On the right bank is all the older part of the city, and a long suburb called El-Meidan extending about a mile along the Hajj Road.
Damascus occupies an important commercial position, being the market for the whole of the desert; it also is of great importance religiously, as being the startingpoint for the Hajj pilgrimage from Syria to Mecca, which leaves on the 15th of the lunar month of Shawwal each year.
Further, there are elements of Islam, like the usages of the hajj (or pilgrimage to the sacred places at Mecca), the dryness of its official doctrine and the limitations of its real character as indicated in the Wahhabi revival, which so impair its apparent universalism that Kuenen found himself obliged to withdraw it from the highest rank of religions.
This ceremony is now generally combined with the hajj, or is performed by every stranger or traveller when he enters Mecca, and the ihram (which involves the acts of abstinence already referred to) is assumed at a considerable distance from the city.
To the ordinary pilgrim the omra has become so much an episode of the hajj that it is described by some European pilgrims as a mere visit to the mosque of Ayesha; a better conception of its original significance is got from the Meccan feast of the seventh month (Rajab), graphically described by Ibn Jubair from his observations in A.D.
The central and essential ceremonies of the hajj or greater pilgrimage are those of the day of Arafa, the 9th of the "pilgrimage month" (Dhu'l Hijja), the last of the Arab year; and every Moslem who is his own master, and can command the necessary means, is bound to join in these once in his life, or to have them fulfilled by a substitute 1 The latter perhaps was no part of the ancient omra; see SnouckHurgronje, Het Mekkaansche Feest (1880) p. 115 sqq.
The quarantine office keeps a record of arrivals by sea at Jidda (66,000 for 1904); but to these must be added those travelling by land from Cairo, Damascus The sacrifice is not indispensable except for those who can afford it and are combining the hajj with the omra.