Captain Rodney Stich's Personal Experiences on the Hajj

Stich participated in the Hajj in 1953 and 1954, as an airline captain flying Muslim pilgrims from throughout the Middle East to Mecca. He was also the only pilot to ever fly to Medina, which at that time required landing in the desert at the edge of a lava flow. I was flying Curtis C-46 aircraft. During the 1953 Hajj, his copilot was an infamous pilot from American Airlines, Chuck Sisto. Stich was flying for Transocean Airlines at the time, the World’s largest supplemental airline, based in Oakland, California.

During the Hajj, Stich lived in several different locations, including Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tehran, Abadan, and Beirut. His first arrival was flying the plane into the Jerusalem Airport, and as he circled the airport he noticed people and camels crossing the middle of the runway. H also noticed that two men were cranking down a gate to halt the traffic so that the aircraft could land. Airport facilities were very primitive at that time. He often remarked that conditions seemed about the same as when Lawrence of Arabia had been there during World War I.

During this period, while he was staying at a hotel in Abadan, Iran, a revolution occurred that was engineered by the CIA under the direction of the CIA station chief, Kermit Roosevelt. He was sitting in the lobby that morning when suddenly he saw the desk clerks acting nervously and listening to the radio. Several times they turned to remove the picture of the nation’s leader from the wall. Originally, the picture on the wall was of Mosaddegh, but then as the news sounded like the revolution was succeeding, Mossadegh’s picture was replaced with the Shah.

It wasn’t long before a Dutch national approached him and stated it would be best if he and his crew immediately left the country and that they would provide a machine gun escort to the plane. Within ten minutes the crew left the motel.

The following information about the Hajj has been taken from various sources.


The Hajj Pilgrimage to the
Holy Sites in Saudi Arabia


The Hajj is a pilgrimage to holy places in Saudi Arabia for people of the Muslim faith. The three holy sites are at Mecca, Mina, and Medina. Millions of Muslims arrive in Mecca every year for the annual pilgrimage that is called the Hajj. They arrive from around the world and is the largest religious gathering in the world. Making the Hajj is one of the five pillars of faith that every Muslim is expected to make if they are physically and financially able to do so. The hajj is a series of rituals in Mecca, nearby Mina, and Medina, all in Saudi Arabia. Many Muslims spend their entire lives saving and planning for this journey; others make the pilgrimage more than once if they are able.

The pilgrimage occurs during the last month of the Islamic year, called “Dhul-Hijjah” (i.e. “The Month of Hajj”). The pilgrimage rites occur during a 5-day period, between the 8th - 12th days of this lunar month. The event is also marked by the Islamic holiday “Eid al-Adha,” which falls on the 10th day of the lunar month. Throughout the Muslim world the Eid al-Adha feast marking the pilgrimage begins before the dawn prayers. The pilgrimage, or Eid holiday, occurs once in each Islamic year (i.e. Islamic year 1425 H for 2004-2005). The millions of worshipers will pray and eat together as they celebrate. The Hajj is a weeklong ritual, where the worshipers walk through points that represent specific events or symbols in Islam. In 2006, over three million Muslims performed the hajj, traveling to Mecca, Mina, and Medina. It is believed that a Muslim who completes the hajj is cleansed of all his or her sins.


Mecca, near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, is the holiest place for Muslims, and is the birthplace of Muhammad. Mecca is where Muhammad was most active. Mecca is where millions of Muslims gather for the yearly pilgrimage during the last month of the Islamic calendar. Going on the pilgrimage meets one of the Five Pillars of Islam. In Mecca is the Kaaba, a windowless cube located in the Great Mosque, and it is believed that it was built by the prophet Abraham. In the southeastern corner of the Kaaba is an object called the “Black Stone” which is alleged to have been given to Abraham by the angel, Gabriel. Also in the Mosque is a well considered sacred and called Zamzam. 

Holy City of Medina

Medina is where Muhammad and his followers went after he felt a lack of support in Mecca, and where he had support. In Medina, Muhammad changed the focal point for those performing the daily prayers from Jerusalem to Mecca. The Mosque of the prophet, containing Muhammad’s tomb, is located in Medina. It also contains the tombs for Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah, and the second caliph, Umar.

Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock

In Jerusalem is the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock. This is the third holiest site for Muslim pilgrimages, after Mecca and Medina. It is traditionally believed to be where the first Jewish temple was built. It is there that people believe Abraham offered to sacrifice his son to God, and where Muhammad is believed to have ascended into heaven in order to receive the commandments from God. It is modeled after the nearby Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Hebron, Holy Site for Muslims and Jews

The city of Hebron is a holy place for Muslims and Jews. It contains the “Cave of the Patriarchs,” a tomb supposedly for Abraham and his family. Built on top of the case is a mosque and synagogue. Hebron had become a symbol of Palestinian and Israeli hostilities because after the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel seized Hebron and the remainder of the West Bank.

