ages
  • Modern travel has made these routes obsolete, but many of them overlap with today’s roads and highways

JEDDAH: For centuries, millions of Muslim pilgrims have undertaken long-distance journeys to the city of Makkah to perform Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam. Well-established routes crossed the vast Arabian Desert and followed traditional paths from the far east to the north and west of the peninsula, surviving the test of time.

The ancient Hajj land routes from the neighboring regions materialized over time as a result of favored commercial routes and cultural and commercial exchanges. These centuries-old and deeply rooted cultural and religious traditions constitute one of Islamic civilization’s most important material vestiges. 

Pilgrims travelled for months in caravans and convoys of camels, horses, and donkeys, stopping at wells, pools, dams, and stations installed by passers-by, following some of the most famous Hajj routes in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims before them to fulfil the spiritual journey of a lifetime. 

“And proclaim to the people that Hajj; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” Qur’an 22:27.

Scholars believe that five main routes reached Makkah; others say there could be up to six or seven, but they are considered secondary routes. The primary four are the northeastern Kufi route, known as Darb Zubaidah, the Ottoman or Shami (Levantine) route, the northwestern African or Egyptian route, and the southern and southeastern Yemeni and Omani land and sea routes, also called the Indian Ocean route. 

Stretching more than 1,400 km through present-day Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the Kufi route was used as a path to Makkah even in the pre-Islamic age. Also known as the Zubaidah trail, it runs from the Iraqi city of Kufa to Makkah, passing through Najaf and Al-Thalabiyya to the village of Fayd in central Arabia.

The trail then diverts west to Madinah and southwest to Makkah, passing through the vast and treacherous desert sands of the Empty Quarter, Madain Ban Sulaym and Dhat Irk before reaching Makkah. 

Historians believe the Zubaidah trail was named after Zubaidah bin Jafar, wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, for both her charitable work and the number of stations she ordered to be established along the trail. The ancient path was also a known trade route, gaining increased importance and flourishing in the days of the Abbasid Caliphate between 750-1258 A.D. 

The trail is a candidate site for entry into UNESCO’s World Heritage list, similar to the Egyptian route, which also attracted the attention of Muslim rulers throughout history. These rulers established structures on the path such as pools, canals and wells.  




Some of the routes to Makkah stretch back to the pre-Islamic age, while Zubaidah well (right) has refreshed pilgrims and residents of Makkah for more than 1,255 years. (Universal History Archive/AFP)

They also built barricades, bridges, castles, forts and mosques. Researchers have discovered numerous Islamic inscriptions and commemorative writings engraved on rocks by pilgrims as they traveled along the road as a reminder of their Hajj journey. 

With time, these structures mostly deteriorated or were destroyed by raids, but many of them have left behind remnants which shed light on the history and heritage of Arabia. 

From the west, the Egyptian Hajj trail benefited the masses of Muslim pilgrims from Egypt, Sudan, Central Africa, Morocco, Andalusia, and Sicily who journeyed via Cairo. The trail travels through the Sinai to Aqaba, where a fork in the road separates the route into two. The first split is a desert trail that heads toward the holy city of Madinah and vast valleys towards Makkah. The other is a coastal trail that follows the Red Sea through Dhuba, Wajh, and Yanbu, then heads east to Khulais and onwards to the southeast, reaching Makkah. 

The course of this trail changed through time, depending on political circumstances and technological development, and at one point in time, it crisscrossed with the Ottoman or Shami trail. 

Perhaps one of the most well-documented journeys of Hajj can be found in the manuscripts of Moroccan scholar and explorer Ibn Battuta, which depict the journey through copious illustrations and notes. 

Propelled by the quest for adventure and knowledge, Ibn Battuta left his hometown of Tangier in 1325. He took the African route, traveling by land along the Mediterranean coastline toward Egypt and seizing an opportunity to acquire knowledge of religion and law and meet with other Muslim scholars. 




The sacred shrine of Islam in the courtyard of Masjid Al-Haram (Sacred Mosque) at Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Engraving from Mouradgea d'Ohsson, Paris, France, 1790. (Photo: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Over a year after the start of his journey, Ibn Battuta took a road less traveled through the Nile Delta in Egypt to the Red Sea port of Aydhad, and from there by ship to Jeddah on the other side of the Red Sea coast. His travels took him to Jerusalem, then Damascus, before finally joining a caravan of pilgrims following the Levant trail in 1326. 

Connecting the Levant to Makkah and Madinah, the trail starts in Damascus, cuts through Daraa, then passes through Dhat Hajj north of Tabuk, Al-Hijr, and Madain Saleh, then on to Madinah. Pilgrims from the north often stayed in the holy city, visiting the Prophet’s Mosque before continuing their journey to Makkah. Many pilgrims returning through the route settled in Madinah for generations to come, and would welcome passing caravans from their homelands.

Since ancient times, Yemeni routes have linked the cities of Aden, Taiz, Sanaa, and Saada to the Hijaz region of western Saudi Arabia — one trail adjacent to the coast, and another passing through the southern highlands of the Asir mountains. Though it could be considered a main route alongside the Yemeni route, the Oman trail, believed to be secondary, saw pilgrims travel from Oman along the coast of the Arabian Sea to Yemen. 

With time, facilities designed to ease the pilgrims’ journeys supplied water and provided protection along these roads to Makkah and Madinah.

Funded by rulers and wealthy patrons, the routes from Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and East Asia remained for centuries. No traveler journeyed empty-handed, as some carried goods with which to pay their way, and others bore local news that they shared among the provinces.




