The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is currently the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.
The Hajj is a demonstration of the harmony and unity of the Muslim Ummah, and their submission to Allah. The pilgrimage occurs 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 dress in which Muslims live whilst on the pilgrimage. The Hajj is associated with the life of Holy prophet Muhammad (S.A.A.W) from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Hazrat Abraham (Ibrahim). Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously meet on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals:
- Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba.
- Runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah.
- Drinks water from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil
- Throws stones in a ritual stoning of the Devil
- The pilgrims then shave their heads
- Perform a ritual of animal sacrifice for the remembrance of the sacrifice of Hazrat Ibrahem (A.S.)
As of 2009, about two million pilgrims participate in this annual pilgrimage. This year estimated 2.5 million pilgrims perform Hajj around the world.
After sunset on Sunday November 14, 2010, the pilgrims were still moving into the vast plain of Mina, a small village about five kilometers east of Mecca, using all possible means to begin their Haj journey. Many pilgrims took the buses, but others had set off on foot overnight for the village that comes to life for just five days a year. Vehicles with a capacity of fewer than 25 passengers have been banned to streamline the flow of buses.
The passage to Mina marks the official launch of the Hajj. The day is known as Tarwiah (Watering) as pilgrims in the past stopped at Mina to water their animals and stock up for the trip to Mount Arafat. At Mount Arafat, some 10 kilometers southeast of Mina, the pilgrims spend the day in prayer and reflection. After sunset, they move to Muzdalifah, half way between Mount Arafat and Mina, to spend the night. On Tuesday, they head back to Mina after dawn prayers and perform the first stage of the symbolic “stoning of the devil” and make the ritual sacrifice of an animal. On the remaining three days of the Haj, the pilgrims continue the ritual stoning before performing the circumambulation of the Kaaba and then heading home. This year has been incident-free since the pilgrims began gathering in Mecca. The city’s Grand Mosque has been flooded with the faithful, with an estimated 1.7 million taking part in the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.