By Sarah Almukhtar
August 23, 2018
Pilgrims circled the Kaaba, which is considered to be the House of God,
at this year’s hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Dar Yasin/Associated Press
At least 1.7 million foreign pilgrims are
in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, this week for the hajj, the annual five-day pilgrimage
that Muslims from around the world make to follow in the footsteps of the
Amid growing demand and concerns for safety
after deadly accidents, the Saudi government has been rapidly expanding Mecca’s
hajj facilities to accommodate more pilgrims. At its peak in 2012, the hajj
included 3.16 million pilgrims. But even at a rate of 3 million people per
hajj, it would be impossible for all the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims to perform
the Islamic duty of the pilgrimage in their lifetimes. In fact, for all Muslims
who are alive today to perform hajj, it would take at least 581 years.
How long it would take to get every
Muslim to hajj
If there were 3 million people per hajj, it
would take 581 years.
Note: The timeline assumes a rate of 3
million people per hajj. Some years, hajj occurs twice because it follows the
That’s just looking at the Muslims alive
today — not accounting for future birth rates or for people who have already
performed hajj, though a 2013 Pew survey of 39 countries found that 9 percent
of Muslims had.
All Muslims who are physically and
financially able to complete the hajj are supposed to do so at least once in
their lives. Attendance by foreign pilgrims has grown more than tenfold since
World War II. (In 2013, attendance quotas dropped to account for continuing
construction in Mecca.)
Source: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia General
Authority for Statistics | Note: Hajj occurred twice in 2006.
Not everyone who wants to make the hajj can
do so easily, and millions of Muslims all over the world wait years for the
chance. The costs can be prohibitive — two to three times a year’s salary in
some places — and visas can be hard to get.
At least a quarter of pilgrims every year
are citizens or residents of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government sets quotas for
every other country that sends pilgrims to the hajj based on its Muslim
Even countries with large Muslim
populations can send only a small fraction of their citizens to the hajj. In
Indonesia — which at more than 200 million has by far the largest Muslim
population in the world — the wait time can range from seven to 37 years. Some
countries complain that the quota allocation is not transparent enough, or that
it should be based on demand rather than on Muslim population.
Other critics say Mecca is already at
capacity during the hajj, and expansion efforts have come at the cost of
Islam’s cultural heritage and the spirituality of the pilgrimage. Several
historic Islamic sites were destroyed in recent years to make way for luxury
high-rise hotels and malls that cater only to wealthy pilgrims. These
developments dominate the Kaaba, the cube like structure at the centre of the
Grand Mosque that is circled by pilgrims and that is considered to be the House
Still, Saudi Arabia continues to build. The
multiyear construction plan includes expanding the mosque around the Kaaba to
hold 1.85 million people.