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Pilgrims at the Masjid al-Haram on Hajj in 2008

The Hajj (Arabic: حجḤaǧǧ "pilgrimage") is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims which must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.[1][2][3] It is one of the five pillars of Islam which also includes Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, and Sawm. The gathering during Hajj is considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world.[4][5][6] The state of being physically and financially capable of performing the Hajj is called istita'ah, and a Muslim who fulfils this condition is called a mustati. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah).[7][8] The word Hajj means "to intend a journey" which connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions.[9]

The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one which is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the Gregorian date of Hajj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which pilgrims wear two white sheets of seamless cloth and abstain from certain things.[7][10][11]

The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka'aba, the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for the Muslims, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha.[12][13][14][15]

Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the "lesser pilgrimage", or Umrah. However, even if they choose to perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.


A 1907 image of Masjid al-Haram with people praying therein
The Kaaba during Hajj

The present pattern of Hajj was established by Muhammad.[16] However, elements of Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham, around 2000 BCE. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hagar (Hagar) and his son Ishmael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hagar desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah but found none. Back in despair to Ishmael, she saw the baby scratching the ground with his leg and a water fountain underneath.[17] Later, Abraham was commanded to build Kaaba (which he did with the help of Ishmael) and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there.[18] The Quran refers to these incidents in verses 2:124-127 and 22:27-30.[n 1] It is said that the arch-angel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to Kaaba.[18]

In pre-Islamic Arabia, a time known as jahiliyyah, Kaaba became surrounded by pagan idols.[19] In 630 CE, Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, cleansed the Kaaba by destroying all the pagan idols, and then reconsecrated the building to Allah.[20] In 632 CE, Muhammad performed his only and last pilgrimage with a large number of followers, and instructed them on the rites of Hajj.[21] It was from this point that Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.

During the medieval times, pilgrims would gather in big cities of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq to go to Mecca in groups and caravans comprising tens of thousands of pilgrims,[22] often under state patronage.[23] Some Hajj caravans were to be guarded by soldiers because there were risks of robbery or attack or natural hazards.[23][n 2] Muslim travelers like Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta have recorded detailed accounts of Hajj-travels of medieval time.[24]

Timing of Hajj

The date of Hajj is determined by Islamic calendar (known as Hijri calendar or AH) which is a lunar year.[25][26] Every year, the events of Hajj take place in a five-day period, starting on 8 and ending on 12 Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth and last month of Islamic calendar. Among these five days, the 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as Day of Arafah, and this day is basically called the day of Hajj. Because the Islamic calendar is roughly eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the Gregorian date for Hajj changes from year to year. Thus, each year in the Gregorian calendar, the pilgrimage starts eleven days (sometimes ten days) earlier than the preceding year.[26][27] This makes it possible that Hajj season falls twice in one Gregorian calendar every 33 years. The last time this phenomenon occurred was 2006.[28] The table below shows the Gregorian dates of Hajj of recent years (the dates correspond to 9 Dhul-Hijjah of Hijri calendar):
2011 2012 2013 2014
5 November[29] 25 October 14 October[30][31] 3 October[32]

The approximate date for the next Hajj pilgrimage (1436 AH) is 22 September 2015.[28]


Artwork showing locations and rites of Hajj

Fiqh literature describes in detail the manners of carrying out the rites of Hajj, and pilgrims generally follow handbooks and expert guides to successfully fulfill the requirements of Hajj.[33] In performing the rites of hajj, the pilgrims not only follow the model of Muhammad, but also commemorate the events associated with Abraham.[34]


When the pilgrims are about 6 miles (10 km) from Mecca, they enter into a state of holiness – known as Ihram – that consists of wearing two white seamless cloths for the male, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side; wearing ordinary dress for the female that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands or face uncovered;[35] taking ablution; declaring the intention (niyah) to perform pilgrimage and to refraining from certain activities such as clipping the nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering head (for men) or the face and hands (for women); getting married; or carrying weapons.[7][10] A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a Miqat. The ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in front of God: there is no difference between the rich and the poor.[34]

Tawaf and sa'ay

Direction of the Tawaf around the Kaaba
Mount Safa near Kaaba inside Masjid al-Haram

Tawaf means walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba.[36] Upon arriving at Masjid al-Haram, pilgrims perform an arrival tawaf either as part of Umrah or as an welcome tawaf.[37] During tawaf, pilgrims also include Hateem - an area at the north side of Kaaba - inside their path. Each circuit starts with the kissing or touching of the Black Stone (Hajar al- Aswad).[38] If kissing the stone is not possible because of the crowds, they may simply point towards the stone with their hand on each circuit. Eating is not permitted but the drinking of water is allowed, because of the risk of dehydration due to the often low humidity in Mecca. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, known as Ramal, and the following four at a leisurely pace.[35][38]

The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqam Ibrahim), a site near Kaaba inside the mosque.[38][39] However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque. After prayer, pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam well which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque.[40]

Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the ground level, tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowd.