Holy Site in Iran, Mashhhdad

Mashhhad, located in Iran, is a shrine and burial place for the 9th-century religious leader, Imam Reza. Only the Shiites, not the Sunnis, consider it a holy site.

City of Oom, Religious site for Shiite Muslims

The city of Oom contains the shrine for Fatima the Pure, an 8th century Imam, who died while visiting the city. It has a gold-plated dome. His gravesite became a major site for the Shi’a. This shrine is second only to that of her brother, Imam Reza.

The Honorific Title, Hajji

Muslims who complete the Hajj are called Hajji (a person who had performed the Hajj), and reportedly forgiven for their sins, and upon return home are celebrated by their family and community members.

The First Day of the Hajj

On the first day, hajjis walk through the valley of Mina, chanting, “We are coming answering your call, God.” The next day they climb Mount Arafat, walking the path of Islam’s 7th Century prophet: Muhammad. It was there that Muhammad gave his last sermon three months before he died in 632.

The Second Day of the Hajj

On the second days they climb to the top of Mount Arafat, starting at dawn. That is the official start of the hajj. Upon descent from Mount Arafat they walk the Muzdalifa plain, collecting pebbles for the stoning that takes place at Mina.

The hajj includes an ascent to Mount Arafat, the most sacred sit in the Islam religion, where the hajjis pray for salvation. They then go down the hill to the Muzdalifah, where they collect pebbles. They then throw 49 pebbles, seven of them at three symbolic pillars that represent Satan, and then throw 21 stones the following two days.

The Third Day of the Hajj

At Mina, they throw stones at three pillars or walls, in the belief that the devil tempted Abraham and that they are stoning the devil. In the stoning ritual, the pilgrims pass three “pillars” called Jamarat, which represents the devil. Throwing stones at the pillars purges themselves of their sins.

The hajjis then return to the Great Mosque in Mecca. Inside, the pilgrims circle the kaaba, a cubic stone structure toward which Muslims all over the world turn for prayers five times a day. Pilgrims circle the kaaba to start and finish hajj rituals. These can extend for days, but peak on Wednesday with prayers on Mount Arafat. That is where Islam's founding Prophet, Muhammad, delivered his final sermon. The pilgrims  then return to the hills of Safa and Marwa before returning to Mina, where they again throw stones at the walls.

Pebble Throwing Tradition

The traditional pebble throwing occurs from noon to sunset and involves pilgrims throwing pebbles at three pillars, thereby mimicking the stoning of the devil. The tradition of when to throw the pebbles followed by most Muslims is from noon to sunset. But some Muslims have approval to start the stoning before dawn prayers

The hajj stoning ritual occurs over a three-day span and traditionally occurs from noon until sunset. However, Shiite Muslim clerics, and some Sunni clerics, have issued edicts allowing the pilgrims to start the stoning in the morning. The strict Saudi Arabian clerics, Wahhabi, interpret Islam by requiring adherence to the noon to sunset period.

Hajjis Planning for the Hajj

The government of Saudi Arabia had certain requirements for those planning to go on the Hajj, including a quota on the number of people from each country, as well as a quote on the number of times that one person can perform the pilgrimage within a certain number of years. Only Muslims are allowed to the holy sites. The logistics of go on the hajj include the following:

·         Apply for a Hajj visa through a designated travel agent in their home country to the Saudi Embassy in that country. The travel agents must have prior approval from the Ministry of Hajj and have a partnership contract with a local Saudi Hajj provider.

·         The application for the visa must include the following:

o        A passport valid for at least six months.

o        Two photographs.

o        Completed visa application.

o        A roundtrip airline ticket.

o        Proof of vaccination against meningitis.

o        For women, proof of relationship for an accompanying mahram.

o        The fee for pilgrimage services.

·         The travel agents and their Saudi partners must provide the Hajj with travel documents, transportation, and housing throughout the Hajj experience.

·         Pilgrims must leave Saudi Arabia by the 10th of Muharram, about a month after the completion of Hajj. 

Only Muslims Are Allowed to Visit the Holy Sites

The Quran permits only Muslims to visit the holy sites as it states: “Oh you who believe! Truly the idolaters are unclean; so let them not, after this year, approach the Sacred Mosque....” (9:28).

That verse refers specifically to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, but Muslim scholars included Medina in that ruling also.

There are some Islamic scholars who would permit exceptions to this general rule, for trade purposes or for people who are under treaty permission. There is also some debate about the exact area and borders of the restricted areas.

The Saudi government, which controls access to the holy sites, had decided upon a strict ban on both cities in their entirety.

Restricting access to the holy sites at Mecca and Medina is intended to provide a place of peace and refuge for Muslim believers and preserve the sanctity of the holy cities. Also, the millions of Muslims that visit these sites every year limit the congestion and avoid distractions from the spirituality of the pilgrimage visit.

These holy sites can be visited at any time by Muslims. However, the Hajj must be performed during a specific period of time in the Islamic calendar, beginning on the 8th day of Dhul-Hijjah (the “month of Hajj”), the 12th month in the Islamic calendar. The dates of the Hajj have been set since ancient times, when the Prophet Abraham first called people to make the pilgrimage:

“Proclaim the pilgrimage among people; they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways. That they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allah, throughout the appointed days...” (Qur'an 22:27-28).


