Just 70km from the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah awaits Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. If you are a Muslim traveller, then paying a visit here will likely be something that has been on your bucket list for some time, and will hold real personal value to you. If you are not Muslim or even religious, you may think that a trip to Mecca isn’t for you or that it is inappropriate for you to travel there. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Once a year, Muslims from around the world travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Though it makes sense that people from overseas cannot travel to the country every year for the occurrence, it is expected that Muslims take this journey at least once in their lifetimes. This sacred journey is called hajj.
Why Travel to Mecca?
From staying at Buddhist temples in Thailand to live with Monks, to studying at Ashrams in India or treading the pathways to Mecca in the Middle East, there are numerous spiritual travel opportunities around the world that enable people (from all religions and backgrounds) to learn about the particular beliefs carried by the people in the country they are travelling in. Saudis are kind hearted people and even if you do not consider yourself as religious or spiritual, they will welcome the opportunity to teach you about their faith.
What is Mecca Like?
It may be surprising to discover that Mecca isn’t just a small mosque where people are praying, it is actually a huge city. It is incredibly modern and clean, and the central mosques within it are architecturally stunning, with beautiful interiors.
Mecca is home to the kaaba – aka, the place that all Muslims around the world face when they are praying, regardless of where they are at the time. At Mecca, attendees stand in a beautiful building. At the centre, there is a black rock which is covered by a beautiful tapestry featuring quranic phrases in a gold stitching. It is believed that the rock fell from heaven.
What Happens at Mecca
Over 15 million Muslims travel to Mecca every year. Until Saudi Arabia became more open for tourism this year, the majority of people visiting the country were Islamic pilgrims travelling for the purpose of visiting Mecca.
The pilgrims walk around the grounds of the kaaba seven times while reciting verses from the Quran. When they finish this, they stand at the foot of the black rock that is situated at the site and salute it. They also pray here at the central mosque and drink holy water. It is a beautiful and unique scene to witness whatever your religion, but especially if you are Muslim.
An Ancient Tradition
The pilgrimage to Mecca is certainly not a new development that arose in the last few decades. In fact, Muslims have been making this journey for centuries. The initial concept of the hajj was introduced back in 628AD. The very first pilgrimage in Islam happened in this year when the Prophet Mohammed set out on a journey to Kaaba with 1400 of his followers. Today, millions follow in his footsteps each year.
Considerations for Travelling to Mecca
Though Saudia are of course very welcoming people, you need to be mindful and respectful of the fact that a pilgrimage to Mecca is something that holds great importance in Islamic culture. This is not an appropriate time to act like an obnoxious tourist, snapping photos in people’s faces left, right and centre and wandering around in shorts and a tank top. There are a couple of ground rules to follow for travelling to Mecca, which we’ll help make your experience a positive and enlightening one.
If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia for the purposes of hajj (or simply participating in the event while you are in the country), then although you will need conservative clothing for travelling through the country (as outlined above), you will also need an additional, specific outfit for your pilgrimage to Mecca.
What to Wear in Saudi Arabia and in Mecca
The below outfits are what you should consider taking for your journey in Saudi Arabia. There is a further, different garment that should be worn for the pilgrimage itself which is then outlined.
What to Wear in Saudi Arabia for Women
Women that are travelling in Saudi Arabia should wear a black abaya (a full length traditional Arabic garment that covers all of your arms and legs). In accompaniment, they should also wear a headscarf, taking care to ensure that all of the hair is covered.
What to Wear in Saudi Arabia for Men
Men travelling in Saudi Arabia should wear a thawb, which is a traditional Arabic garment. A thawb has long sleeves and extends all the way down to the ankles, therefore, covering all of the body. The benefit of wearing this is it is also incredibly loose and comfortable (leaving plenty of room for all of the delicious Saudi food you will be stuffing your face with during your adventures in the kingdom) and shows that you are respectful of blending in with Saudi culture.
You can find abayas and thawbs at Islamic clothing stores in western countries so it is possible for you to purchase all of the garments that you need before your trip. Alternatively, these things are widely available at many of the markets and clothing stores in Saudi Arabia.
What to Wear to Mecca
Pilgrims wear a simple white piece of clothing for Mecca. If you can envisage a Greek-style toga, you are halfway to imagining this ensemble. This garment is called an Ihram. There are slight differences in this garment for both men and women. Women are expected to wear a small white jacket atop the Ihram to cover their shoulders, in addition to a white scarf to cover their hair.
Side note: If you experience difficulty in correctly putting on a headscarf, you can ask a local woman for assistance in preparing it for you so that it is secure and does not fall off mid pilgrimage.
It should be noticed that although wearing traditional conservative dress is not expected in general in Saudi Arabia (though you are still expected to dress respectfully), the rules are more enforced at Mecca and if you do not adhere to the dress codes you will cause offence or be denied entry to religious buildings.
Where to Find Garments to Wear to Mecca
As with the general traditional garments that are appropriate for travel in Saudi Arabia, it is possible to be Ihram at speciality clothing stores in the UK and other European countries, or once you arrive in Saudi Arabia.