National Geographic : 1966 Jan
January, 1966 AT IONAL GEOGRAPHHOIC THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICMAGAZINE VOL. 129, NO. I COPYRIGHT © 1965 BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICSOCIETY,WASHINGTON, D. C. INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED 0000^, 000,~ SAUDI ARABIA Beyond the Sands of Mecca ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY THOMAS J. ABERCROMBIE National Geographic Foreign Staff MULTITUDES packed the sacred hills and plains surrounding Mount 'Ara fat, praying and waiting through the blazing afternoon. Around me the rocky des ert landscape shone with the white costumes of the pious pilgrim throngs. They stood in silent devotion, as had the prophet Moham med thirteen centuries before. The white-hot sun slowly quenched itself in the caldron of haze above Mecca. Sunset was the signal-the spiritual climax of the annual Moslem pilgrimage. The mur muring prayers of a million souls reached a crescendo. "Laa ilaaha illa llaah! There is no God but Allah!" shouted the immense con gregation. "He has no partner. His is authority and praise." A cannon boomed in the distance. The mountains came to life as a human landslide poured into the valley en route to the next holy place (pages 44-5). From Khartoum, Cairo, and Istanbul they had come; from Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Chi na, Indonesia-Moslems from all over the world. Businessman, Bedouin, blacksmith, bureaucrat; pasha and pauper-all equal in the eyes of Allah, all individuality obliterated by the simple ihraam, or pilgrim's garb. The newly built four-lane pilgrim's high way overflowed with taxis, red Ford pickups, enormous diesel trucks, buses (their roofs piled high with baggage and passengers), bicycles, Cadillacs, and donkey-drawn water carts. I inched my Land-Rover through the slow tangle that stretched out of sight into the dusk. The hundreds of thousands on foot moved faster than those on wheels. Motor traffic was awash in a human tide. Saudis Cautiously Welcome Progress Never had I witnessed a greater display of unity and faith, or greater problems of logis tics. Amazingly, the world's biggest traffic jam takes place every year in desert Arabia! But Saudi Arabia, I found, is full of sur prises. Recently, as a Moslem and a guest of the Saudi Government, I made the journey to Mecca and the little-known Arabia beyond.