Tawaf is followed by sa'ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near Kaaba.[36][39] Previously in open air, the place is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels.[41] Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they are allowed to run. There is also an internal "express lane" for the disabled. After sayee, the male pilgrims shave their heads and women generally clip a portion of their hair which completes the Umrah and ends the restriction of ihram.

First day of Hajj: 8th Dhu al-Hijjah

Tents at Mina

On the 8th Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of ihram start now.


Pilgrims wearing ihram on the plains of Arafat on the day of Hajj
Mount Arafat during Hajj

After the morning prayer on the 8th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the whole day and offer noon, afternoon, evening, and night prayers.[42] The next morning after morning prayer, they leave Mina for Arafat.

Second day: 9th Dhu al-Hijjah


On 9th Dhu al-Hijjah before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometers east of Mecca,[43] where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek mercy of God, and listen to sermon from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near Jabal al-Rahmah (The Mount of Mercy)[42] from where Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset,[43] this is known as 'standing before God' (wuquf), one of the most significant rites of Hajj.[7] At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together at noon time.[42] A pilgrim's Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.[13][43]


A scenery of Muzdalifa

Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah after sunset without praying maghrib (evening) prayer at Arafat.[44] Muzdalifah is an area between Arafat and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly, spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day's ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan).[45]

Third day: 10th Dhu al-Hijjah

Ramy al-Jamarat

Pilgrims performing Stoning of the devil ceremony at 2006 Hajj

Back at Mina, the pilgrims perform symbolic stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat) by throwing seven stones at only the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat al-Aqabah.[13][46] The remaining two pillars (jamarah) are not stoned on this day.[47] These pillars are said to represent Satan.[48] Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-levelled Jamaraat Bridge, from which they can throw their pebbles at the jamarat. Because of safety reasons, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.[49][50]

Animal sacrifice

After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ishmael. Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat which is then sent as charity to poor people around the world.[13][41] At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three day global festival called Eid al-Adha.[14]

Hair removal

After sacrificing animal, another important rite of Hajj is shaving head or trimming hair (known as Halak). All male pilgrims shave their head or trim their hair on the day of Eid al Adha and women pilgrims only cut the tip of hair.[51][52][53]

Tawaf Al-Ifaadah

Pilgrims performing Tawaf around Kaaba

On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca for another tawaf, known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, an essential part of Hajj.[52] It symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.

Fourth day: 11th Dhu al-Hijjah

At noon on the 11 Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. This is commonly known as the "Stoning of the Devil".[46]

Fifth day: 12th Dhu al-Hijjah

On 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, the same process of stoning of the pillars as of 11 Dhu al-Hijjah takes place.[46] Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th. If unable, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.[46]

Tawaf al-Wida

Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wida. 'Wida' means 'to bid farewell'. The pilgrims circle the ka'ba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the ka'ba.[13]

Journey to Medina

Though not a part of Hajj, pilgrims may choose to travel to the city of Medina and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains Muhammad's tomb.[41] The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Qiblatain are also usually visited.[54]

Arrangement and facilities

A Saudi security man on vigil

Making necessary arrangements each year for the growing number of pilgrims poses a logistic challenge for the government of Saudi Arabia who has, since the 1950s, spent more than $100 billion to increase pilgrimage facilities.[23][25] Major issues like housing, transportation, sanitation, and health care have been addressed and improved greatly by the government by introducing various development programs, with the result that pilgrims now enjoy modern facilities and perform various rites at ease.[41] The Saudi government often sets quota for various countries to keep the pilgrims' number at a manageable level, and arranges huge security forces and CCTV cameras to maintain overall safety during Hajj.[23][25][55][56] Various institutions and government programs, such as the Haj subsidy offered in India or the Tabung Haji based in Malaysia assist pilgrims in covering the costs of the journey.[57] For 2014 Hajj, special Hajj information desks were set up at Pakistani airports to assist the pilgrims.[58]


Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups. During the early 19th century, the traditional overland pilgrimage caravans began to cease as many pilgrims began arriving in Mecca by steamship which continued for some time,[59] until after Egypt introduced the first airline service for Hajj pilgrims in 1937.[60][61] Today, many airlines and travel agents offer Hajj packages, and arrange for transportation and accommodation for the pilgrims.[62] King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina have dedicated pilgrim terminals to assist the arrival of pilgrims.[63][64] Other international airports around the world, such as Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, Jinnah in Karachi and Soekarno-Hatta in Jakarta also have dedicated terminals or temporary facilities to service pilgrims as they depart and return home.[65] During Hajj, many airlines run extra flights to accommodate the large number of pilgrims.[25][63]

Modern crowd-control issues

Because pilgrim numbers have largely increased in recent years, which often leads to accidents, various crowd-control techniques have been adapted to ensure safety. Because of the large numbers of people, many of the rituals have become more symbolic. For example, it is not necessary to kiss the Black Stone; instead, pilgrims may point at it on each circuit around the Kaaba. Also, the large pillars used in the pebble throwing were changed to long walls with basins below to catch the stones for safety reasons in 2004.[49][50] Another example is that the animal slaughter can now be done by appointing someone else to do it.[35] Even with these crowd control techniques, there are still many incidents during the Hajj as pilgrims are trampled or ramps collapse under the weight of the many visitors. Concerns were raised in 2013 and 2014 about the spread of MERS because of mass gathering.[6][66] Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabia said authorities have detected no cases of MERS among the pilgrims so far.[67] He also said that, despite few cases of MERS, Saudi Arabia was ready for 2014 pilgrimage.[68]


