What is Hajj?
Hajj is the 5th pillar of Islam. It is a visit to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which every adult Muslim must do at least once in his life. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islamic practices and institutions, known as the five pillars of Islam. The Hajj pilgrimage begins on the seventh day of Zul-Hajj (the last month of the Islamic year) and ends on the 12th day of Zul-hajj. Muslim adults must go on Hajj at least once in their lives. They must be mentally and physically and financially able to travel. Pilgrims can add the title of hajji to their names after performing hajj.
The total period of Hajj consists of five to six days in which pilgrims perform their rituals step by step. All the rituals are specified to perform on specific days with sequences starting from ihram which will be described later.
- The Profession of Faith (Shahadah) – The First Pillar of Islam
- Prayer (Salah) – The Second Pillar of Islam
- Zakat (Alms) – The Third Pillar of Islam
- Sawm (Fasting During Ramadan) – The Fifth Pillar of Islam
History of Hajj
The rituals of Hajj were established by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but, based on the Quran, his address can be traced back to Abraham (peace be upon him), also known as Ibrahim in English. They say Muslims believe that Abraham was commanded by God to leave his wife Hajira and his son Ismael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hajira ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa but found nothing. Returning to Ismael in despair, he saw the child scratching the ground with his leg and a spring burst forth. This is the beauty of Zamzam in the Holy Mosque in Makkah. Pilgrims drink this water during the journey of Hajj or Umrah.
Even before Islam, Mecca was an important pilgrimage site for the Arab tribes of northern and central Arabia. Although they believed in many gods, they came to Mecca once a year to worship Allah. During this holy month, violence was banned in Makkah and trade would flourish. As a result, Mecca became an important trading center. The revelation of Islam to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) restored the ancient religion of one God to the Arab people and turned Mecca into one of the most vibrant cities in the Islamic world.
Every year 2 to 3 million people from all over the world gather for Hajj in Makkah. This is the largest gathering of people in the world.
The Kaaba, located in the center of the Haram in Makkah, is a cube-shaped building believed by Muslims to have been built by Ibrahim and his son Ismael. It was in Makkah that Muhammad made the first revelation in the early seventh century. Therefore, this city has long been considered a spiritual center and the heart of Islam. The rituals associated with the Hajj have remained the same from the beginning, and it is a powerful religious initiative that unites Muslims from all over the world, regardless of nationality or sect.
People do Tawaf by moving around the Kabah seven times in a counter-clockwise direction.
Hajj and Umrah
Hajj is obligatory on all Muslims who are able to travel physically and financially, but only if their absence does not cause any hardship to their family. A person can perform Hajj by proxy, appoint a relative or friend to “stand” for him. The pattern of Hajj pilgrimage was established by Hazrat Muhammad (peace be upon him), but it has undergone variations, and finally, the strict formal itinerary is not followed by the pilgrims, who have their proper arrangement in different places of the house.
About two million people perform the Hajj each year, and the religious celebration is a force for unity in Islam, bringing together followers from diverse backgrounds. Once a believer completes the pilgrimage, he can add the title of Hajj or Hajji (for a man) or hajjah (for a woman) to his name. If this Hajj is performed correctly, it is believed that it will erase past sins for the sincere believer.
Umrah is not obligatory for Muslims but it is optional for Muslims. Umrah is a minor pilgrimage undertaken by Muslims whenever they enter Mecca. It is also meritorious, though optional, for Muslims residing in Mecca. Its similarity to the major and obligatory Islamic hajj made some fusion of the two natural, though pilgrims have the choice of performing the umrah separately or in combination with the hajj. As in the hajj, pilgrims begin the umrah by assuming the state of ihram (ritual purity). Following a formal declaration of intent (also called niyyah) to perform the umrah, they enter Mecca and circle the sacred shrine of the Kabah seven times. They may then touch the Black Stone, pray at the sacred stone Maqam e Ibraheem, drink the holy water of the Zamzam spring, and touch the Black Stone again, though these ceremonies are supererogatory. They run seven times between the hills of al-Ṣafā and al-Marwah, and the ritual shaving of the head for male pilgrims completes the umrah.
How to perform Hajj step by step?
Hajj involves a series of rituals that takes place in the following steps:
Ihram: The first rites of Hajj is to enter ihram which is the holy state of pilgrims when people cross the outer boundaries of Mecca. On the eighth day of Zul Hijjah, pilgrims enter ihram, which involves wearing plain clothes – two unadorned clothes for men, or loose-fitting clothes for women – as well as following certain rules, such as not getting angry or having sexual activity with your spouse. This is the Day 1 of Hajj.
Head to Mina: On the second day of hajj, the pilgrims then proceeded from Makkah to the tent city of Mina, whether on foot or by bus and car. It is an 8 km journey. Pilgrims will spend this day in Mina till the next morning at Fajr. Most of the time in Mina is spent in prayer and remembering Allah.
Arafat: Arafat Day is considered one of the most important days of the Islamic calendar, not just of Hajj but Mount Rahmat in Arafat was the scene of the last sermon of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). After traveling 14.4 km from Mina, the pilgrims spend the day in devotional prayers. Everywhere in the world, many Muslims choose to fast on this day.
Muzdalifah: After sunset, time to move again, this time to Muzdalifah. This is a 9 km journey, where they spent the night under the stars. Many people will also start collecting pebbles here for tomorrow’s rituals, leaving again just before sunrise. This is the third day of hajj.
Throwing stones at pillars: For those who perform Hajj, this day is known as Yom Al-Hajj Al-Akbar (the day of the Great Hajj) and it is probably the longest and most dangerous day of pilgrimage. The 10th of Zul-Hijjah is Eid-ul-Adha, a day celebrated by Muslims around the world as more than two Muslim holidays. The pilgrims start the day in Muzdalifah and return to Mina before Fajr. Once in Mina, he made the first rami by throwing seven pebbles into the largest of the three columns known as Jamrat. This act is a manifestation of stoning Satan based on historical tradition. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, this story is also proof of faith. It is believed that Satan appeared at Mina’s place and tried to stop Abraham from obeying. Abraham responded by throwing stones to frighten him. To bring the story back to life, millions of visitors gathered on the Jamrat Bridge, which has three columns representing the devil.
After throwing stones, pilgrims should offer sacrifices. Concluding the story, when Abraham went to sacrifice his son, he found that God had placed a ram for slaughter instead. Pilgrims will have to slaughter a sheep, goat, cow, or camel in this way or more likely to pay for it in their name. At this point, the pilgrims (men only) cut or shave their hair and take off their ihram clothes. After that many will go to Makkah to perform Tawaf and Sae, first circle the Kabah seven times, then walk seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah.
When it’s all over, they return to their campsite in Mina. All the above things are done in day 4 and day 5.
Final Days: Pilgrims spend their final days in Mina. Each day in Mina, they would symbolically stone the devil again, this time throwing seven pebbles at each of the three pillars. With the hard part behind them, the pilgrims would now spend the next two or three days in Mina. When their time in Mina was over, the pilgrims returned to Mecca for the last round of the Kabah, the ‘Tawaf’. Before going home, many people also go to Madinah, the second holiest city in Islam, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried with his close companions. Going to Madinah, however, is not part of the pilgrimage.
In this way. One can complete his hajj by following all the above steps.