(The following is a post by Huda Dayton, Reference Librarian, Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division.)
Hajj (pilgrimage) is the fifth of the fundamental Muslim practices and institutions known as the Five Pillars of Islam. It is considered a sacred journey that every adult Muslim who are physically and financially able must make at least once in their lifetime. Hajj occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar called Dhul-Hijjah. As the Muslim calendar is lunar, the Hajj takes place progressively across all four seasons over time. This year, for example, the Hajj falls between July 7-12. At least two million Muslims from all corners of the world are expected to gather in Mecca for this religious duty.
Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. The Kaaba is located in the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca and universally considered by Muslims to be the most sacred spot on Earth. Thus, Mecca is a deeply spiritual destination for Muslims all over the world and is considered the heart of Islam.
Muslims pray five times a day toward the Kaaba in Mecca. They also bury their dead facing towards the Kaaba. This direction is called Qibla in Arabic.
In Islamic tradition and belief, Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail raised the foundations of the House of God in compliance with the divine command in the Quran:
( البقرة : 127) وَإِذْ يَرْفَعُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ الْقَوَاعِدَ مِنَ الْبَيْتِ وَإِسْمَاعِيلُ رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
[Surat Al- Baqarah: 2:127] “And when Ibrahim and Ismail were raising the foundations of the House, (Ibrahim prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower.” (Source: The Glorious Koran)
The Road to Mecca
According to the Islamic faith, the Hajj is made in response to God’s call and in compliance with his commands to Ibrahim, who, as soon as he finished building the Kaaba, God commanded him to call the people to perform Hajj and urged them to visit his sacred house, in accordance with the Almighty’s saying in the Qur’an:
( الحج : 27) وَأَذِّن فِي ٱلنَّاسِ بِٱلۡحَجِّ يَأۡتُوكَ رِجَالٗا وَعَلَىٰ كُلِّ ضَامِرٖ يَأۡتِينَ مِن كُلِّ فَجٍّ عَمِيقٖ
[Surat Al-Hajj: 22: 27] Hence, [O Muhammad,] proclaim thou unto all people the [duty of] pilgrimage, they will come unto thee on foot and on every [kind of] fast mount, coming from every far-away point [on earth]. (Source: The Message of the Qurʼan-Asad)
The Performance of Hajj
The specific rituals of the pilgrimage today date back to the Prophet Muhammad’s “farewell pilgrimage” in 632 AD. Note that there are some minor differences between Islamic schools of thought on performing Hajj.
The very first rite of Hajj is to enter ihram, a pilgrim’s sacred state of holiness and purity when crossing the outer boundaries of Mecca called Miqat.
Ihram for men entails wearing white seamless sheets that are wrapped around the body, while women wear modest clothes. Certain ethical rules must be also followed.
On the first day of Hajj (eighth of Dhul-Hijjah) the pilgrim enters Mecca and begins by performing Tawaf and Sa’i, which is to circumambulate the Kaaba seven times as a salutation to the House of God. Then the pilgrim runs seven times between the two mountains, al-Safa and al-Marwah, in memory of the story of Prophet Ibrahim’s wife Hajar and her son Ismail.
Pilgrims then travel to Mina, a place near Mecca where they spend the rest of the first day in separate white tents for men and women set up for temporary accommodation. On the first night, pilgrims spend their time in prayer and remembrance of God.
On the second day, the pilgrims move to a nearby mountainous area, Arafat, nine miles from Mina. Jabal al-Raḥmah (Mount Mercy) at Arafat was the scene of the Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon.
The pilgrims stand at the foot of Jabal al-Raḥmah where they pray and remember God from sunrise to sunset. Pilgrims pray to God in supplication and reflection on their lives, future, and life after death. The day of Arafat is essential and required for the Hajj to be valid.
When the sun sets on the day of Arafat, the pilgrims go to Muzdalifah, a place between Mina and Arafat. They pray and spend the night there on the ground under the open sky and collect pebbles for stoning Satan the next day.
The third day of Hajj is the day of Eid al-Adha, the Day of Sacrifice. God singled out this day in the Quran as “The Greatest Hajj Day” because the pilgrim performs several important rituals including sacrifice, stoning, and circumambulating the Kaaba.
Eid al-Adha is one of the two Eids for Muslims. It is celebrated in memory of the story of Ibrahim when he had a dream that God commanded him to sacrifice his son. Ibrahim and his son believed the dream and proceeded to carry out the command of God. God then commanded him to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son, so Muslims approach God on this day by sacrificing a sheep, a cow, or a camel and distributing the meat to the poor.
The Stoning of Satan in Mina
Pilgrims go back to Mina where they participate in a ritual symbolizing the stoning of Satan. This act is based on the Islamic belief that when God commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, as proof of faith, it was at this spot in Mina the devil appeared and tried to dissuade Ibrahim from heeding the command. Ibrahim responded by throwing stones at the devil.
Millions of pilgrims converge at the Jamrat al-Aqaba, which houses the three columns representing the devil, in order to re-enact the story. Pilgrims throw seven pebbles in succession.
After the completion of the ritual the men shave or shorten their hair. Women cut a little from their hair.
The pilgrims then proceed to perform the rituals of circumambulating the Kaaba and running between al-Safa and al-Marwah. Pilgrims before returning to Mina at the end of the third day and spend the night in prayer.
Throwing pebbles at Jamrat al-Aqaba is repeated after sunset on the fourth and fifth days.
End of Hajj: Farewell Circumambulation around the Kabba
After completing the Hajj and before leaving Mecca the pilgrims perform the farewell circumambulation by walking around the Kaaba seven times.
After completing the Hajj, most pilgrims go to Medina to visit the mosque and the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad though it is technically not part of the Hajj pilgrimage.
The Hajj serves as a unifying force in Islam by bringing followers of diverse backgrounds together in religious celebration. The pilgrimage, if performed properly, is believed to erase previous sins for the sincere believer.
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Mecca, ca. 1910 Bird’s-eye view of Kaaba crowded w/pilgrims. ca. 1910. American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Department, photographer.
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