The world witnesses the largest human congregation on the earth in an annual Muslim pilgrimage called ‘Hajj’ to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The ‘Hajj’ which means ‘The Pilgrimage’ in Arabic is considered as a mandatory religious duty every adult Muslim, who is physically & financially capable of embarking the rigorous journey, must carry out at least once in his lifetime.
The ‘Hajj’ is considered as the greatest manifestation of Muslim brotherhood & their submission to God (Allah). It attracts nearly 2 million devout Muslims from all over the world who gather in Mecca to perform the rites carried out by Prophet Muhammad during his last stay in Mecca. The word ‘Hajj’ stands for ‘to intend a journey’ which depicts both the physical journey to greet other devout followers of Islam as well as an inward journey of purifying the mind to attain the apex of a true Muslim’s life!
The ‘Hajj’ occurs in the last month of the Islamic calendar- from the 8th to 12th days of the month of ‘Dhu-al-Hijjah’. The state of being physically as well as financially capable of undertaking the pilgrimage is called ‘Istita’ah’ & a pilgrim who fulfills this criterion is called as a ‘Mustati’. Upon arrival to Mecca, all the pilgrims perform a special rite called ‘Ihram’, wherein they give up their routine clothes & wear two humble white sheets of seamless cotton cloth that erases the social, economical, national & racial boundaries among the participants & make them enter in the Ocean of the people where every individual bears the solitary identity- ‘A Muslim’!
Rituals Performed During Hajj:-
The rituals performed in Hajj are directly associated with the rites carried out by Islamic Prophet Muhammad in his last visit to Mecca. Moreover, the pilgrimage also reveres the legend of Abraham (Ibrahim) that dates back 2000 BC. The rituals begin with performing ‘Ihram’ before crossing the outer boundaries of Mecca called ‘Miquat’. All the pilgrims then move to the city of ‘Mina’ situated 8 km away from Mecca to stay in the tents present here in huge numbers.
- DAY OF ARAFAT: 9th day of Dhu-al-Hijjah
On this day, pilgrims leave Mina for Arafat; a parched plain situated approx. 20 km East of Mecca, where they try to congregate before noon. All pilgrims stand in meditative vigil in front of Mount Arafat. They also visit ‘Jabal-al-Rehmah’ (The Mount Mercy) to repent for their bad deeds & to beg for god’s mercy. This is the same spot from where Prophet Muhammad had delivered his last sermon. All pilgrims then converge at ‘Masjid-al-Namirah’ to offer noon & afternoon prayers at the same time.
They then retrace their journey back towards Mecca & halts at ‘Muzdalifah’ after the sunset to offer evening prayer & later on, spend the night under the open sky.
The day at Arafat & standing before the god (wuquf) is one of the most important rituals of Hajj, without which, the Hajj is considered incomplete as well as invalid.
- DAY OF EID-AL-ADHA: 10th day of Dhu-al-Hijjah
The 10th day is the most crucial & the holiest day of the pilgrimage. Several important rites are performed on this day, which makes it the busiest day of all. The day is started early morning as the pilgrims head back to Mina before breaking of dawn. They perform a ritual named ‘Ramy al-Jamarat’, wherein they pelt seven pebbles at the largest of the three pillars known as ‘Jamrat-al-Aqabah’ that represent the ‘Shaitan’ (Satan). The activity is performed to revere Abraham’s act of valor in which he scared off the Satan by pelting stones at him. A five storey tall building acts as a podium for millions of pilgrims who shower the satanic pillar with stones & pebbles to venerate the legend.
After accomplishing the feat of throwing stones, the pilgrims perform the ritual of animal sacrifice either by involving themselves in the act or by paying others to perform the ritual on their behalf. Every year, over 600,000 animals are sacrificed during the ritual & their meat is distributed among the poor people across the world as a charity. The similar task is performed worldwide by the Muslims as a part of the celebration of the three day festival called ‘Eid-Al-Adha’.
The animal sacrifice ritual is followed by yet another ritual, wherein, all the devout male pilgrims shave off their heads & women pilgrims cut off the tip of their hair in a ceremony called as ‘Halak’.
All the pilgrims, later on, proceed to Mecca’s ‘Masjid-al-Haram’ mosque to perform ‘Tawaf’ & ‘Sa’ay’ which is considered as one of the most important ceremonies of the pilgrimage. Everybody returns back to Mina upon accomplishing all the ceremonies.
Tawaf:- Tawaf is an activity of walking around the holy ‘Kaaba’ seven times in a counterclockwise direction. First three rounds are done briskly, called as ‘Ramal’ whereas, the next four are done at a gentle pace. While moving round, pilgrims kiss or touch the holy Kaaba‘, if possible, or simply points towards the ‘Kaaba’ after completion of every round.
Sa’ay:- Tawaf is followed by Sa’ay which consists of running or walking seven times between the hills of ‘Safa’ & ‘Marwah’. Both the places are now enclosed by the grand mosque itself & can be accessed through the AC tunnels.
- FINAL DAYS: Days 11th to 13th of Dhu-al-Hijjah
Pilgrims spend the next two or maybe three days in Mina performing the same ritual of throwing seven pebbles at the pillars of Satan. On the twelfth day, they have to leave for Mecca before the sunset, failing to leave before the sunset, they have to extend their stay by one more night in Mina & have to leave for Mecca on the next day after throwing the pebbles at the pillars for one last time.
Pilgrims then perform the final Tawaf called as ‘Tawaf-al-Wida’ to bid farewell to the holy ‘Kaaba’ & also to the holiest place in Islam. The pilgrimage thus, comes to an end & a completely transformed, broad-minded & more tolerant Muslim individual emerges out of Mecca! Many of the pilgrims also prefer to visit ‘Medina’, where Prophet Muhammad took his last breath & was buried alongside his closest disciples. Visiting Medina, however, is not a part of the Hajj.
Performing Hajj is considered as the highest achievement of a normal Muslim’s life. A devout Muslim often regards the Hajj as the life transforming experience. After successful completion of Hajj, the individual is renowned as ‘Hajji’ & becomes a respectable person of Muslim society. The largest global gathering of the Islamic world for the ‘Hajj’ is truly an unmatched feat in the world which displays the highest level of spirituality & the global fraternity. The 1400 years long tradition is indeed one of its kinds & it truly signifies the phrase ‘Hajj: the fifth pillar of Islam’!