Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Visit to the sacred center of Islam, the Centre to which every Muslim turns his face in prayer, seems to many of the pilgrims like a visit to heaven. They seek God’s mercy, and in the hope of His acceptance, they seek to renew that covenant with Him and to be purged of their sins, casting off their past life as a man casts off an old suit of clothes, knowing that, in the words of the Prophet, he whose pilgrimage is accepted will return home “free from sin as on the day his mother bore him” The pilgrims find peace and the sense of purpose which they could find in no other place.

Travelling to Mecca and Madina was always difficult in the past. In the early days Muslims from all over the world traveled by Foot, Horses, Donkeys, Camels and by Boats across the Red Sea.

During the long journey some died of sickness, some were caught by desert storms, and some were looted on the way by organized armed bandits. Those who survived the extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst or attacks by Bedouin Marauder often succumbed to the plague. Survivors performed the Haj and it would take years for them to return back home safely.

With the passage of time and advance in technology, new mode of transportation came into being. Travelling by land gradually became easier with roads being constructed and more and more road transport available. At sea, Boats were replaced with steamships which moved faster and carried greater number of passengers.

The opening of Suez Canal in 1869 brought regular Steamer traffic from Europe – North & West Africa through Red Sea to the Port of Jeddah, some 55 miles from Mecca, thus reducing the passage time significantly over the previous route round the cape of Good Hope. With steamer traffic, it became commercially viable for shipping lines, throughout the world to operate for Haj, not withstanding that this trade was relatively short seasonal one and that these ships were generally put to other use during the “Off Season”.

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