Religious tourism: Pennies from heaven

This is the way, I believe

MECCANS say they do not need agriculture, for God has given them the pilgrimage as their annual crop. Millions of Muslims are now setting out to take part in this year’s haj, a trek to Islam’s holiest site, in Saudi Arabia. The haj, which all Muslims aspire to do at least once in their lifetimes, now brings in $16.5 billion, around 3% of Saudi GDP. Jerusalem, a holy city for all three Abrahamic religions, also draws crowds of pilgrims, and huge numbers of Shia Muslims visit shrines in Iraq. The UN’s World Tourism Organisation estimates that over 300m people go on pilgrimages each year. Countless others visit shrines or sacred places.The numbers are increasing because the Middle East’s growing middle class means more tourists, three-quarters of whom travel within the region. Abundant tumult is less likely to deter those travelling for religious reasons than ordinary tourists. Shia pilgrims still flock to Karbala and Najaf in Iraq, despite the threat of bombs. “The person who sees their holiday as a cultural experience will be put off by bad security, but the…

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