Men wearing the ihram.
Field of Arafat with the Rahma Mount inside the ’roundabout’.
Uttering of ‘Labbayka’, here below the Rahma Mount.
Throwing stones at one of three jamrats at Mina.
Photos: S. M. Amin (nos. 1,2,3), Samia El-Moslimany (no. 4)/Saudi Aramco World/PADIA
Preeminent pilgrimage in Islam, to Mecca, compulsory for Muslims in good health and with sufficient funds to make the journey. The length of the obligatory rituals with the hajj covers about 6 days, but which are the core rituals is a matter of definitions, and may be set as low as covering 3 days.
Hajj is the last, but still most celebrated of Islam’s Five Pillars.
The hajj is the foremost of all Muslim rituals, even if less than 10% of all Muslims ever manage to complete it. In modern times about 2.5 million Muslims fulfill the hajj every year, and this number seems to be fairly close to the recorded maximum. Saudi authorities now regulate how many may come from each country, requiring pilgrims to file requests, many of which are declined.
A person performing, and having performed the hajj, is called hajji. Many hajjis add ‘Hajj’ or ‘Hajji’ to their name after returning from Mecca.
The following are not obliged to perform hajj: Those who are mentally ill, slaves, women without traveling companions (like close relative or husband), and people without the necessary funds.
The hajj’s important lies in its allowing the believer to approach the assumed centre of the world, as well as the place where the Koran‘s divine revelations began and continued about 12 years. Of most importance, however, Islam teaches that the hajj is one of the oldest true and pure religious rituals (pure in the sense that is performed according to God’s will).
Muslim and Western researchers trace the origins of the ritual to Muhammad’s doing it himself after the conquest of Mecca. While it is clear that Muslims commemorate Muhammad’s acts, the exact theological or mythical reason for Muhammad’s acts are unclear to modern researchers. But the performer of hajj does not only reenact Muhammad’s ritual, he or she also recalls acts of important people in Muslim history. The rituals performed around the Ka’ba reenacts when Ibrahim and Isma’il transformed the Ka’ba into the sacred place of worship and peace (Koran 2:119). Following that is a copy of Hajar running to procure water for her son.
The rituals above are shared between hajj and the lesser pilgrimage, umra. Whether the first part of hajj that commemorates Ibrahim and Hajar should be seen as an umra, or as an integrated part of hajj, is not clear from theological sources.
Most hajjis arrive in Mecca a few days before the hajj proper begins, while some clasp the opportunity to arrive already 3 months ahead, during Ramadan, the month of sawm, considered to be a meritorious deed.
While it is recommended that the hajjis should robe themselves in the white costume of ihram already at performing the very first rituals, the majority do this when they set out for the plain of Arafat. Once the hajji has dressed him or herself in the ihram, they become mihram, the one that has the holy purity of the ihram. The hajj wearing the ihram may not wash or bathe.
The hajj proper begins on 7th Dhu l-Hijja, after the hajjis have performed the umra. Still this part is an obligatory part of the hajj, and many of the central rituals to hajj are acted out during the umra.
7. Dhu l-Hijja
This day is spent praying in the Great Mosque in Mecca. This act is preparing the hajjis for the holy ceremonies.
8. Dhu l-Hijja
The hajjis now leave Mecca. Following the two caskets brought each year from Damascus and Cairo, the hajjis reach the plain of Arafat, after passing through Mina and Muzdalifa. Many ascend the Rahma Mountain, but in modern times, only a small percentage has the opportunity, actually to complete this. While on the mountain top, the pilgrim chants, the one small phrase, “Labbayka”, which may be translated with “At your service.”
9. Dhu l-Hijja
This is really a day to spend out in the open, and the ritual during this day is simply called wuquf, “standing.” Two khutbas fill the entire day. When the sun sets behind the western hills, the idafa begins. The idafa involves running to Muzdalifa. The two last prayers are performed here, and the night is spent.
10. Dhu l-Hijja
This morning begins with a khutba in Muzdalifa, before the hajjis go to Mina. In Mina different duties await the hajji. 7 stones that have been gathered in Muzdalifa the day before are thrown by each hajji at the 3 jamra, pillars that represent the powers of Satan. At this place, Satan appeared in front of Ibrahim. When the 7 stones have been thrown, the hajj is more or less completed, although there are a few other ceremonies yet to be performed. The chanting of “labbayka” comes to an end around this time.
At this time a sheep or a goat is sacrificed, and while this formally ends the hajj, it introduces the feast of Id al-Kabir, celebrated all around the Muslim world by all Muslims. Many of the hajjis do not kill the animal themselves, but get professional butchers to do it. Parts of the meat are eaten, but most is taken care of by Saudi authorities, who make sure that nothing is lost but distributed to the needy.
Many have their heads shaved at this time. The shaving is done while turning towards the qibla. When this is completed, the ihram taken off, and the holy purity of mihram is lost. At this point, it is custom to return to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’ba again. Washing and bathing is also done this day.
11.-13. Dhu l-Hijja
These last days of the extended hajj are spent in Mina, and are filled with eating, drinking, and for those together with their spouse, sensual pleasure. Every day seven stones are thrown on each of the 3 jamrats. Although it is proper to remain at Mina until the 13, a large number of the hajjis return to Mecca on the 12. A last umra has to be performed. Some days later, people set out for what has become an intrinsic part of the hajj, a visit to Madina and the tomb of Muhammad.
2004 January: Some of the heaviest security measures are imposed on this year’s hajj, largely due to unstable security in the rest of Saudi Arabia.
— February 1: At least 244 pilgrims are killed in a stampede at Mena.
2006 January 13: More than 345 pilgrims die in a stampede near the Jamrat Complex in Mina.