Babylon & Beyond

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

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SAUDI ARABIA: The Hajj flu

December 11, 2007 |  3:04 pm

It starts with a head cold then moves into your chest, accompanied by a low-grade fever. The Hajj is equal parts religious ceremony and punishing physical endurance test—and few pilgrims manage the whole process without their bodies breaking down at some point.

It’s a combination of factors: the sun, physical exhaustion, crushing crowds and close proximity with pilgrims carrying exotic contagions from around the world. “Nobody escapes it,” said Imam Moustafa Al Qazwini, who is himself starting to come down with the package of symptoms he calls “The Hajj Flu.”
Several people in Qazwini’s pilgrim group have already succumbed. During quiet moments in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the sound of pilgrims coughing echoes off the marble columns.

Qazwini, who has made 15 pilgrimages, recalls one trip several years ago where he actually made it through in perfect health. “I came back to California proudly declaring myself the sole survivor,” he said. “Then I ended up in bed for the next two weeks.”

Blog Mapper: Tracking the Hajj

— Ashraf Khalil in Mecca