Mecca calling

Visual Sunday

Newsha Tavakolian is a self-taught photographer who started working with the Iranian press at the age of 16. She worked with ten different reformist dailies, all of which have been banned since. At 21, Newsha began working internationally. She has covered social and political stories from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen for a number of well-known magazines and newspapers including Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and National Geographic. Her current works section between documentary photography and art, with a special interest in covering women’s stories.

This is her photographs and small stories from the photo series Haj.

“If a Muslim gets to go on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, he or she should ask all family members for forgiveness, which I did via a text message after I was granted a press visa to take pictures there. Not soon after, people came around bringing essentials for the trip. My aunt gave me prayer beads, my cousin made me a white dress, which is the customary colour during the hajj. “Don’t push people when it’s busy,” an uncle told me. “Don’t talk, just pray and read the koran,” said my cousin’s wife. There were a hundred requests: “Please pray for me”, “Ask God to help me find a nice wife, a house, restore my health”, and many more.

Everybody looks the same, everything is white. I’ve been ploughing my way through the crowds for the last five hours, carrying my two cameras. I want to push, but the words of my uncle are ringing in my ear. “Don’t push people, it’s forbidden to push,” he told me before my departure. So I let the crowd carry me along. We are moving towards Mount Arafat where a sea of white robes converge on a rocky desert hill outside Mecca. Hajj is a special journey, I have never seen millions of people concentrating on the same thing: their God and their beliefs. It’s mystical and spiritual at the same time.”

SMSTEXTMSG: Please forgive me if I’ve done you wrong in any way. I’m going on hajj.

The first day of hajj. Pilgrims arrive in Mecca by the thousands. In total, 3 million will gather here during the ceremony.

Pilgrims going to pray at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Every year, the Saudi authorities build more hotels around the Grand Mosque and the rest of the city.

Ghassan, a Saudi officer, overlooks pilgrims while they pray at the birthplace of Prophet Mohammad.

Praying intensively.

Helicopter view over Mount Arafat, the place where Mohammad became a prophet.

Pilgrims gathering at Mount Arafat.

A pilgrim takes a ride on a decorated camel so that her family members can take souvenir pictures.

A family takes pictures next to the Grand Mosque.

Praying in the streets of Mecca.

Pilgrims resting before they make the steep climb up on Jebel Al-Noor to the Al-Herra cave, the place where Prophet Mohammad received the revelations of the Quran.

Pilgrims resting before they make the steep climb up on Jebel Al-Noor to the Al-Herra cave, the place where Prophet Mohammad received the revelations of the Quran.

Helicopter view of pilgrims crossing the desert on their way to Mount Arafat.

Afghan pilgrims praying.

A woman in personal prayer by the rocks at Mount Arafat. As part of Islamic traditions, pilgrims gather here from dusk till dawn to pray and read the Quran.

Helicopter view of the Grand Mosque and the holy Ka’ba.

Reflection of myself in a window near Arafat. I’m finally alone after having been in a sea of people.

On my return home, my family organised a special party called Valimeh. This is a traditional way of formally greeting pilgrims coming back from the hajj. New pilgrims can now be referred to by their honorary title “hadji”. Everybody came to my parents’ house, bringing gifts.

My traditional dress which I wore as part of my clothes during the hajj. I wore it one last time during the Valimeh party in Tehran.

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5 thoughts on “Mecca calling

  1. عيد مبارك يا حلوين! وكل عام وانتم بخير كلكم

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