Walking on the streets of Mecca, Hajjis experience a hybrid mix of Wahhabi puritanism and Western consumer culture. Even though the advertisements do not feature human figures, the sheer number of sellout signs evokes Paris in the days before Christmas. Of course, prices are usually up during the days of Hajj. Pilgrims spend more than 5 billion riyals (1.33 billion USD) each year to buy souvenirs for friends and relatives back home. Even before the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad, Mecca had been a commercial hub where caravans from Syria met their peers from Yemen. The members of the Quraysh tribe ruling the city in the early 7th century were powerful merchants who gained profit from trading. Muhammad also recognized the importance of trade and Mecca thus remained a call of port for goods even after the capital of the Islamic empire moved from Hejaz to Syria and, later, to Iraq. However, the Wall Street style boutiques surrounding the Mecca Clock Tower are more like Western luxury malls than traditional souks. Wealthy pilgrims can do their shopping at Mango, Ralph Lauren and a spate of other Western luxury boutiques in extravagant plazas, while poorer Hajjis can purchase cheaper clothing and Made in China miniature models of the Kaaba from street vendors.
When it comes to eating in Mecca, forget traditional Saudi dates and lamb. The main fare and the most readily available dish is American junk food. Leaving the Haram Mosque through the King Fahd Gate, the first sign a pilgrim sees is a KFC advertisement offering “Hajj ad Umra Meals” containing rolls, fries and halal drumsticks for 15 riyals (4 USD). As the box does not include drinks, thirsty pilgrims have to buy their own. Unfortunately, there are few alternatives to Pepsi products, bottled in the western region of Saudi Arabia. Coca Cola, boycotted by some Muslims for the company’s alleged support of Israel, is still available in McDonald’s restaurants on al-Houjoon Street, less than two miles away from the Haram.