THE HAJJ: PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA
One of a Muslim's duties, as described in the Five Pillars of Islam,
is to go on Hajj at least once during his or her lifetime. This is a
pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia. Approximately two million Muslims
went in 1999, of which about one million were from Saudi Arabia, and 6,000 were
from the U.S. 1 Council on American-Islamic Relations
estimated in 2006 that "some 10,000 American Muslims go on Hajj each year."
7 The number of American pilgrims is increasing yearly. Followers of Islam who cannot
go on a Hajj because of ill health or lack of money are excused from the
obligation. If one assumes that Muslims go on Hajj a maximum of once during
their lifetime, that the number of Muslims in America are about 6.5 million, and
that the typical age span for pilgrims is 60 years, then fewer than 10% of
American Muslims take part in the pilgrimage.
The Council on Islamic Education states:
"The Hajj consists of several ceremonies, meant to symbolize
the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials
of prophet Abraham and his family...Prophet Muhammad had said that a person
who performs Hajj properly 'will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].'
The pilgrimage also enables Muslims from all around the world, of different colors,
languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal
brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together." 2
Many Islamic terms have multiple spellings when translated into
English. We indicate alternative spellings below with (brackets).
Preparation for the Hajj
Each pilgrim first enters into ihram. This is a
spiritual state of purity during which the person must not quarrel, commit
any act of violence or engage in sexual activity. Men signify the state of
ihram by bathing, and wearing two pieces of unsewn white cloth: "one covers the
body from waist to ankle and the other is thrown over the shoulder."
Women usually wear a simple white dress and "a
head covering, but not a veil." 4 "The
white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God, since
all the pilgrims are dressed similarly." 2 The pilgrim
will then repeat the Talbiyah (Talbeeyah) prayer. One English
"Here I am, O
God, at Thy Command! Here I am at Thy Command! Thou art without associate;
Here I am at Thy Command! Thine are praise and grace and dominion! Thou
art without associate."
The pilgrim enters the Holy Mosque
at Mecca, right foot first, and recites the prayer: "In the name
of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah. Oh
Allah, forgive me my sins and open to me the doors of Your mercy. I seek
refuge in Allah the Almighty and in His Eminent Face and in His Eternal
Dominion from the accursed Satan." The pilgrim performs the tawaf. This is a counter-clockwise
procession which circles, "the Ka'aba, the [cube-shaped] stone building Muslims believe was
originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael... It is a symbol of unity for Muslims because all prayers, wherever
they are performed, are oriented in the direction of the Ka'aba."
The pilgrim then performs the sa'i. He hurries seven times
between two small hills near the Ka'aba, called Safa and Marwah. This
commemorates the desperate search for water and food by Hagar, one of Abraham's
The Hajj formally begins on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah (Zul-Hijjah) - the 12th month of the
Muslim lunar calendar. Dr. Monzur Ahmed writes:
"Islamic months begin at sunset on the day
of visual sighting of the lunar crescent [following the new moon]... Although it is possible to
calculate the position of the moon in the sky with high precision, it is
often difficult to predict if a crescent will be visible from a particular
location... Usually the moon has to be at least 15 hours old before it can
be seen from somewhere on earth." 3
On this first day of the Hajj, the pilgrims walk a few
miles to Mina and camp there overnight. This will occur about
2000-MAR-14. It falls on a date about 11 days earlier each year.
The pilgrims spend the "Day of Arafah" (ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah)
in Arafah, an empty plain. They commit the entire day to supplication and
devotion. In the evening, they move to Muzdalifa. They camp there
overnight and offer various prayers.
On the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, they return to Mina and throw seven
pebbles at a pillar that symbolizes Satan's temptation of
Abraham. (The Qur'an describes how Satan tried to persuade Abraham to not
ritually murder his son Ishmael, as commanded by God). The pilgrims then
sacrifice a sheep, recalling how Abraham sacrificed a sheep that God had
provided in place of his son. The meat is distributed to friends, relative
and the poor. Afterwards, they return to Mecca and perform a final tawaf
and sa'i. They symbolize the completion of the Hajj by cutting
Muslims worldwide gather for communal prayers on the first day of Id al-Adha (Eid-ul-Adha)
-- the Feast of
Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice. The first day of this
celebration is held on
the 10th day of Duhl-Hijja, the last month of the Muslim year. This is the second of the two major Muslim
annual holidays. In most areas, this event is celebrated over several days.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "American Muslims to begin pilgrimage season," media
advisory, Council on American-Islamic Relations, issued 2000-FEB-22.
- "The Hajj: Information for teachers," Council on Islamic
Education, at: http://www.cie.org/
- Dr. Monzur Ahmed, "Islamic calendar based on predicted lunar
visibility." at: http://www.ummah.org.uk/
- "Hajj: The journey of a lifetime," IslamiCity, at: http://www.islamicity.org/
- "Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha," at: http://www.ummah.org.uk/
This website has many links to web sites with Hajj information. It also
includes a map of the area involved in the Hajj.
- A very beautiful three dimensional view of the Ka'aba can be seen at: http://www.abidhussain.co.uk/
- "More U.S. Muslims expected to take part in Hajj. CAIR reminds pilgrims
of their rights, offers 'hotline' for bias reports," CAIR, 3006-DEC-12 news
Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-FEB-22
Latest update: 2006-DEC-13
Author: B.A. Robinson