The Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia has poured billions of dollars into renovating Jamarat Bridge near Mecca to prepare for the five days every year when two million Muslims from roughly 160 countries converge on Mecca to fulfill the trip of a lifetime.
In the past decade, the Kingdom has overhauled the site of the stoning of the symbolic devil, turning it into a five-story complex with the world’s largest pedestrian bridge, dozens of entrances, exits, escalators, and emergency escape routes. Despite these efforts, more than 2,000 pilgrims were killed in the site’s deadliest stampede just two years ago.
This prompted authorities to implement a schedule for the hundreds of pilgrim groups that take over Mina, the small desert city in the outskirts of Mecca where the bridge is located. The effect was serene, giving off a somewhat calm, if regimented, air to what many Muslims count as the most spiritual five days of their lives.
VICE News travelled to Mecca to see firsthand why the trip evokes such intense contemplation. We spoke to Jibreel, a former basketball player, who joined 15,000 other Muslims from America who made the holy pilgrimage this hajj season.