By: Ahmad Gharabli. Courtesy: AFP
CAIRO - 24 August 2017: In Islam, pilgrimage is a very special ritual of worship; it is the only one that encompasses travelling, and because it is a journey that costs money and effort, it is not mandatory for all Muslims; but only for those who can afford it.
This explains why those who go feel very lucky; they feel like they are chosen by their Creator to be among the few to make it to the holiest of places on this planet, and that is why pilgrimage is celebrated all over the world by the lucky Muslims and the close circle of people around them. The Egyptian celebration has its own unique flavor, with some of them having already started these days.
There is an old Egyptian tradition, which consists of drawing graffiti on the walls of the houses of the pilgrims; the drawings include the picture of the Ka’ba, and sometimes the green dome of the Prophet’s mosque with a sketched camel or ship; the old means of transportation for pilgrimage are still drawn. Around them, they script prayers asking God to accept the pilgrims’ good deeds, and to return home safely. These graffiti paintings are commonly seen in the outskirts of the large cities as well as the rural areas.
Another celebration takes the form of raising a white flag. Those who are going on the holy journey hang a white flag on their windows; a proud sign to show the neighborhood that somebody in this house is going on the holy journey. White flags are also raised by the vehicles that take the pilgrims to or from the airports, which means that there are pilgrims on board.
As pilgrims return to Egypt, a number of family members welcome them as they arrive at the airport. Some women go as far as giving a number of loud festive ululations, and some may even hire drummers to make it seem like a real celebration. Their relatives, friends, and neighbors visit them and shower them with gifts, and pilgrims give them souvenirs they bought which are mostly prayer mats, rosaries, headscarves, dates, musk and most importantly Zamzam water. They usually serve their visitors Sharbaat; the special Egyptian juice made of strawberry that is only served at celebrations. While opening the gifts and sipping the Sharbat, pilgrims share their stories and pictures from the trip they will always remember.