The religious pilgrimage to Makkah, Hajj that lies among the five pillars Islam stands on and is obligatory for all Muslims to perform at least once during their lifetimes, given the prerequisites are met.
The pilgrimage has been held annually since 630 CE, when the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) led his followers from Medina to Makkah, and is the largest gathering of humans on earth, with several hundred thousand people gathering each year in Makkah in the last month of the Islamic calendar, Zhul-Hijah, between the 8thand 12th.
In the modern-day pilgrimage, the pilgrims arrive at the Holy Land by air, sea and land routes during weeks prior to the Hajj period. The usual arrival point is Jeddah which is the major port city near to Makkah, from where they travel to Makkah in groups. En-route, they stop at one of the designated areas to shower and change clothing, hence entering a state of purity and devotion to commence the pilgrimage. Then they begin to recite this invocation:
(Here I’m, Oh God, at Your command) لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ
(Here I’m at Your command, You are without associate, Here I’m at Your command)لَبَّيْكَ لاَ شَرِيْكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ
(To You are all praise, grace and dominion) إِنَّ الْحَمْدَ وَالنِّعْمَةَ لَكَ وَالْمُلْكَ
(You are without associate)لاَشَرِيْكَ لَكَ
This chant echoes over the holy land as the pilgrims begin to enter the Kingdom to perform their sacred rites.
Day-01, 8th of Zhul-Hijah
The city of Mina turns into a vast tent city housing millions of pilgrims during Hajj. On the first day of Hajj, millions of pilgrims that have gathered in Makkah travel to Mina, a small village on the east of the city, where they spend a day and night in the vast tent city, praying, reciting the Quran, and taking rest for the next day.
Day-02, 9th of Zhul-Hijah
On the second day, the Day of Arafat, millions of pilgrims gather near the Mount of Mercy.
The pilgrims leave from Mina on the second day at dawn to travel to the Plain of Arafat where they have the culminating Hajj experience. On this day, the pilgrims spend their entire time near the Mount of Mercy, asking Allah for their forgiveness and to make supplications. Muslims all around the globe who are not able to be there, join them in spirit by fasting for the day.
After sunset, the pilgrims travel to a nearby open plain, Muzdalifah, roughly about halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they spend the night praying and collecting stone pebbles for use on the following day.
Day-03, 10th of Zhul-Hijah
For the symbolic stoning of the devil, pilgrims move to the site of Jamarat. On this day, the pilgrims start moving in the last half of the night, back to Mina, where they throw the collected stone pebbles at the pillars that represent the temptations of the Devil. While throwing the stones, the pilgrims recall the event of Devil’s attempt to dissuade Prophet Ibrahim from following Allah’s command to sacrifice his own son. The stones depict Ibrahim’s rejection of Devil and the firmness of his faith.
After casting the pebbles, most pilgrims perform sacrifice of an animal (often a goat or a sheep) and give away the meat to the poor. This symbolic act shows their willingness to part with something important to them, just as Prophet Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his son at Allah’s command.
Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Azha, the Festival of Sacrifice, all around the Globe on this day. This day marks the second of the two major Islamic Holidays each year.
The Closing Days of the Pilgrimage
The pilgrims return to Makkah to perform Tawaaf – the Seven rounds around the Holy Ka’aba, the house of worship built by Prophet Ibrahim and his son by themselves. Among the other rites, the pilgrims pray near the place known as The Station of Ibrahim: Maqaam – e – Ibrahim, which is the place where Ibrahim stood while he built the Holy Kaaba.
The pilgrims also take seven rounds between the two small hills, enclosed in the Grand Mosque complex, near the Ka’aba. This is done in the remembrance of the plight of Hajar, Ibrahim’s wife, who dreadfully searched in the area for water for herself and her son before a spring welled up in the desert for her, the Well of Zamzam. The pilgrims also drink from this well which continues to flow to the date.
The pilgrims who are not the residents of the Kingdom are required to leave by the 10thof Muharram, which is about 1 month after the completion of Hajj.
After the pilgrimage, the pilgrims return to their homelands with renewed faiths.