Gold makes glittering souvenir of Mecca for Islam's pilgrims
By Mahmoud Habboush
MECCA (Reuters) - They might wear the humble white sheets required for Islam's haj pilgrimage, but for many visitors thronging Mecca's streets, the perfect souvenir of their trip is that most glittering of commodities: gold.
For most pilgrims haj represents the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition and many of them want to commemorate their journey with keepsakes or gifts for relatives that carry a special religious significance.
Pilgrims from smaller, less cosmopolitan places than Mecca, also find the gold jewelry to be cheaper, better quality and more elaborate than what is available at home, creating a thriving annual market for the precious metal.
"The designs are beautiful. Everything is beautiful. I am confused which ones to pick," said Ijlal Suleiman, 35, from Sudan.
But after bargaining with a gold salesman she decided to move to the next shop to sample other designs.
Dozens of gold shops lie just outside the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, and their shelves and windows sparkle with bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, lockets and chains engraved with traditional Middle Eastern and Indian designs.
Prices of unworked gold are similar to those in Dubai, a regional jewelry hub, with 24-carats going for 204 UAE dirhams ($55.54) a gram in the emirate, according to www.uaegoldpricetoday.com, and 215 riyals ($57.33) in Mecca, said a shopkeeper.
Most of the jewelry is manufactured in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea port city of Jeddah from 21-carat gold, while pieces with Indian designs are imported through Dubai, said Ali Abdullah, 35, a Saudi who has been working in a gold shop in Mecca for 10 years. Continued...