(From Reuters, see link below)
When two million Muslim pilgrims descend upon Mecca each year, Saudi Arabia finds its strict version of Islam put to the test. The desert kingdom, where the religion of over one billion Muslims originated, applies a strict form of Sunni Islam which most believers consider overzealous and unusual.
The contrast between Islam’s different traditions is stark during the haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim of every sect, during which Mecca is transformed into the focal point for Muslims from places as diverse as Indonesia, Burkina Faso and Russia.
Saudi Islam, often termed Wahhabism after its founding father Mohammed bin Abdel Wahhab, imposes strict gender segregation, forces shops to close during prayer times, forbids visiting graves, and shuns women driving or singing. “There are general instructions not to interfere too much with pilgrims during the haj,” said Saudi writer Mansour Nogaidan, a critic of Wahhabi Islam.
Religious authorities warn pilgrims in booklets and signs in different languages not to engage in acts which venerate individuals such as the Prophet Mohammed or pilgrimage sites — considered one step away from the idolatry rejected by Islam.
But pilgrims performing tawaf, or circumambulation of the Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, make for the ancient structure, rubbing and kissing it in search of God’s favor and in the hope that the Almighty will hear their prayers.