National Geographic : 1966 Jan
My legs and heels were torn by a thousand toenails. Old women, lean Bedouin, bearded savants, husky soldiers, whirled together, pressing and parrying. Tears of joy streaked the faces of many, for they were reaching at last the sacred goal of a lifetime. After circling the Ka'ba, Husain and I ran back and forth seven times, as custom com mands, between Safa and Marwa. These two hills, though nearly half a mile apart, have now been enclosed within the giant mosque. Moslem legend tells how Abraham left Hagar here in the desert with their son Ishmael. Frantically she ran between Safa and Marwa, searching for water for the child. Finally the angel Gabriel led her to a spring. The same miraculous spring still feeds the Well of Zamzam. We stopped to wash our faces in its holy waters. The more pious doused themselves from head to foot. Pilgrims Pause for Sunset Prayer I climbed to the roof of the mosque and entered one of the minarets over the Gate of Abraham. I had taken a moment out from the pilgrimage rites, seeking a vantage point for my cameras. In darkness I groped my way up the precarious stairway that led around and upward inside the tower. Just at the call of sunset prayer I reached the cupola, 300 feet above the courtyard. I watched breathlessly while the most sacred and beautiful pageant of Islam unfolded (pages 2-4). A quarter of a million people stopped where they were and turned toward the Ka'ba. They seemed to form an immense and beautiful Oriental carpet-each tuft a white-clad pil grim-woven in ever-widening circles around the black square. Lamp posts added symmet rical patterns of luminous rosettes. Arcades and galleries of the giant outer mosque formed a border around the design. The hushed whispers of the crowd rose in a muffled chorus under the Meccan sky. "Al laahu Akbar!" In unison, all foreheads rever ently touched the gravel of the courtyard. After prayer, the carpet came to life as crowds once more began their churning around the holy Ka'ba. Beyond the spectacle the first lights of evening began to twinkle throughout the winding Mecca valley. The blood-red sunset retreated before a charging full moon and its army of stars. Next day on the plain of 'Arafat, 14 miles east of Mecca, the pilgrimage came to a cli max. In hundreds of thousands of tents pack ing the valley, the pilgrims, often whole fami lies, spent the day resting and praying (pages Shave of grace: White-bearded pilgrim in Mina bares his head to a sidewalk barber, completing the pilgrimage ceremonies. Now the man will shed the ihraam and put on his regular clothes for the trip home. Parched pilgrim pleads for water at the doorway of a hotel during the three-day rites in Mina. Wealthy Moslems book rooms in the village's large new hotels as long as a year in advance; others crowd the houses lining Mina's main street or pitch tents in the nearby hills. Thousands spread prayer rugs on the ground and sleep in the open. To cope with the annual invasion, the Saudi Government has built housing centers, drilled wells, and set up field hospitals.