Saudi Arabia: Behind the Scenes of the Hajj

This may be putting the horse before the cart since we must first have Ramadan before Hajj, but I am writing this post in specific response to a query received.

“My question is about Hajj, my boyfriend mentioned, and I’ve heard a couple of his friends mention, his father and how he works for a month or so every year during hajj (they told me the name for it, i think it starts with M). Because of his family name, his father gets paid by the government every year to work during hajj and then when his father dies he and his brother will be paid by the government to do the work, or something like this. They tried to explain it to me but I didn’t really understand the link between family names, the government, how much they get paid and what their role during hajj actually is.”

I asked one of my Saudi friend’s who grew up in Makkah about this question and he gave a detailed response.


What he is referring to is about Mootwaf which is a business for taking care of the pilgrimage. In the past this was a free trade and anyone could engage in it as a business.  About 70 years ago it was regulated by the government issuing a license to the businesses. Fifty years ago or so the government regulated the trade even further to stop the amount of demand for these licenses by stopping issuing new ones all together.  So licenses remained only in families and passed to the children. Now 30 years ago the government came up with the ingenuous idea of having even more regulations by having full control of how services are provided to pilgrimage, so the pooled groups of the licensees into government controlled companies and the licensees started receiving salaries for the work. Hence Hajj services has become a socialized government run service instead of the thriving competitive business it used to be. My grand father from my mother side was a mutwaf who built a huge business by providing great service to pilgrims. Now the business is run by the government through these companies and my cousins are paid salary for their work instead of competing for it.


This website also provides additional information about the services of the mootwaf for those who wish to learn more.

Saudi Arabia: Hajj 1432/2011

Thousands if not millions of pilgrims had their dream come true with the completion of Hajj.  For many Muslims, Hajj may be one of the most difficult pillars of Islam to fulfill.  It not only involves a journey which can be expensive but also in order to manage the Hajj within Saudi Arabia, each country will receive a set number of visas.  Therefore for the pilgrims who are in Makkah on Eid al Adha are overfilled with joy and gratitude.

It is easy to recognize the male “Hajji” for he will have his head shaved which is part of the tradition of Hajj.  It goes without saying that barbers in Makkah make their best profits during Hajj.

During Eid al Adha one will see abundant generosity throughout the Kingdom.  I remember my late husband and I taking a niece and nephew out to a children’s park.  As we were getting them settled in the car a Saudi couple saw us with young children.  The couple stopped their car and gave bags containing candies and toys to my husband for the children in honor of Eid al Adha.

There should not be anyone who goes without a full meal during Eid al Adha.  In addition to Saudis giving meat to family, friends and the poor, all the mosques open their doors to all who wish to have a meal.  Many mosques will have a large tent beside the mosque where the ground has been covered with carpets and one can sit and enjoy the meal.  If driving by one of the mosques the aroma of food reaches out and tantalizes the appetite.

It was typical for my husband’s extended family to get together and enjoy Eid al Adha.  Usually the “gathering of the clan” would take place at my mother-in-law’s home.  But even if it were at another family members home, one could be assured that my mother-in-law would oversee the meal and do most of the cooking.  It did not matter how many of the large extended family were present, my mother-in-law could cook for an army!



Saudi Arabia: Hajj Mubarak!


American Bedu wishes all Muslim readers a blessed Hajj Mubarak!

Saudi Arabia: Anticipation of Hajj

Pilgrims are already arriving to Makkah in anticipation of performing hajj.  Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a desire of all Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime.

The pilgrims are full of anticipation for Hajj which will take place between 4 – 9 November.  Many Saudis are also full of anticipation for Hajj as it is one of the most lucrative and profitable periods.

While the performance of Hajj has remained the same, Makkah itself has undergone a significant face change.  There is the addition now of the Makkah clock tower which looms above the Haram and can be seen from all directions.  New sky rise hotels and apartment buildings are also dominating the landscape surrounding the Haram.  It’s not like the old days when the landscape was simple with the Haram the focus and landmark all eyes sought for.

Hajj has become much more commercialized too.  Many of the street vendors and small shops have disappeared.  Now a pilgrim can walk across the street from the Haram into the luxurious mall adjacent to the Hilton hotel.  There are other modern shopping malls which have cropped up in and around Makkah.  During Hajj the malls cater to pilgrims.

It is expected that there could be as many as 3 million pilgrims this year.  That also means there will be an increased need for taxi drivers, bus drivers, medical staff and other workers.

Interestingly, in spite of many young Saudi graduates unable to find jobs, the Kingdom is hiring 30,000 Egyptians to come and work during Hajj.

Saudi Arabia: Tabletop Pictorial Books

I’m a big fan of table top picture books and especially picture books whose photos encapsulate the essence and spirit of a place.  One such example is the book “Saudi Arabia” published by Desert Publisher.   The photos in the book are magnificent and accompanied by explanations which further enhance the knowledge of the subject photo and snapshot into the customs, culture and tradition of Saudi Arabia.

Desert Publisher has a series of photographic books about Saudi Arabia but the book “Saudi Arabia” itself is my recommended starting point.  This book focuses on the entire Kingdom from history, architecture, culture, crafts, traditions, agriculture, industry and even fascinating photos of the Kingdom from satellite.  Saudi Arabia gives the reader an overall understanding of the myriad which is Saudi Arabia.

Among the outstanding photos are close up photographs of the kiswah, the hand embroidered velvet covering of the Kaaba.  The versatile book further includes appetizing photos of traditional Saudi foods along with the explanations of the food, ingredients and regions from which the dishes originate.  Examples of typical sports, traditional dances and social activities are illustrated in detailed photos.