This file picture taken on May 26, 2021 shows a fragment of the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, the final one provided by Egypt (in 1961) during the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, on display at the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC). (AFP)

For generations, scholars have made their journeys towards the city, bringing along their concepts and ideas, contributing to scientific enterprise, and documenting the trip, noting the historical and cultural significance of the pilgrimage. Many of these scholars stayed in Makkah. Others settled in Madinah or headed north to such important Islamic cities as Kufa, Jerusalem, Damascus and Cairo to continue their studies.

Before the 19th century and the modern age of travel, these journeys would have been long and perilous. Though the actual ritual has remained unchanged in more than 1,300 years, the hardships and means of reaching the city of Makkah have eased and changed beyond recognition, with jets flying people in, buses and cars replacing camels, and Hajj bookings made with the help of the internet.

The routes died out barely half a century ago but they are well documented and preserved in memory as they symbolize the hardships pilgrims went through to perform the Hajj. They will forever preserve the spiritual footsteps of millions of devout Muslims on their climactic journeys.

Pilgrims far and wide have shared a spiritual desire that has brought masses of pilgrims across oceans, deserts and continents, just as it remains to this day and grows with each passing year.


New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials
Updated 28 September 2022

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials
  • Prince Khalid bin Salman said the ministry will continue to follow the path set by his predecessor, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new minister of defense, Prince Khalid bin Salman, met senior ministry officials in his office on Wednesday.

Formerly the deputy defense minister, his appointment was announced on Tuesday as part of a cabinet reshuffle. He takes over from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was appointed prime minister.

Prince Khalid gave a speech in which he thanked King Salman and the crown prince for the trust they have placed in him. He said the close attention his predecessor paid to the work of the Ministry of Defense had resulted the launch of its development program, which reflects the crown prince’s belief in efforts to maintain the highest standards of military development.

He stressed that the ministry will continue to follow the path set by the crown prince to become a modern institution staffed by professional and joint military forces capable of protecting homeland security from external threats, and leading alliances with high degrees of competency. 

 

 


Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council

Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council
Updated 2 min 19 sec ago

Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council

Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman met with the head of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council Rashad Al-Alimi on Wednesday.

During the meeting, Prince Khalid and Al-Alimi discussed the latest developments in Yemen, the Kingdom’s appreciation of the council’s efforts, and its wishes for peace, stability, and prosperity in the country.

Prince Khalid assured Al-Alimi that the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen will continue to support the Yemeni people and their aspirations for the council to achieve peace, stability, and security in their country.


Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub

Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub
Updated 28 September 2022

Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub

Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub
  • Ministry and Saudi British Joint Business Council will work together on platform to connect entrepreneurs in both countries with partners and investors

RIYADH: The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi British Joint Business Council to develop the Saudi UK Tech Hub, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The hub is a digital platform that aims to connect Saudi and British entrepreneurs with partners and supporters in both countries, while enhancing and supporting the technical ecosystems.

Under the agreement, which was signed by Ibrahim Al-Nasser, undersecretary at the ministry, and SBJBC CEO Chris Anis Hopkins, the two sides will establish a board of directors comprising representatives from the Saudi and British public and private sectors. SBJBC will manage the hub’s financial affairs and provide support.

By helping to facilitate knowledge transfer, increase investment, and strengthen relationships, the platform aims to support the efforts of both countries to develop their positions as regional technology and innovation hubs, authorities said.

 


Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister
Updated 28 September 2022

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister
  • Leaders wish Saudi crown prince success and hope that relations between their countries will continue to grow under his leadership

RIYADH: Arab and Muslim leaders have congratulated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.  

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum congratulated the crown prince on his appointment.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani wished the crown prince success and hoped the relations between the two brotherly countries will continue to develop and grow. 

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa also sent a similar cable. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “On this occasion, I congratulate His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, wishing him further success and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia further welfare and prosperity under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.”


Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge

Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge
Updated 28 September 2022

Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge

Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge
  • The UNWTO’s Natalia Bayona said that Saudi Arabia is a “priority because of how the country is committed to creating tourism as a public policy and as an economic sector” 
  • Bayona added that goals in the country’s Vision 2030 for “youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, sustainability, and tourism” are central to the UNWTO’s mission

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s blossoming tourism industry is being offered the chance to grow even faster through a UN challenge that helps nurture the best businesses.

Natalia Bayona of the UN World Tourism Organization has said she wants Saudi entrepreneurs to enter her agency’s Awake Tourism Challenge, whose previous winners have gained international experience and expert advice, and raised $350 million of investment over the four years it has run.

Bayona, the agency’s director of innovation, education and investments, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia is a “priority because of how the country is committed to creating tourism as a public policy and as an economic sector.” 

She added that goals in the country’s Vision 2030 for “youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, sustainability, and tourism” are central to the UNWTO’s mission.

“We’d like to give visibility and promote Saudi Arabia as a country making a strong effort in the tourism sector,” she said.

The challenge is a perfect opportunity to identify Saudi-based entrepreneurs trying to solve challenges they face in the sector, Bayona added.

Entrants are judged in one or more categories, including local community involvement, environmental work, good use of technology, employee development and the empowerment of women in business.

Bayona said the UNWTO is pushing for enterprises to employ locally to help develop rural economies.

“Eighty percent of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas. Tourism can be part of the way rural areas can be developed,” she said.

Bayona added that women’s empowerment is important “because they have the lowest salaries, the lowest-status jobs. Nonetheless, tourism is the sector that hires the most women worldwide.”

She said the basing of her agency’s regional office in Saudi Arabia shows how seriously it takes the country’s efforts to expand tourism.

The UNWTO’s partners include tourism bodies from more than 160 countries, 100 universities, more than 400 investors and around 500 corporations.

The Awake Tourism Challenge has helped winners raise more than $350 million and helped create more than 100 pilot projects. The deadline to enter this year’s initiative is Oct. 15.