Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Kaaba, the “House of God”, in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia as it is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and is an obligation for all able-bodied and financially capable Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj pilgrimage takes place during the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah, specifically from the 8th to the 12th of that month.
During Hajj, millions of Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca to fulfill religious rituals that commemorate the actions of the Prophet Muhammad and the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). The pilgrimage holds deep spiritual significance and serves as a time of reflection, repentance and unity among Muslims.
This year, Hajj will begin on Monday, June 26, 2023 and will be followed by Day of Arafah on June 27 while Eid-ul-Adha will be celebrated in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, June 28.
A visit to the holy shrine of Kaaba in Mecca has a remarkable history. Muslims believe that Prophet Ibrahim or Abraham, the dearest friend of God and father of prophets, was instructed by God to leave his wife Hajar and son Ismail in the desert of Mecca.
Ibrahim left the family well-flourished but in due course of time, it all diminished and his wife Hajar and son Ismail faced lots of trouble. On one occasion, Hajar travelled seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah but was unable to find any source of water.
However, when her little son Ismail rubbed the ground with his foot, a water fountain sprang up at the spot. This spot was then marked sacred and God ordered Ibrahim to build Kaaba at that place and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there.
Prophet Ibrahim AS (also known as Prophet Abraham AS) and his family when Ibrahim AS and his son Ismail (Ishmael) AS were commanded by God to build the Kaaba, a sacred house of worship in Mecca. Hence, the Kaaba is considered the holiest site in Islam and serves as the focal point for the Hajj pilgrimage.
The origins of Hajj are closely tied to the story of Ibrahim’s unwavering faith and his willingness to submit to God’s commands. It is believed that Ibrahim, along with Ismail, constructed the foundations of the Kaaba as a place for people to worship the one true God, Allah.
Ibrahim and Ismail did as instructed and the Quran even narrates how the archangel, Gabriel, brought the Black Stone (which was originally white but has become black by absorbing the sins of the thousands of pilgrims who have kissed and touched it) from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba.
Over time, the pilgrimage to the Kaaba became a significant annual gathering for the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula however, the rituals associated with Hajj were reformed and revitalised by Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE as during Muhammad’s time, the pagan practices and idol worship that had become associated with the pre-Islamic Hajj were eliminated and the pilgrimage was restored to its original monotheistic purpose.
In pre-Islamic Arabia time of “jahiliyyah”, some pagan idols were placed around the Kaaba but in 630 CE, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) led the believers from Medina to Mecca and cleansed the Kaaba by destroying all the pagan idols. He was another messiah and the last prophet considered in Islam and after cleansing the Kaaba, he reconsecrated the building to Allah.
Muhammad performed the Hajj pilgrimage in the year 632 CE, delivering his famous farewell sermon to thousands of Muslims gathered in the plain of Arafah and that is how Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam. Following Muhammad’s example, the rites and rituals of Hajj were standardised and it became an obligatory act of worship for all Muslims.
Hajj facilitates and tends to bring together Muslims across the world in a spirit of unity and brotherhood without any discrimination based on caste, culture and colour, an unmitigated representation of equality. It is believed that whoever performs the Hajj rites truly and with purity, returns home washing off all their lifelong sins.
This annual pilgrimage not only ensures equality but it also rewards pilgrims heaven after death, if the obligations are performed righteously. It symbolises kindness, positivity and is the highest form of honour earned as it is a re-enactment of the sacrifices and obedience of Prophet Abraham to God almighty, following the instructions laid down by Prophet Muhammad.
The pilgrimage involves a series of prescribed acts and rituals that symbolise various aspects of faith, devotion and unity. Throughout history, the Hajj pilgrimage has seen fluctuations in the number of pilgrims and the level of organisation.
The expansion of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula led to an increasing number of Muslims participating in Hajj from various regions around the world and today, millions of Muslims from diverse backgrounds and countries undertake the Hajj pilgrimage every year.
The Saudi Arabian government, in collaboration with religious authorities, manages and facilitates the logistics of the pilgrimage to ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of the pilgrims. Hajj remains a significant spiritual journey for Muslims, fostering a sense of unity, humility and devotion to God.
It serves as a profound reminder of the shared heritage and the common bond that Muslims have with the Prophet Ibrahim and their commitment to the principles of Islam.
The rituals of Hajj include –
- Ihram: Pilgrims enter a state of consecration called ihram. They dress in simple white garments, symbolising equality and the renunciation of worldly possessions.
- Tawaf: Pilgrims perform a series of circumambulations around the Kaaba, the sacred black cube located in the center of the Masjid al-Haram. This act signifies the unity of Muslims and their devotion to God.
- Sa’i: Pilgrims walk between the hills of Safa and Marwa, following the path of Hajar (Hagar), the wife of Ibrahim, who searched for water for her son Ismail (Ishmael). It symbolises perseverance and trust in God’s provisions.
- Arafah: Pilgrims gather on the plain of Arafah, where they engage in prayer, supplication, and contemplation. It is considered the most crucial day of Hajj, known as the Day of Arafah.
- Muzdalifah and Mina: Pilgrims spend the night in Muzdalifah, collecting pebbles for the next ritual. They then proceed to Mina, where they perform the symbolic stoning of the devil by casting pebbles at three stone pillars.
- Eid al-Adha: The culmination of Hajj is marked by the celebration of Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. Pilgrims sacrifice an animal, typically a sheep or a goat, symbolising Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son.
Hajj is a profound spiritual journey that unites Muslims from diverse backgrounds, cultures and languages. It reinforces the principles of equality, humility and devotion to God as through Hajj, pilgrims seek forgiveness, spiritual purification and a deeper connection with their faith and it is an experience of a lifetime that leaves a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of those who undertake it.