Bravo KSA!

From the very first moment we set foot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as pilgrims, the hospitality of the Saudi people washed over us everywhere. It is something in the very culture of the Saudis that makes them bear these annual guests of over three million pilgrims. This is something that is really difficult for me to understand.

At the border itself, you see signs reading "The border forces welcome the guests of the Almighty". This is how Saudis refer to pilgrims – the guests of the Almighty. This kind of signs are everywhere on the road to Mekkah, with even the smallest towns we passed through having their own welcoming signs for pilgrims.

All the people you deal with as a pilgrim are humble and modest, treating you like a VIP diplomat. They help you as soon as they sense you need help or guidance and disappear into the background when you don't need their help, to let you ascend to your own spiritual highs.

Never in my life have I seen a more hospitable nation or felt more welcomed than I did in Saudi Arabia. Even the police officers are sweet-natured and kind. One officer in Medina almost drove me to tears when I overheard him telling a pilgrim in front of me, "You are not our guests, you are the guests of the Almighty. It's an honor for us to serve you; we seek closeness to Allah by serving you.

The whole country's attitude can be explained by this officer's words, at all levels of Saudi society. The government of KSA is doing absolutely everything it can to make performing the Hajj rituals easier for pilgrims, never settling for doing only what is necessary, but always going beyond this to do whatever else can be done, to make it as comfortable as possible for the pilgrims.

A good example of these efforts is the 'devil stoning' bridges, five-storey bridges built to facilitate the pilgrims' stoning ritual, an essential part of Hajj. This could be said to be necessary. But the local authorities generously went beyond merely doing what was 'necessary' in providing air-conditioning in these structures to make them more comfortable for the pilgrims. After all, since this is open to the elements, nobody would blame them if they didn't install air-conditioning, but the authorities there don't just think of it as a burden that they need to get rid of, it's a holy task for them, and they want to do it in the best way possible; they truly seek Allah's closeness by doing this.

The whole country takes part in the Hajj season; one part-time cook, who usually works in a vegetable market told me that vegetables and fruit are exported from all the cities in the Kingdom to Mekkah and Medina during the Hajj season to meet the increased demand in these areas. Policemen travel from all across the kingdom to work in Mekkah. Schools and government ministries are closed throughout this period and the whole country is in a state of emergency, and yet no one complains. Even taxi drivers in Mekkah don't complain about the jams caused by the Hajj. I can't believe these people!

The rich Saudis spend millions of riyals on pilgrims, with some giving away food or dates or sweets in the streets, and others giving cold water at the hottest times of the day. One elderly man arrived with his pick-up truck full of fresh tomatoes, probably from his own farm that he was distributing to the pilgrims.

People will hunt pilgrims out at gas stations, in order to board their buses and distribute religious books and cassettes. The whole thing looks like a carnival or a competition of generosity, completely out of this material world.
This is only a small part of what a single pilgrim could notice, from the immense efforts made to make this experience completely indescribable.
Thank you so much for your hospitality, dear KSA.

© Kuwait Times 2009

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