Every Muslim who is able is supposed to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his/her life. This visit, the hajj, is one of the five pillars of Islam. It takes place during the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijja, which this year will start on December 11.
We are not directly involved with the hajj, but take a look at the map and notice where Anbar province sits. Obviously thousands of pilgrims moving through our area of operations is hard to ignore. Having Coalition Forces around will make it a safer journey for them as CF operations disrupt AQI and insurgents, so that the ostensibly devout (AQI) will have a harder time murdering the genuinely devout (pilgrims going to Mecca).
The Marines have been learning about the hajj and how to be culturally aware around the Iraqis and those traveling through Iraq during this special time. Iraq shares a border with Saudi Arabia and pilgrims traveling over land to Mecca from the north and the east logically pass though Anbar. I recently attended a lecture about the hajj. One of the Marines had been assigned to learn about it and deliver a talk to enlighten the others. He did an excellent job and was very earnest in his task. It is important to be earnest. His lecture was as factually correct as most I heard at college and it was a good deal more entertaining. He connected the idea of pilgrimage to examples in the experience of most Marines and then gave the background on the significance of Mecca, the pilgrimage and many of the things pilgrims do before, during and after the hajj.
Of course the best outcome for all involved is that absolutely nothing exciting happens during the month of the hajj, in Iraq or anyplace else. According to the lecture and what I hear from other sources, the hajj is generally peaceful, as people are in a generous mood and no good Muslim engages in violence during this period. Of course, there always are some who seek the notoriety of disrupting peaceful people even during a special time like this. Let’s hope they don’t succeed this year.