Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Jordan / New York
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(1) Yes, KSA places strict controls on Hajj visas. In most countries, one must apply months ahead of time, and they only accept people of a certain age from certain countries. For example, being under 50, DH and I could not get visas for Hajj from Jordan (esp. him); but we can get them from the US. I believe they also place quotas on how many people from each country allowed, and on giving visas to repeat hajjis.
(2) If someone were to somehow show up at the border of the city of Makkah at the Hajj time, I'm pretty sure that they can't / won't turn that person away. In add'n. to the estimated 2.5 million Muslims from other countries that come to Hajj, they were telling me the other day that another 1 million Saudis show up (but b/c they are resident, and do not have visas, they are not counted in those tallies).
(3) Politics aside, the one thing that gov't has been fairly good at is Hajj crowd control and the improvements of the Holy Masajid. As an example: for YEARS they tried to get the Hajjis to use the trash cans that they set up at intervals of 7 ft or something like that, but many of them just wouldn't do it / didn't occur to them. People die every year, and people have died every year on Hajj for centuries. It was not very long ago (ie, within the last century) that families bid their hajjis goodbye for good, b/c the chances were very great that the pilgrim would not live to return. Besides the stampedes & other accidents, there are illnesses and "run of the mill" things like car accidents, etc. that happen. It is important for us, as Muslims, to remember that these people are not unfortunate, but that they are shuhadat, witnesses (or "martyrs") in the Paradise.
(4) The next most preferred time to visit Makkah is to make 'Umrah, or "little pilgrimage" in the month of Ramadan. Again, during this month there are strict controls on visas and entries, etc., and the crowds can reach up to 2 million. I was supposed to go this year, but ... LOL, my own family didn't believe me when I told them about the new, stricter passport / visa rules, so they were denied (applied too late), mash'Allah wa quwatta billah.
(5) What makes the Hajj hajj, besides, as Muslimomma and Umm Nuh said going in the prescribed days of the month Dhul-Hijjah, is not visiting the Ka'aba or running b/t Safwa and Marwa, or stoning the pillars representing the Shaytan. What makes Hajj hajj is the Standing at 'Arafah. This can ONLY be done on the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, and it must be done before the mid-afternoon prayer, or 'asr. If one performs all of the other rites, but does not make it to the Plains of 'Arafah by 'asr prayer, one has not made Hajj. What is done at the Standing at 'Arafah is just prayer, meditation, contemplation of the Qur'an, and more prayer. It is a "dress rehearsal" of sorts for the Day of Judgement, in our paradigm.