Muslims believe that these days, beginning with the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, have been set since the time of Abraham, and were recognized and practiced by the Prophet Muhammad. There is, however, another type of pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the umrah (lesser pilgrimage), which may be performed any time during the year. During this period, Muslims observe some of the same pilgrimage rites as during Hajj. Going to the umrah does not relieve a Muslim from the requirement of performing the Hajj during the appointed annual time.

Wearing Apparel during the Hajj

It is required that Muslims, during the Hajj, eliminate any sign of wealth or social distinctions. They normally wear simple white garments, commonly called ihram. The required dress for men is two white cloths, one of which covers the body from the waist down, and one that is gathered around the shoulder. The required wear for women is normally a simple white dress and headscarf, or their own native dress. The ihram is a symbol of purity and equality, and signifies that the pilgrim is in a state of devotion.

Hajj pilgrims are expected to be in as natural a state as possible, with no excessive colognes or perfumes, and the hair not trimmed or cut. Certain things are prohibited while wearing the ihram. There can be no fighting, no vulgar language, no sexual relations.

Occurrence of the Pilgrimage

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca occurs during Dhul-Hijjah (the Month of Hajj), which is the 12th month of the Islamic lunar year. The actual Hajj or pilgrimage rites take place on the 8th to 12th days of the month. The first ten days of this month are a special time for devotion, according to the Prophet Muhammad. It is during this period when preparations and the actual events occur for those undertaking the pilgrimage, and most of the actual pilgrimage rites occur.

The ninth day of the month, in particular, marks the Day of Arafat. And the tenth day of the month marks the Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice). For Muslims who are not performing the pilgrimage, it is expected that Allah be remembers and extra time spent in devotion and good deeds. The ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah (the Month of Hajj) is called the Day of Arafat, and is the final day and event of the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Day of Arafat occurs on the second day of the pilgrimage rituals. Starting at dawn, nearly two million Muslim pilgrims make their way from Mecca to a nearby hillside named Mount Arafat and to the Plain of Arafat. It was at this site that the Prophet Muhammad gave his Farewell Sermon in his final year of life.

Throughout the day, from dawn until sunset, Muslim pilgrims pray for God's abundant forgiveness, shedding tears, as they seek repentance and their God's mercy. They recite words of prayer and remembrance, and gather together as equals before their Lord.

Muslims around the world who are not participating in the pilgrimage often spend this day in fasting and devotion.

Saudi Arabia Security Forces at the Hajj

The Saudi Arabian government mobilizes over 50,000 forces for the annual hajj pilgrimage. They safeguard against terrorist attacks and also act to maintain order. Checkpoints exist several miles outside of the holy city where police stop cars randomly and search the trunks and undercarriages looking for explosives and checking identification.

Deadly Occurrences During the Hajj

On July 31, 1987, over 400 Hajjis were killed when Saudi Arabian security forces fought with Iranians staging an anti-U.S. demonstration; over 1400 were killed during a stamped on July 2, 1990; 270 were killed during a stampede on May 23, 1994; 340 were killed on April 15, 1997 in Mina; 180 killed on April 9, 1998 during a stampede; 244 were killed on February 1, 2004, during a stamped; over 50 were killed on January 5, 2006 when a four-story building collapsed. 

Muslim Tradition Involving Adam and Eve, and Abraham

The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca is a yearly event. It begins the Id al-Adha, the three-day Feast of Sacrifice. Hajj means to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.

The hajj recalls the temporary exile of Adam and Eve, who wandered in the Middle East after their expulsion from paradise. Muslim tradition says that Adam and Eve reconciled with God in the desert of Arabia, called Arafat. The problems of Abraham and his family are embedded in Muslim tradition. After Abraham’s first child was born, Ishmael, to his slave wife, Hagar, Abraham was confronted with the jealousy of his other wife who was childless, Sarah. According to Muslim tradition, God ordered Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael to Arabia. Years later, Abraham reunited with Hagar and Ishmael, and that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son. Mainstream Muslims believe that the son was Ishmael, while a few Muslims believe that it was Sarah’s son, Isaac, that was to be sacrificed.

There then occurred a miraculous substitution of Ishmael (or maybe Isaac) by a ram. During the hajj, to express their loathing of evil, the hajj pilgrims stone three pillars, each of which symbolize Satan’s failed attempts to mislead Abraham’s family. Thereafter, at Mina, each pilgrim will sacrifice an animal.


Pictures of Jerusalem in the early 1950s:

Pictures of various countries, including Eretria, Yemen, Afghanistan in the 1950s. Coming soon. Pictures taken by former TWA captain John Russell.


Books for Serious People by Serious Professionals:
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Sampling of early books reviews

Sampling of complimentary letters/faxes to author/activist Rodney Stich.

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