Amina Wadud's Hajj Journal: The Ending Rainbow
Our tent was about a kilometer before the two kilometer "people walk" to the Jamarat. This is where tradition meets technology, in my estimation, to the best extent. If you look at the history of the Jamarat, from the days of a simple pillar with a ditch to collect the stones, to the building of a three-story structure, to what they have now—a pavilion with five stories, escalators and this elaborate "people walk"—I think you can appreciate the simple fact that religion and religious practice must meet modernity at least in some ways. This is also the place that has suffered the greatest collective tragedies at the hajj in past years.
For example, there are two tunnels along the people walk. One year, the people flowed into the tunnel faster than they moved out on the other end. As a consequence, the people in the middle lost sufficient air, and a large number suffocated. This was so easy to imagine as we went to complete this rite for the third and final time. The throngs of people were easily 15-20 abreast, jammed so close together there was nothing visible except the persons immediately in front or beside you. I still had the advantage of being taller than most Muslims and could see over their heads.
As we came up to one of the tunnels, suddenly everybody seemed to randomly stop. But because I could see over the heads, I could see ahead that the entry to the tunnel actually had a red light in the signal built over it. So with sheer force, the guards kept more people from filing in. If you are the average Muslim and cannot see, it is likely that you will push to move forward and or you will be pushed by others in their urge to move forward. So it is difficult, if nothing else but by the sheer flow of people continuing from further behind.
Inside the tunnels, there is both protection from the sun's heat and the air blowing from these huge industrial fans as you walk underneath. Naturally you walk slower inside the tunnel and you rush in from the heat of the outside. Then at the end of the tunnel you linger before coming back out into the sun and heat again. See, simple people logistics. So, the Saudi authorities have to account for these discrepancies by stopping pilgrims from filing in at certain intervals. The pilgrims may or may not be aware of these logistics intent as they are upon completing the ritual.
Now, one or two other logistics to the people walk: Drones of people are adding to the masses from various tent sites, and the people walk organizes them into five different levels responding to the five levels inside the pavilion. From outside these divisions are also not self evident, but there are signs "to the second level," or "to the ground floor," etc. As we file up a ramp or turn away from one we were fed into an escalator shaft, or another ramp, until we are divided into five large groups, never ceasing our flow into these various levels. It's amazing to see and even more amazing to do.
Then when we get to our level of the pavilion, there are hordes of people, especially at the first most part of the pillars throwing one by one their seven stones, saying "bismi-Lah, Allahu Akbar, in the name of God, God is greatest!" for each stone. After each of the first two, you should stop and make du'a turning first to the right and next to the left. The idea is to resist worldly temptations from the right and left. At the third, largest pillar, you should simply exit as if to accept that your stones and du'a have successfully rid you of evil within, around and outside yourself.
Amina Wadud is an internationally known scholar on Islam and gender. She has lived in five different countries and traveled to more than forty countries as a consultant on Islam, Human Rights, and Women. Dr. Wadud is Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA and visiting scholar at Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley, California. She is the author of Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective (Oxford, 1999) and, most recently, of Inside the Gender Jihad: Reform in Islam (OneWorld, 2006).