A photo can tell many stories about a place and Desert Publisher’s ‘Saudi Arabia’ is like a book of never-ending stories showcasing the contrasts and contradictions of what makes Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: Ramadan is Coming – Keep the Toilets Clean

I have always enjoyed traveling by car for the opportunities to see more and especially in Saudi Arabia which was a new territory for me.  However the first trip between Riyadh and Makkah I discovered that toilet facilities were abysmal.  I did not go further than the doorway at the toilet facilities provided by gas stations due to the stench emanating from inside.  Rest areas with private resting rooms where one can pay and have a room with a private toilet did not guarantee cleanliness either.  The other option was to use the toilet at the mosque which is always adjacent to a rest area.  Sadly even the toilet where one is to prepare themselves for absolution before prayers was probably among the worse.  I found in all public toilets that there would be inches of dirty water on the floor.  The “two stepper” toilets themselves would be covered with fecal matter, paper, sanitary napkins and sometimes dirty diapers.  A person is expected to situate themselves around this debris and conduct their private business.  Even the washing area for cleaning up afterwards would have dirty diapers floating atop the water.

After a few experiences of encountering such disgusting toilets I would have my husband stop in a more deserted area on the road with some privacy so I could go and relieve myself in the desert where it was much cleaner.  Either he or one of my stepdaughters would shield me from sight with a large blanket.  I was much more comfortable and less fearful of catching some kind of disease using the public toilets.

Arab news had a recent article also discussing the poor condition of the toilets at public washrooms during travel.  The article also includes the condition of toilets at shopping malls, train stations, airlines and on board flights.  It is true that the conditions of these toilets are just as deplorable.  I’m certain that individuals do not allow the toilets in their own room to be in such a condition so why do they overlook etiquette and cleanliness during travel?

Ramadan will be coming soon and there will be an influx of travelers to Makkah to perform umrah.  To keep down the risk of germs and disease the people should be cognizant and make an effort to clean up after themselves.  It would also be prudent to have attendants on hand whose duty is to ensure the washrooms are clean and usable.  The condition of the toilets does not enhance the image of Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia: An Introduction to Desert Publisher

It  gives American Bedu joy to share with readers that one of her favorite publishers specializing exclusively in photo books of Saudi Arabia is now online – Desert Publisher.  The books produced by Desert Publisher are exclusive photo books with illustrations featuring the Hidden Treasures and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  These books are ideal for anyone who is planning to come to the Kingdom and wants to capture the essence of the culture, traditions and customs before arrival.  The books also make the perfect gift for expatriates and Saudis alike.  Noone should be without their own edition of Desert Publisher books.

Presently one can purchase Desert Publisher books about:

  •  Janadriah – Saudis annual cultural festival which showcases the diverse crafts, art, music and traditions throughout the Kingdom.





  •  Mada’in Saleh – Mada’in Saleh is the “Little Petra” found in Saudi Arabia’s Hijaz region where the ancient Nabateans had made a home in the Kingdom.  Mada’in Saleh is known for its tombs, the origin of the Hijaz Railway and historic Al Ula.  The book is full of captivating photos and narrative to match. (available in English, Arabic, French, Dutch and Spanish)
  • Saudi Arabia:  This is an exclusive table top book filled with breathtaking photos giving one an introduction to all corners of the majestic Kingdom.  It provides contrasts between the modern cities and beudion villages, the sea and the desert, it’s cultural history and use of high technology.  This book breaks the barriers of pre-existing stereotypes propagated by media.  (Available in English, French, German, Spanish, Asian languages, Arabic and Russian)
  •  Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) – This book is one of American Bedu’s personal favorites.  The Empty Quarter is generally believed to be a lifeless stretch of desert however this book shatters those beliefs with the photos that show an Empty Quarter bursting with life and activity.  One of the most magnificent photos of a herd of Ibyx can be seen in this magnificent book.



  •  Sand Whispers – This small book is packed with special photos and accompanied by Arab proverbs and classic poetry.  (Available in English, German and French)





  •  Windows – The types of windows installed in various homes throughout the Kingdom over the years tell a history unto themselves.  This book showcases and illustrates some of the unique windows found in buildings and homes throughout the Kingdom.  (Available in English, German and French)



  •  Doors – If only a door could talk about the residents who lived in a house or visited through the doors, imagine how much more we could learn about the history of Saudi Arabia.  Doors, as the title implies, are a compilation of photos of the many different types of doors one will see on homes and buildings in the Kingdom.  Many of these doors have lasted for centuries due to the unique way they were crafted.  Illustrations accompany each photo to give the reader greater understanding for the type of door, structure and area in which it is located.  (Available in English, German and French)
  •  Visitors Guide to Maidan Saleh – This guide is a must-have for anyone planning to travel to the history area of Maidan Saleh, whether unaccompanied or with a tour group.  This guide walks a visitor step-by-step on what to see and do and bring with them on their trip.  This guide will enhance ones trip to Maidan Saleh.



  •  Facts about Swine Flu (H1N1) – Since millions of pilgrims converge from around the world each year to Makkah for the Hajj pilgrimage, this book is an extensive book about the threat and precautions of H1N1.  (Arabic only)




  •  Maid’an Saleh Post Cards – Twenty of the finest photographs from Maid’an Saleh have been incorporated into post cards making this a lovely keepsake or special card to send greetings from Saudi Arabia.



  •  Holy Mosque Post Cards – Twenty of the finest photographs taken of the Holy Mosque during the annual pilgrimage of Hajj making this collection a special keepsake.



  •  Saudi Arabia Post Cards – Twenty of the finest photographs showcasing the Hidden Treasures across the Magical Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Ideal as a special memento or to send from Saudi Arabia.

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