Babylon & Beyond

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

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SAUDI ARABIA: Next up, frogs and boils

December 10, 2007 |  4:36 pm

As if the pilgrimage wasn’t steeped in enough religious symbolism, the hajj group from Al Salam Tours has had to contend with the swarms of locusts that inhabit Mecca, Medina and other Saudi cities.
The insects were out in force throughout Medina’s Mosque of the Prophet. At one point pilgrim Ellen Hajjali of Altadena was distracted mid-prayer by a locust that planted itself right in front of her as she was bowing. “It really felt like he was staring at me,” she laughed.

During the five-hour late-night bus trip between Mecca and Medina, the group stopped off at a roadside rest stop. As pilgrims trudged through the parking lot toward the public restrooms, they encountered a virtual minefield of locusts that would flare up to waist-height as they walked past.

This was actually a serious religious challenge for the pilgrims, who at that point were in the sanctified state of ihram. Pilgrims in ihram are forbidden to kill any living thing — even by accident.

When they re-boarded the bus, one young woman discovered that a locust had somehow crawled under her robes and up her arm. There was a brief moment of concern, as the pilgrims debated how to dispose of the insect without harming it. The woman and her husband got off the bus for a minute then returned to report the crisis had been averted: The locust had been freed unharmed.

Blog Mapper: Tracking the Hajj

— Ashraf Khalil in Mecca