Pilgrims from around the world, and from all walks of life, are leaving Mecca this weekend as the Haj concludes.
The true meaning and success of the Haj is measured individually, in each participant’s sense of spiritual renewal. But already it is evident that as an exercise in logistics and transport, the 2013 pilgrimage has been well organised and has come to a successful conclusion. This is a credit to Saudi officials who have been able to apply modern principles of crowd management to this solemn and time-honoured exercise in devotion.
After years of steady rapid increases in attendance, some 3.1 million people journeyed to Mecca for the Haj last year, a number big enough to strain the resources of any city. This year, to be sure, the numbers have been somewhat lower, because of renovation work at the Grand Mosque and concern about Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.
But both of those constraints will be transitory, while the appeal of the pilgrimage endures. As The National reported this week, Saudi researchers are using innovative techniques to measure and manage the crowds, reducing transit times and improving comfort. It is reassuring to know that modern methods can facilitate this age-old spiritual experience.