The Hajj to Mecca and its surrounding areas is the annual ritual lasting up to seven days. It takes place in the first half of the last month of Islamic year, known as Dhu’l Hijja. On the seventh day of the month, pilgrims in a state of ritual purity (ihram) make a statement of intent to perform the Hajj.
Men put on a special garment- two seamless unsewn pieces of cloth. In wearing these simple clothes, all worshipers appears the same. And any distinction of race, wealth or background disappear in this sacred place.
Women must be covered except for their faces. As part of the intention to perform the Hajj, Pilgrims recite the words:
‘At your service O Lord, at your service’
The Hajj Event
The first rite is the circumambulation (tawaf) of the Kaaba, seven times in anti-clockwise direction. Then, following the kissing, gesturing or touching towards the black stone set in the eastern wall of the Kaaba.
The pilgrims run seven times between the two small hills Safa and Marwa, and prayers are said around the Kaaba.
On the eighth day, the pilgrimage properly begins. The pilgrims assemble in Mina just outside Mecca and stay there for one night.
The next morning they make the visit to the plains of Arafat, where they assemble to the Mount of Mercy from where Muhammad (S.A.W) is said to have delivered his last sermon.
The gathering at Arafat is the symbolic of gathering of all of humanity on the Day of Judgement. The pilgrims perform Prayers. They ask for mercy and many remain standing as they pray from noon till sunset, a rite known as “Stand in front of Almighty Allah” (wuquf).
Towards the end of the day the pilgrims depart for Muzdalifah, a valley between Arafat and Mina, where they combine the two prayers of Maghrib and I’sha. Many pilgrims sleep under the open sky and, on this night, they also collect small pebbles.
On the tenth day, after returning from Muzdalifah, the pilgrims spend the night at Mina. Here they throw pebbles at the three granite pillars that commemorate the place at which Ibrahim (A.S) threw stones at Satan.
After the stone throwing, animals such as goats, sheep or camels are slaughtered in a ritual known as Eid-ul-Adha “The day/ festival of sacrifice”.
This spiritual day is celebrated by the Muslims all around the world, who slaughter animals in abattoirs for personal
consumption or to spend on poor.
After sacrificing an animal, the male pilgrims either shave or trim their hair and females cut a small lock of theirs. On the same, or the following day, the pilgrims revisit the mosque in Mecca for another circumambulation (tawaf) and they walk between the two hills of Safa and Marwa.
While not necessary, many pilgrims also travel to Medina to pay respect to Prophet’s tomb in the Prophet’s Mosque.
In the past years, Hajj was a ritual often performed in the later years of one’s life but it has increased in popularity among the young. Muslims usually go on the Hajj in groups and increasingly travel by means of Hajj packages, which are offered by many airlines and travel agents.
For the Saudi authorities, the logistical challenge of Hajj grow every year with the number of pilgrims rising. Such huge number means that, tragically, there are always accidents or deaths.
However, modern transport, better sanitation and increased housing mean that, for most people, the Hajj can be performed with relative ease. It remains the most dramatic and spirituals of Islamic rituals.