The pilgrimage was never merely about rites and rituals, for it has always involved science and progress, culture and intellection, and economics and humanities. Here we delve into Hajj as a civilizational ecosystem that speaks volumes on efforts, opportunities and prospects; past, present and future. Unveiling stories and tales of morals, values and meaning worthy of being heard by the world over in an attempt to raise awareness of this glorious timeless journey, the amazing people running it and those fortunate enough to embark on it .
There is no doubt that Hajj is a divine miracle that occurs yearly with great facility. And while there's no room for much detail on this here, it suffices to say that there is an abundance of incredible human creative effort involved, thanks are to God, for the leadership and citizens of Saudi Arabia, which, over time, collectively developed Hajj into an impressive and creative annual fete.
And if we applied innovative institutional elements to Hajj systems, it would have to commence from services provide all the way through to the pilgrims' satisfaction and enriched experience. Perhaps the 5 most prominent components of innovation that I would like to highlight here would be:
(1) Multiple Languages and Cultures: One cannot find a human gathering on this massive scale, in such a small spot, encompassing most of the languages and cultures of the world except during Hajj! There is no other way to explain this except to believe that behind this mass of humanity is God's mercy but also a perpetual will to employ innovative ideas. Perhaps many are unaware that behind this mass of humanity is the hajj organizational system, which includes most of the ministries in Saudi Arabia but also supporting Institutions that specialize in Hajj and Umrah and many centers and individual volunteers. Is it no small effort to provide service centers that understand all those languages and cultures except during the Hajj—from reception until the final farewell. The Hajj system takes into consideration all these differences and needs while preserving its public identity. This is the culmination of creativity and hard work, which finally results in a satisfied pilgrim overcome with joy and eager to repeat such an experience time and again.
(2) Unified Timing: Some compare this human gathering with other touristic mass gatherings in other countries, which cannot be entirely accurate as such comparisons ignore an essential aspect (also a significant challenge) which is that the Hajj gathering unfolds at one time, in a unified time frame. It is thus unlike other events or year-round heavily touristic countries, where the density of visitors is distributed throughout the seasons/year. Hajj is not like this at all. This massive challenge Hajj organization takes on with a high level of professionalism and strategic planning, where work for the next hajj season begins the very day the current season ends, through a precise and detailed analysis of what needs improving, developing and changing each year.
(3) Multiple Activities in Multiple Places: Some may expect that the challenge in the Hajj system is solely limited to its density, diversity, and timing, thus overlooking the critical challenge in terms of different activities taking place over multiple locations! I was talking with a friend in America about this challenge, where some of the world's largest entities organize gatherings in a limited area to carry out one unified activity, with a specific location and designated entrance and exit. Hajj, on the other hand, is defined by moving from place to place and engaging in a multitude of activities. Thus, the Hajj is an innovative system for properly controlling mass human gathering, which travels between Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina to smoothly perform timeless Islamic rituals. This is achieved by analyzing the characteristics of each rite and providing all means of necessary for safe and successful access.
(4) 24-Hour Service: Some people think that the creative challenges stop at the three massive abovementioned challenges, but one cannot oversee that logistics, security, accommodations, and volunteer services are offered around the clock and at nominal fees! Most mass gatherings around the world have clearly defined hours and extremely high prices! Not the hajj system. There is work around the clock, at nominal rates and frequently wholly free, and this is what made the operation of pilgrimage impressive, but also difficult to imitate. It is based on innovative solutions because the high-cost burden on the service provider is never charged to the clients.
(5) Innovative Products and Services: Despite all these immense challenges, the hajj system continues to innovate to provide the best and most high-quality tents, transportation, and meals. There is a specialized research center for Hajj and umrah, where support units offer the latest technology for hajj services and innovative means directly related to hajj safety, lost pilgrims and anything related to pilgrim accommodation, transportation, and guidance—religious or otherwise.