The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th (or in some cases 13th) of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Gregorian date of Hajj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which pilgrims wear two white sheets of seamless cloth and abstain from certain actions.
The Hajj (sometimes spelled Hadj, Hadji or Haj also in English) is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad 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 Abraham. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba (the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for the Muslims), runs back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. After the sacrifice of their animal, the Pilgrims then are required to shave their head. Then they celebrate the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the “lesser pilgrimage”, or ‘Umrah (عُـمـرَة). However, even if they choose to perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime if they have the means to do so, because Umrah is not a substitute for Hajj.
In 2017, the number of pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform hajj was officially reported as 1,752,014 and 600,108 Saudi Arabian residents bringing the total number of pilgrims to 2,352,122.
The word in حج comes from the Hebrew: חג ḥag, which means “holiday“, from the triliteral Semitic root ח-ג-ג. The meaning of the verb is “to circle, to go around”. Judaism uses circumambulation in the Hakafot ritual during Hoshanah Rabbah at the end of the Festival of Sukkot and on Simchat Torah; traditionally, Jewish brides circumambulate their grooms during the wedding ceremony under the chuppah. From this custom, the root was borrowed for the familiar meaning of holiday, celebration and festivity. In the Temple, every festival would bring a sacrificial feast. Similarly in Islam, the person who commits the Hajj to Mecca has to turn around the Kaaba and to offer sacrifices.
The present pattern of Hajj was established by Muhammad. However, according to the Quran, elements of Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hajara and his son Ishmael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hajara desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah but found none. Returning in despair to Ishmael, she saw the baby scratching the ground with his leg and a water fountain sprang forth underneath his foot. Later, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba (which he did with the help of Ishmael) and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there. The Quran refers to these incidents in verses 2:124-127 and 22:27-30.[n 1] It is said that the archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to the Kaaba.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, a time known as jahiliyyah, the Kaaba became surrounded by pagan idols. In 630 CE, Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, cleansed the Kaaba by destroying all the pagan idols, and then reconsecrated the building to Allah. In 632 CE, Muhammad performed his only and last pilgrimage with a large number of followers, and instructed them on the rites of Hajj. It was from this point that Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.
During the medieval times, pilgrims would gather in big cities of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq to go to Mecca in groups and caravans comprising tens of thousands of pilgrims, often under state patronage. Hajj caravans, particularly with the advent of the Mamluk Sultanate and its successor, the Ottoman Empire, were escorted by a military force accompanied by physicians under the command of an amir al-hajj. This was done in order to protect the caravan from Bedouin robbers or natural hazards,[n 2] and to ensure that the pilgrims were supplied with the necessary provisions. Muslim travelers like Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta have recorded detailed accounts of Hajj-travels of medieval time. The caravans followed well-established routes called in Arabic darb al-hajj, lit. “pilgrimage road”, which usually followed ancient routes such as the King’s Highway.
Timing of Hajj
The date of Hajj is determined by the Islamic calendar (known as Hijri calendar or AH), which is based on the lunar year. Every year, the events of Hajj take place in a five-day period, starting on 8 and ending on 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth and last month of the Islamic calendar. Among these five days, the 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as Day of Arafah, and this day is called the day of Hajj. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Gregorian date for Hajj changes from year to year. Thus, each year in the Gregorian calendar, the pilgrimage starts eleven days (sometimes ten days) earlier than the preceding year. This makes it possible for the Hajj season to fall twice in one Gregorian year, and it does so every 33 years. The last time this phenomenon occurred was 2006.
When the pilgrims reach the appropriate Miqat (depending on where they’re coming from), they enter into a state of holiness – known as Ihram – that consists of wearing two white seamless cloths for the male, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side; wearing ordinary dress for the female that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands and face uncovered; taking ablution; declaring the intention (niyah) to perform pilgrimage and to refraining from certain activities such as clipping the nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering head (for men) or the face and hands (for women); getting married; or carrying weapons. The ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in front of God: there is no difference between the rich and the poor.
Donning such unsewn white garments entirely distances man from material ostentation and engrosses him in a world of purity and spirituality. Clothes show individuality and distinction. They create superficial barriers that separate man from man. The garments of Ihram, however, are the antithesis of that individualism. You join a mass and become nothing but a drop of water in an ocean that has no special identity of its own. Ihram clothing is also a reminder of shrouds which every human has to wear after death. This helps you assume your original shape as a man, just one of the “descendants of Adam” who will die one day.
