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 their lifetime. Followers of Islam who cannot
attend Hajj because of ill health, disability, or lack of money are excused from this
The Hajj involves a
pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia. It is the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. Approximately two million Muslims
attend yearly, of which about half are from Saudi Arabia. 1
The 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.
If one assumes that Muslims go on Hajj a maximum of once during
their lifetime, and that the number of Muslims in the U.S. is about 3.45 million, 8 that the typical age span for pilgrims is 80 years, that few Muslims take part in the Hajj more than once during their lifetime, and that the Council estimate is correct, then only about 25% of
American Muslims take part in the pilgrimage during their lifetime.
Doing the same calculation for the world's population of 1.8 billion Muslims, assuming an average life span of 71 years, and a Hajj attendance of 2 million annually, about 8% of
Muslims worldwide take part in the pilgrimage at some time during their lifetime.
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 within (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." 4 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
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 final sentence appears to emphasize a main difference between Islam and Christianity. Most Christians believe that God consists of three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Muslims believe that God is a unity.
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 pilgrims perform the tawaf. This is a counter-clockwise
procession, in which they circle:
"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 by Muslims, wherever
they are performed around the world, are oriented in the direction of the Ka'aba." 4,6
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 is observed yearly and formally begins on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah (Zul-Hijjah) -- the 12th month of the
Muslim lunar calendar.
During 2018, the Hajj began on August-19. It falls on a date about 11 days earlier each year. Thus, approximately every 33 years, the full year has been covered.
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.
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, relatives,
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. For 2018, this was scheduled for the evening of AUG-21, contingent on the sighting of the moon. This is the second of the two major Muslim
annual holidays. In most areas, this event is celebrated over several days.
Oma Akour wrote an article titled "Saudi Arabia prepares for the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage" for ReligionNews.com which described the 2018 Hajj pilgrimage.
During the year 2020, the Hajj pilgrimage started on JUL-28. However, the coronavirus pandemic was widespread across the world at the time. Thus Saudi Arabia scaled down the Hajj. Normally, over two million Muslims from around the world attend. This year it is restricted to only about 1,000 pilgrims -- all between 20 and 50 years-of-age and without any chronic illnesses. International travellers are banned. However, some press reports said that 10,000 may take part. About 30% will be from Saudi Arabia; 70% will citizens of other countries who reside there. Yahoo stated that:
"The ritual will be restricted to medical professionals and security personnel who have recovered from the virus, the Hajj ministry said." 9
The Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said:
"Due to the exceptional global health circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, strict precautionary measures have been applied to ensure a healthy Hajj for all pilgrims." 10
The Muslim World League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have supported Saudi Arabia's restrictions.
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
- "Islam in the United States," Wikipedia, as on 2018-AUG-16, at: https://en.wikipedia.org
- "Scaled-down hajj pilgrimage to start July 29: Saudi officials," Yahoo, 2020-JUL-20, at: https://news.yahoo.com/
- Jomana Karadsheh and Tamara Qiblawi, " 'Unprecedented' Hajj begins -- with 1,000 pilgrims, rather than the usual 2 million,"
CNN, 2020-JUL-28, at: https://www.cnn.com/
Copyright © 2000 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-FEB-22
Latest update: 2020-JUL-29
Author: B.A. Robinson