Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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SAUDI ARABIA: Low-key but comfortable

December 18, 2007 |  2:24 pm

HajjNational flags are everywhere during the hajj. Both as a display of pride and an attempt to keep track of one another, pilgrims here place their country’s flag on their buses, their bags and even on the back of their veils.

A quick glance through the streets or in Mecca’s Grand Mosque during prayers reveals flags from India, Turkey, Indonesia and Iran. One man sitting in the mosque last week wore a beige vest with “Kazakhstan” across its shoulders in large red letters.

But there are no American flags anywhere — despite a significant number of pilgrims from the U.S.
The group from Al Salam Tours in San Diego may not have U.S. flags sewn on its clothes, but members also aren't hesitant about telling people they’ve come from America.

Despite  ongoing tensions between the U.S. and most of the Muslim world, the Southern California pilgrim group members say the issue really hasn’t come up.

“Not that many people have cared, which is actually nice,” said Ellen Hajjali. As a fair-skinned Muslim convert who wears the veil, she’s accustomed to sticking out in America. But Caucasian Muslims are a common sight during the pilgrimage — Bosnians, Albanians and American and European converts.
“There’s lots of people here with fair hair and blue eyes,” Hajjali said.

Blog Mapper: Tracking the hajj

— Ashraf Khalil in Mecca