First day of Hajj: 8th Dhu al-Hijjah
On the 8th Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of ihram start now.
The 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah coincides with the Tarwiyah Day. The name of Tarwiyah refers to a narration of Ja’far al-Sadiq . He described the reason that there was any water at Mount Arafat in the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. If pilgrims wanted to stay at Arafat, he would have prepared water from Mecca and carried it by themselves to there. So they told each other drink enough. Finally, this day called Tarwiyah that means to quench thirst in the Arabic language. The Tarwiyah Day is the first day of Hajj ritual. Also at this day, Husayn ibn Ali began to go to Karbala from Mecca.Muhammad prophet nominated to Tarwiyah Day as one of the four chosen days.
Tawaf and sa’ay
The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqam Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba inside the mosque. However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque. After prayer, pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the ground level, Tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowds.
This rite is actually the manifestation of Tawhid, the Oneness of God. The heart and soul of the pilgrim should move around Kaaba, the symbol of the House of Allah, in a way that no worldly attraction distracts him from this path. Only Tawhid should attract him. Tawaf also represents Muslims’ unity. During Tawaf, everyone encircles Kaaba collectively.
Tawaf is followed by sa’ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba. Previously in open air, the place is now entirely enclosed by the Sacred Mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels. Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they run. There is also an internal “express lane” for the disabled. After sayee, the male pilgrims shave their heads and women generally clip a portion of their hair, which completes the Umrah.
Second day: 9th Dhu al-Hijjah
The 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as Day of Arafah, and this day is called the Day of Hajj.
On 9th Dhu al-Hijjah before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometers east of Mecca, where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek mercy of God, and listen to sermon from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near Jabal al-Rahmah (The Mount of Mercy) from where Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset, this is known as ‘standing before God’ (wuquf), one of the most significant rites of Hajj. At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together at noon time. A pilgrim’s Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.
Third day: 10th Dhu al-Hijjah
After returning from Muzdalifah, the Pilgrims spend the night at Mina.
Back at Mina, the pilgrims perform symbolic stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat) by throwing seven stones at only the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat al-Aqabah from sunrise to sunset. The remaining two pillars (jamarah) are not stoned on this day. These pillars are said to represent Satan. Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-levelled Jamaraat Bridge, from which they can throw their pebbles at the jamarat. Because of safety reasons, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.
After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ishmael. Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in the name of God (Allah) on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat, which is then sent as charity to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
After sacrificing an animal, another important rite of Hajj is shaving head or trimming hair (known as Halak). All male pilgrims shave their head or trim their hair on the day of Eid al Adha and women pilgrims cut the tips of their hair.
Fourth day: 11th Dhu al-Hijjah
Starting from noon to sunset on the 11 Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. This is commonly known as the “Stoning of the Devil”.
Fifth day: 12th Dhu al-Hijjah
On 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, the same process of stoning of the pillars as of 11 Dhu al-Hijjah takes place. Pilgrims may leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th.
Last day at Mina: 13th Dhu al-Hijjah
If unable to leave on the 12th before sunset or opt to stay at free will, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wadaa. ‘Wadaa’ means ‘to bid farewell’. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the Kaaba.
Journey to Medina
Though not a part of Hajj, pilgrims may choose to travel to the city of Medina and the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains Muhammad’s tomb. The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Qiblatayn are also usually visited.
Arrangement and facilities
In order to enter Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj, visa requirements exist.
During official Hajj days, pilgrims travel between the different locations by bus or on foot. The Saudi government strictly controls vehicles access into these heavily congested areas. However, the journey could take many hours due to heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic. In 2010, the Saudi government started operating a metro rail service that runs between Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina. The service shortens the travel time during the critical “Nafrah” from Arafat to Muzdalifah to minutes. Due to its limited capacity, the use of the metro is not open to all pilgrims and is subject to strict controls by Saudi officials.
To the Muslims, Hajj is associated with religious as well as social significance. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the obligation for performing this pilgrimage is only fulfilled if it is done on the eighth to twelfth day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. If in a given year, an adult Muslim is in good health and his life and wealth is safe, they must perform the Hajj in the same year. Delaying it is considered sinful unless the delay is caused by reasons beyond their control.
Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, the Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit that provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal. Hajj serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when Muslims believe people will stand before God.Hadith literature (sayings of Muhammad) articulates various merits a pilgrim achieves upon successful completion of their Hajj.[n 3] After successful pilgrimage, pilgrims can prefix their names with the title ‘Al-Hajji’, and are held with respect in Muslim society. However, Islamic scholars suggest Hajj should signify a Muslim’s religious commitment, and should not be a measurement of their social status. Hajj brings together and unites the Muslims from different parts of the world irrespective of their race, colour, and culture, which acts as a symbol of equality.
