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The Hajj is a journey of a lifetime, during which one is reminded of death and the afterlife, and returns a renewed person. The Quran tells the believers to "take provisions with you for the journey, but the best of provisions is God-consciousness..." (2:197). So spiritual preparation is key; one should be ready to face God with complete humility and faith. One should read books, consult with religious leaders, and ask God for guidance on how best to benefit from the Hajj experience.
The Hajj is only required of those people who can financially afford to make the journey, and who are physically capable of performing the rites of pilgrimage. Many Muslims in the world save up funds their entire lives in order to make the journey just one time. For others the financial impact is minimal. Since the pilgrimage is physically gruelling, it is beneficial to engage in physical exercise in the months prior to travel.
Once you are prepared for travel, can you just book a flight and go? Unfortunately it's not that simple.
In recent years, the annual pilgrimage has drawn crowds of nearly 3 million people. The logistics of providing housing, transportation, sanitation, food, etc. for such large numbers of people require a great deal of coordination. The government of Saudi Arabia has therefore instituted policies and procedures that potential pilgrims must follow in order to ensure a safe and spiritual pilgrimage experience for all. These policies and procedures include:
All potential pilgrims must apply for a Hajj visa through a qualified travel agent in their home country. The Saudi embassies will not issue Hajj visas to individuals travelling alone. Here is a list of authorized agents worldwide.
All foreign travel agents must be pre-approved by the Ministry of Hajj and have a partnership contract with a local (Saudi) Hajj provider.
All qualified travel agents and their Saudi partners are responsible for providing their Hajj group with travel documents, transportation and housing throughout the Hajj experience.
Quotas have been placed on the number of pilgrims from each country, and in some cases on the number of times any one individual can perform the pilgrimage within a certain number of years.