The Hajj is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of a Muslim, and their reaffirmation of submission to Allah. The pilgrimage occurs formally from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian date of the Hajj changes from year to year.
Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which Muslims live while on the pilgrimage. Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throws stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
Prior to Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) era, each year tribes from all around the Arabian Peninsula would converge in Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans. Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad asjahiliyyah, the “Days of Ignorance”, during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols.
In 630 CE, Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) led his followers from Medina to Mecca, it was the first Hajj to be performed by Muslims alone, and the only Hajj ever performed by Muhammad. He cleansed the Kaaba, destroyed all the idols, and re-ordained the building as the house of God. It was from this point that the Hajj became one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in the ihram, a garment consisting of two sheets of white un-hemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab–normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face.
The Ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims, in front of God: there is no difference between a prince and a pauper. Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat. While wearing the Ihram, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, have sexual relations, uproot or damage plants, kill or harm wild animals, cover the head [for men] or the face and hands [for women], marry, wear shoes over the ankles, or carry weapons.
Upon arrival in Mecca the pilgrim, now known as a Hajji, performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (or Abraham in English) and his wife Hajar (or Hagar in English). The acts also symbolize the solidarity of Muslims worldwide. The greater Hajj (al-hajj al-akbar) begins on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah. On the first day of the Hajj (the 8th day of the 12th month of Dhu al-Hijjah), if they are not already wearing it upon their arrival, pilgrims put on ihram clothing and then leave Mecca for the nearby town of Mina where they spend the rest of the day. The Saudi government has put up thousands of large white tents at Mina to provide accommodations for all the pilgrims.
On the ninth day, they leave Mina for Mount. Arafat where they stand in contemplative vigil and pray and recite the Qur’an, near a hill from which Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, this hill is called Jabal Al Rahmah (The Hill of Forgiveness, Mount Arafat). Pilgrims must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset. No specific rituals or prayers are required during the stay at Arafat, although many pilgrims spend time praying, and thinking about the course of their lives. A pilgrim’s Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.
As soon as the sun sets, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, an area between Arafat and Mina. Pilgrims spend the night sleeping on the ground with open sky, and in the morning they gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan) after returning to Mina.
At Mina the pilgrims perform Al-Jamarat, throwing stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. This symbolizes the trials experienced by Abraham while he was going to sacrifice his son as demanded by God. The Devil challenged him three times, and three times Abraham refused. Each pillar marks the location of one of these refusals. On the first occasion when Al-Jamarat is performed, pilgrims stone the largest pillar known as Jamrat’al’Aqabah. On the second occasion, the other pillars are stoned. The stoning consists of throwing seven pebbles. Because of the crowds, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.
After the Al-Jamarat, the pilgrims perform animal sacrifices, to symbolize God having mercy on Abraham and replacing his son Ishmael with a ram, which Abraham then sacrificed. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Makkah before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Centralized butchers sacrifice a single sheep for each pilgrim, or a cow can represent the sacrifice of seven people. The meat is then packaged and given to charity and shipped to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
The pilgrims perform their first Tawaf, which involves all of the pilgrims visiting the Kabah and walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba. Note: Kissing the black stone is not compulsory because of the crowds, they may simply point towards the Stone on each circuit with their right hand. In each complete circuit a pilgrim says “In the name of God, God is Great, God is Great, God is Great and praise be to God” (Bismillah Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar walil Lahi Alhamd) with 7 circuits constituting a complete tawaf. The place where pilgrims walk is known as “Mutaaf”.
The tawaf is normally performed all at once. Eating is not permitted but the drinking of water is allowed because of the risk of dehydration. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.
After the completion of Tawaf, all the pilgrims have to offer two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqaam Ibrahim), a site inside the mosque that is near the Kaaba. However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the ground level, Tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowd.
After Tawaf on the same day, the pilgrims perform sa’i, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of the frantic search for water for her son Ishmael by Hajar. As she searched for water, upon which the water of the Zamzam started gushing from the ground. The safety procedures are in place because previous incidents in this ritual have resulted in stampedes which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.
As part of this ritual the pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam Well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque. After the visit to the mosque on this day of the Hajj, the pilgrims then return to their tents.
Pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca, on this day or the following for another tawaf, to walk around the Kaaba. This is called Tawaf al-Ifadah, which symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
On the afternoon of the 11th and again the following day the pilgrims must again throw seven pebbles at each of the three Al-jamarat in Mina.
Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th. If they are unable to leave Mina before sunset, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Pilgrims performing the tawaf around the kaaba
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wida. ‘Wida’ means ‘to bid farewell’
Journey to Medina
Most pilgrims visit Medina before or after hajj where they pray at Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains Prophet Muhammad’s tomb and RiadulJannah and also pay visit to the grave of Prophet Muhammad companions, Umhatul Mominen and Ahl al-Bayt in Al-Baqi’. The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Qiblatain are also usually visited.