A 2008 study on the impact of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslim communities become more positive and tolerant after Hajj experience. Titled Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering and conducted in conjunction with Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the study noted that the Hajj “increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment” and that “Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions.”
Malcolm X, an American activist during the Civil Rights Movement, describes the sociological atmosphere he experienced at his Hajj in the 1960s as follows:
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.
Differences between the Hajj and Umrah
- Both are Islamic pilgrimages, the main difference is their level of importance and the method of observance.
- Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory for every Muslim once in their lifetime, provided they are physically fit and financially capable.
- Hajj is performed over specific days during a designated Islamic month. However, Umrah can be performed at any time.
- Although they share common rites, Umrah can be performed in less than a few hours while Hajj is more time consuming, and involves more rituals.
Hajj is one of the most important acts of faith a Muslim can commit. The act is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is considered mandatory for those who practice Islam. As presented above, the pilgrimage is entrenched in traditions and codified by a multitude of holy texts. Muslims are bound in a contract with Allah and Hajj is one of the payments which Allah requires of his followers.
For this reason, those who are unable to make themselves, are permitted to send another in their place under specific circumstances. First, the person who send someone in their place must be unable because of an incurable sickness or old age. If the sickness may be cured, the follower of Allah must go when they are able. Also, Hajj Badal may be performed on a person’s behalf if they are already deceased. This act is considered a form of vicarious atonement. In this case, one of the Five Pillars of Islam can be completed for a Muslim who was not able to fulfill their duties while living.
Like the requirements for the person who is having Hajj being completed on their behalf, there are also requirements for those who are carrying out the act. When the person committing the act enters the Ihram—the holy garb worn during Hajj—they must acknowledge the person who they are representing. Also, when the Ihram is dawned, the Hajj can only be for the single person who they represent and not for themselves. Another qualifications is that the present person must be Muslim and in good standing with the Islamic community. Because there are multiple distinct types of Hajj, the person performing the ceremony in another’s place must attend the type which is desired by the unable. Lastly, if the person is still alive, then the performer of the Hajj Badal must ask for the permission of the person they hope to represent.
The basis of Hajj Badal can be found in the writings of Abd Allah ibn Abbas who recorded the Prophet Muhammad’s words. When approached by a woman from Juhayan, this exchange occurred between the two: “My mother vowed to go for Hajj, but she died before she did so. Can I perform Hajj on her behalf?” The Prophet replied: “Yes, perform Hajj on her behalf. Do you not think if your mother owed a debt that you would pay it off for her? Fulfil her debt to Allah; for Allah is more deserving that what is owed to him should be paid.” (Hadith No.77, narrated by Ibn Abbas) Other instances of recorded conversation which solidified the act were recorded by other Islamic scholars such as Abdullah bin Az-Zubair and Al-Fadl ibn ‘Abbas.
However, the validity of Hajj Badal has been questioned by other Islamic scholars. The Ulama, a large body of Islamic scholars, oppose Hajj Badal because of its imitation of Christian beliefs. Also, the Qur’an contains phrases which state that no man can truly bear the responsibility of others. Hajj Badal is an act which shifts the Islamic duty of a person to another which contradicts the teaching of the Qur’an. Hadiths, which are supposed sayings of the prophet Muhammed, cannot contradict the Qur’an according to Usool-e-Fiqh—the guiding Jurisprudence principles of Islam.
Another reason why Hajj Badal is criticized stems from lack of consistency. Out of the Five Pillars of Islam, none are subject to vicarious atonement. If prayer, Kalima, fasting, or Zakat are not able to be atoned for vicariously, then why can Hajj. Permitting vicarious atonement harms the strictness of performing Islamic traditions on the living and could harm the religion as a whole.
Lastly, passages in the Qur’an—specifically 22:28—stress the importance of witnessing the traditions of Hajj with one’s own eyes. Hajj Badal effectively prevents a follower of Islam from partaking in the ceremonies. This contradiction with the word of the Qur’an is another reason why Islamic scholars disprove of the practice.
And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled…. Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Ishmael, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer)…. And remember Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House (2:124-127)
And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, through deep and distant mountain highways, that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allah, through the Days appointed, over the cattle which He has provided for them (for sacrifice): then eat ye thereof and feed the distressed one, the needy. Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House. (22: 27-29)
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