Histories & Culture
The Hajj

The hajj is the last of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims from around the world fol¬low in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad as they perform the steps of the hajj in Mecca. The hajj always takes place on the same six days of the lunar calendar, beginning on the eighth and ending on the 13th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the year.

The rituals take place in five locations: on the outskirts of the Holy City of
Mecca; in the Holy Mosque; on the plain of 'Arafat; at Muzdalifah; and at Jamarat. Each ritual must be completed at or within a prescribed time.

1) Ihram (“Purification”) up to 14 days before the hajj
Before entering Mecca, pilgrims clean themselves physically and spiritually at designated times and places at the edge of the sacred precinct surrounding the city. At this time they announce their intention to perform the pilgrimage by reciting an invocation called talbiyah. Men wear a white garment of two seamless pieces of cloth called ihram, which they wear for the duration of hajj. Women wear modest and unobtru¬sive dress of any color, and cover their heads. During the hajj, all outward dif¬ferences among pilgrims are erased.

2) Tawaf at the Holy Mosque: before the hajj
Between their arrival in Mecca and the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims walk around the Ka'bah counterclockwise, seven times. The Ka’bah is the cubical struc¬ture housing the black stone at the center of the Holy Mosque in Mecca. The circumambulation, called tawaf, expresses the centrality of God in life. Afterward, pilgrims run seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, along the eastern side of the Holy Mosque, commemo¬rating Abraham's wife Hagar’s desperate search for water of. This ritual, which takes place in a 400 meter (1,300 ft) covered arcade, is called sa'y. Zamzam is the spring of water that God provided for Hagar and her son Ismail, and it still flows today.

3) Encampment at Mina: the first day of the hajj
On the eighth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims gather in the flat valley of Mina, about 5 km (3 miles) east of Mecca. Meditating and praying in preparation for the next day, most spend the night in tents.

4) Wuquf (“standing”) at Arafat: the second day
On the morning of the ninth day of the month, pilgrims continue their journey another 10 km (6 mi) east to the plain of 'Arafat. From noon prayers until sundown, pilgrims stand or sit, for minutes, or for hours, and reflect on their lives before God and pray for mercy and renewal. Some climb Jabal Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy, a rocky hill at the foot of which the Prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon. This is the emo¬tional climax of the hajj and the devo¬tional peak of Muslim spiritual life:

5) Muzdalifah: the second night
After sundown at 'Arafat, pilgrims head back toward Mecca and stop for the night at Muzdalifah. There, some pilgrims pick up 49 stones which they throw at the three pillars of Jamarat.

6) Stoning at Jamarat and Eid al Adha: the third day
At dawn on the tenth day of the month, pilgrims begin moving to a place just west of Mina called Jamarat ("stoning"). There they throw seven pebbles at the first of three pillars which have come to represent Satan. This commemorates Abraham's three rejec¬tions of Satan when God asked him to sacrifice his son. Later, pilgrims commemorate Abraham's faith by sacrificing a sheep, as God com¬manded Abraham to do. This day is the first of the three-day
Eid al-Ad'ha, the "Feast of the Sacrifice." After throwing stones at the first pillar, men shave their heads, and women cut off a lock of their hair.

Eid al-Ad'ha and Tawaf al-ifadhah: 3rd thourgh 6th days
Pilgrims return to the Holy Mosque in Mecca at any time during these days. They circle the Ka'bah seven times and perform the sa'y again. They then return to the tents at Mina and, from there, pass through Jamarat again on the fourth and fifth days, stoning each of the three pillars with seven pebbles. On the 13th of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims return to the Holy Mosque to make a third, final, "farewell" circumambula¬tion called tawaf al-ifadhah.

Pilgrims leave Mecca within the next two weeks, some flying out of the Hajj Terminal at Jeddah airport in Saudi Arabia. Some pilgrim groups go north to visit Medina, the second Holy City of Islam, and the Prophet's Mosque there.