Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. It is the pilgrimage that all able bodied Muslims are required to take to the most holy city of Mecca. The pilgrimage is made annual between the 8th and 12th days of the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah. This pilgrimage brings Muslims from all over the world to gather together in Mecca. Because it is such an important event to all of Islam, it is phenomenally crowded every year, typically drawing two to three million people at that one time.
*What it involves –
The pilgrimage involves a tremendous amount of walking in very hot weather. When one is surrounded by an enormous crowd and having to walk in extreme heat, it can be be both miserably uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Consequently, it is an incredibly rigorous test of one’s faith.
*The preparation –
In order to perform Hajj, the pilgrims must go into a state of concentration known as Ihram. While in the state of Ihram, they must refrain from cutting or plucking any hair, cutting their nails or having sexual contact of any sort. They are encouraged to forget all but the most basic of worldly needs in order to direct and focus their attention and devotion on and to Allah or God.
*The clothing –
Men wear special clothing that consists of two pieces of seamless cloth. One piece is used to cover the back and shoulders and the other piece covers an area from the waist to the knees. The clothing should be white to symbolize purity and equality.
Women may wear ordinary clothing (although white will be more comfortable in the extreme heat,) but they must cover their entire bodies except for their face and hands. The reason that the clothing is important is that the ritual (and all the others,) date back to the time of Abraham and are symbolic ways of commemorating his willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac (or Ishmael.)
*The rituals –
When arriving at Mecca, the pilgrims circle around the Ka’bah seven times in a ritual that is known as Tawaf. The Ka’ban is the cube stone building in Mecca that is the central and foremost symbol of Islam. The purpose of the ritual is to remind Muslims that Allah should be the focus of their lives.
Then the pilgrims walk back and forth seven times between hillocks that are called Sata and Marwah. This ritual is called Sa’l. It symbolizes and commemorates Hagar’s search for water for the infant Isaac (or Ishmael) when Abraham left them in the desert.
The 8th day of Dhul Hijjah is the day on which Muslims spend the entire day in humble prayer to Allah. The 10th day of Dhul Hijjah is known as the day of sacrifice. This is the day on which Muslims make a sacrifice of a sheep or goat and donate all of the meat to the poor.
The ritual of animal sacrifice is a symbolic commemoration of Abraham’s (or Ibrahim’s) willingness to sacrifice his only son for God. Before the animals are slaughtered, Pilgrims throw pebbles at the stone pillars that are known as Al-Jamarat. This is intended to be symbolic of the way by which Abraham stoned Satan when Satan tried to tempt him to disobey the commandment of God.
After these rituals, the pilgrims are allowed to shave their heads or cut their hair. Women are only allowed to cut a small amount of their hair. They then return to mecca to repeat the first two rituals.
In order to return to the stone pillars on the next two days, the pilgrims sleep at Mina. They then perform a final Tawaf before they leave Mecca upon completing the Hajj.
Introduction to Hajj