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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

The colourful end to Hajj

With the shaving of the head, pilgrims culminate their journey and don their Eid finery, Naser Al Wasmi reports from Makkah

A Muslim pilgrim has his head shaved after casting seven stones at a pillar that symbolises Satan which is part of the annual haj pilgrimage rite in Mena. Reuters 
A Muslim pilgrim has his head shaved after casting seven stones at a pillar that symbolises Satan which is part of the annual haj pilgrimage rite in Mena. Reuters 

The last days of Hajj see Makkah transformed into an array of colour as pilgrims from almost 200 countries shed uniform white robes to don their Eid finery.

But brilliant statements of fashion fall short with the haircuts, as the vast majority have by now shaved their heads to satisfy a part of another Hajj ritual.

Muslims here consider themselves members of the same family, they have endured a physically and mentally taxing Hajj together and the act has forged a fraternal feeling that binds the pilgrims tighter together.

There is unity and equality in all actions, a sense of camaraderie that permeates the rituals, and now a unity has become physical in the article of haircuts, shaved in likeness to the Prophet Mohammed.

Some perform the ritual shaving themselves, others have their fellow pilgrims do it for them at makeshift roadside barbers. But for the majority, the shaving takes places in Makkah after they perform another circumambulation of the Kaaba. Unlike men, women usually just snip a single lock of hair.

Makkah, even at 2 a.m., is alive. During Hajj, shops never close and the barbershops work tirelessly.

Sameer, a barber working in a shop just 5 minutes from the Kaaba, takes a break to drink tea.

“I have maybe shaved over a thousand people,” he said sipping on his milky brew. “This is the first time I sit down in 8 hours.”

Pilgrims, many still donned in the two white shawls customary for Hajj, beckon him to shave their heads. He declines their patronage saying, “go somewhere else, I am too tired or wait 5 minutes”.

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Hajj:

Timeframe: Pilgrims perform the Hajj in 1948

Fourteen million pebbles - Hajj pilgrims stone the devil

Devoted pilgrims scale Mount Arafat for Hajj pinnacle

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There’s a unique commercial relationship found in the vast expanse of the indoor shopping arcade, several barbers are within steps of each other but the usual competitiveness inherent in their trade has been lifted.

“During Hajj, I know I will have customers, it’s not a matter if I can get more, it’s a matter of how much energy I have for work,” Sameer said.

His technique is spotless, as someone who has done this, according to him, thousands of times just during this Eid alone. Realistically, he shaves an average of 10 people an hour.

To maintain cleanliness, each customer is given a new razor blade and wrapped quickly in a thin plastic sheet to catch the hair shaved from the root.

The plastic bib doesn’t catch all the hair as huge clumps lie on the floor waiting to be swept away.

When I told him that he should start a business, just selling cut hair, which has commercial and agricultural uses, he waved the suggestion off as ludicrous.

Shaving the head, a sign of transformation, is capped off with abandoning the white garments, signifying their journey of Hajj is coming to an end.

Although it is not mandatory to shave completely, only to trim hair short, it is advisable and part of Sunna or the way of the Prophet Mohammed.

“It’s in the likeness of Prophet Mohammed, to have done what he did and to be closer to him by having the same shaved head. Thank God for this,” said Qutaiba from Morocco as he gets his hair cut.

As a guest of the Minister of Hajj and Umrah, he is provided slightly better amenities than those available in the camps around Mina, including a barber.

And even for haircutters, there is a special place for shaving the heads of pilgrims.

“It’s a blessing, especially to do this now that a Hajji might pray for me during his time. I gladly do this for hundreds,” said Mahmood from Egypt, as he cut the Moroccan man’s hair.

After walking for hours, pushing through sleepless nights and praying relentlessly for hours, the return to wearing normal clothes marks the elevation to Hajji or Hajjia – the honorific for those who have completed the annual pilgrimage.

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