The Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Makkah, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam on which the faith rests. The Hajj takes place annually and is the duty of every adult Muslim, male or female, who is physically and mentally fit and can afford it, to make the pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime. Hajj is the Greater Pilgrimage and can only be taken in Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar, whilst ‘umrah is a lesser pilgrimage which can be taken at any time.
If people cannot make the journey themselves they have only to declare that it is their Niyyah, their sincere heartfelt intention, to go on Hajj and the duty is considered to have been fulfilled.
Before starting on the Hajj pilgrims put on ihram, a white seamless garment similar to the clothes worn by Muhammad (pbuh) and the earlier prophets.
- no perfume, not even in soap, nor in food,
- no jewellery, except women’s wedding rings,
- no wearing of gloves, though hands may be wrapped in cloth,
- no deliberate cutting of hair or fingernails, so as not to interfere with nature,
- no uprooting of plants nor cutting down of trees on the journey
- no hunting nor blood shed, except in dealing with bedbugs, fleas, snakes and scorpions,
- no carrying of weapons
- no sexual relations, not even kissing, nor flirtatious thoughts
- no engagements nor taking part in weddings.
On the first day, at Makkah, the pilgrims visit the Great Mosque and walk round the Ka’bah, the cube shaped building at the centre of the mosque, seven times anticlockwise. They then walk quickly seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah (to commemorate the seven times that Hagar, wife of Ibrahim, ran between those hills searching for water for her and her son, Ishmael).
Pilgrims then travel to Mina to camp. On the ninth of Dhul-Hijjah they go to the plain of Arafat before sunrise for the stand before Allah. After sunset, the pilgrims go to Muzdalifah where they collect stones. The following morning the pilgrims return to Mina and throw stones at three pillars. The pilgrimage ends with an animal sacrifice.
After a final circling of the Ka’bah, the pilgrims go home or visit al-Madinah.
The essential parts of Hajj are the four rites which are obligatory in the Qur’an:
- Putting on Ihram
- Doing tawaf (circling the Ka’bah)
- Going to Arafat
- Making the last tawaf after returning from Arafat.