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Hajj represents the culmination of the Muslim's spiritual life. For many, it is a lifelong ambition. It is an event that witnesses the influx of Muslims of all races, cultures, and stations into Saudi Arabia. Over the years, improved transportation and accommodations have increased dramatically the number of visitors who enter the kingdom for pilgrimage. The Ministry of Pilgrimage Affairs and Religious Trusts handles the immense logistical and administrative problems generated by such a huge international gathering. The government issues special pilgrimage visas that permit the pilgrim to visit Makkah and to make the customary excursion to Medina to visit the Prophet's Mosque. An elaborate guild of specialists assists the hajjis. Guides (mutawwifs) who speak the pilgrim's language make the necessary arrangements in Makkah and instruct the pilgrim in the proper performance of rituals; assistants (wakils) provide subsidiary services. Separate groups of specialists take care of pilgrims in Medina and Jeddah. Water drawers (zamzamis) provide water drawn from the sacred well.

The rite of pilgrimage does not only has special significance in the life of Muslims but also has profound political significance for the Saudi monarchy. The king has given himself the title Khadim al Haramain, or "custodian of the two holy mosques,”. To prove themselves worthy of the title, Saudi monarchs must show that they are not only capable of defending the interests of Arabian Muslims but also of defending the holy sites of Islam for the benefit of Muslims all over the world . The Saudis have therefore invested heavily over the years in facilitating the arrival, transportation, feeding, and accommodation of pilgrims arriving annually for the rites of Hajj. New airport buildings, road networks, water supplies, and public health facilities have been provided. Much publicity has accompanied government contributions to the comfort of pilgrims. The government distributes bottled water, juices, and packaged lunches during the Mounting of the plain of Arafat; stationed ambulances staffed with first-aid teams in strategic locations; shows health education videos on airplanes and ships bringing pilgrims; and relieves pilgrims of the task of having to slaughter their sacrificial animal. The Islamic Development Bank now sells vouchers for sacrificial animals, which are chosen by the pilgrim and then slaughtered, processed, and frozen for distribution to the poor and needy.

These are but just a little of the gigantic services rendered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to pilgrims from all the nooks and crannies of the world.

 

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