To the Muslims, Hajj is associated with religious as well as social significance. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit which provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal.[69] Hajj serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when Muslims believe people will stand before God.[70] Hadith literature (sayings of Muhammad) articulates various merits a pilgrim achieves upon successful completion of their Hajj.[n 3] After successful pilgrimage, pilgrims can prefix their names with the title 'Al-Hajji', and are held with respect in Muslim society.[71] However, Islamic scholars suggest Hajj should signify a Muslim's religious commitment, and should not be a measurement of their social status.[71] Hajj brings together and unites the Muslims from different parts of the world irrespective of their race, color, and culture which acts as a symbol of equality.[7][51]

A 2008 study on the impact of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslim communities become more positive and tolerant after Hajj experience. Entitled Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam's Global Gathering and conducted in conjunction with Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the study noted that the Hajj "increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment" and that "Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions."[72]

Malcolm X, an American civil rights activist, describes the sociological atmosphere he experienced at his Hajj in the 1960s as follows:

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.[73]
Masjid al-Haram panorama during Hajj, 2007.

Number of pilgrims per year

Before World War ll, the number of pilgrims was 10,000 or less.[74] There has been substantial progress in the number of pilgrims during the last 92 years, and the number of foreign pilgrims has increased phenomenally by approximately 2,824 percent, up from just 58,584 in 1920 to 1,712,962 in 2012.[75] Because of development and expansion work at Masjid al-Haram, the authority restricted the number of pilgrims in 2013.[76][77] The following number of pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia each year to perform Hajj.

Year Hijri year Saudi pilgrims Foreign pilgrims Total
1920 1338 58,584[75]
1921 1339 57,255[75]
1922 1340 56,319[75]
1950 1369 100,000 (approx.)[1]
1995 1415 910,157[78]
1996 1416 784,769 1,080,465[79] 1,865,234
1997 1417 774,260 1,168,591[79] 1,942,851
1998 1418 699,770 1,132,344 1,832,114[80]
1999 1419 775,268 1,056,730 1,831,998
2000 1420 466,430[81] 1,267,355 1,733,785[81]
2001 1421 440,808 1,363,992 1,804,800[82]
2002 1422 590,576 1,354,184 1,944,760
2003 1423 493,230 1,431,012 1,924,242[83]
2004 1424 473,004[84] 1,419,706[85] 1,892,710[84]
2005 1425 1,030,000 (approx.) 1,534,769 2,560,000 (approx.)[86]
2006 1426 724,229 1,654,407 2,378,636[87]
2007 1427 746,511 1,707,814 2,454,325[88][89]
2008 1428 1,729,841[90]
2009 1429 154,000 1,613,000 2,521,000[91]
2010 1430 989,798 1,799,601 2,854,345[92]
2011 1431 1,099,522 1,828,195 2,927,717[93]
2012 1432 1,408,641 1,752,932 3,161,573[94]
2013 1433 700,000 (approx.)[95] 1,379,531 [96] 2,061,573 (approx.)
2014 1434 700,000 (approx.)[97] 1,389,053[98] 2,089,053 (approx.)[97]


See also


  1. ^ The verses read: And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled... Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Ishmael, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). ... And remember Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House (2:124-127) and And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, through deep and distant mountain highways, that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allah, through the Days appointed, over the cattle which He has provided for them (for sacrifice): then eat ye thereof and feed the distressed one, the needy. Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House. (22: 27-29)
  2. ^ Ibn Jubayr noted the skeletons of the faithful who had died of thirst en route. In the 17th century, a group of Egyptian pilgrims lost over 1,500 people and 900 camels. In 1924 around one-fifth of a group of Syrian pilgrims died and two years later, 12,000 are thought to have died during the journey. [Islam in the World by Malise Ruthven. Page 2. Granta Publications, 2006 ISBN 1-86207-906-4]
  3. ^ For example, one such Hadith says: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "Whoever performs Hajj for Allah's pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew." Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:26:596


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Further reading

External links

  • Hajj 2014
  • Hajj: step by step
  • Hajj & Umrah - Journey of a Lifetime -an e-book
  • Hajj - The Pilgrimage -Resource on Hajj
  • Hajj Information Center -An online Hajj resource from IslamiCity
  • Mapping Faith: The Pilgrimage to Mecca -CNN interactive feature
  • Virtual Hajj by PBS
  • The Hajj Goes High Tech -Time magazine photo essay
  • Sequence of Hajj explained through Google Earth
  • Umrah - Tips, Duas & Packages
  • Umrah - Tips, Duas & Packages
  • The Rites of Hajj and Umrah & Islamic Terminology
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