As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Hajj is mandatory for Muslims (with some exclusions for medical conditions). In 2022, the Hajj is July seventh through the twelfth, and millions of Muslims will be traveling to Saudi Arabia. Hajj is always during the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which is called Dhu-Al-Hijjah.
There are almost 1.9 billion Muslims in the world today. Imagine if only 1% wanted to do pilgrimage every year! That's why Saudi Arabia created a system where only a percentage of each Islamic country is allowed to visit every year so that no more than 2.5 million pilgrims enter the Kingdom. A referral and formal application through a local mosque is required, followed by a stamp of approval from the top Islamic government entity of the pilgrim's country.
The Hajj month is one where spiritual awareness is elevated in the Muslim's life. God uses this time to draw Muslims to Him – in fact there are many stories of this happening! After we outline the Hajj and what it involves, we share the story of Usama, a former Muslim who had a unique encounter during his pilgrimage.
Let's start with the Basics.
Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca. What is Mecca? Mecca is where the Ka'aba shrine stands in Saudi Arabia. It is a large black cube, and is considered the center of the world by Islam.
Muslims claim Abraham built the Ka'aba, because it is the location where an angel of Allah showed Hagar (the mother of Ishmael) a spring of water to provide for her and her son. They also claim that Muhammad's ancestry goes back to Ishmael and they believe that Abraham visited that area with his son and built this shrine.
Importance of the Hajj pilgrimage
As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the pilgrimage to Mecca is required of all Muslims who can physically handle the trip and have the economic means to make it. Muslims save all their life to afford making this costly trip. And well-off Muslims make the trip several times in their lifetime to receive purification not only for themselves, but for close family members who died without performing the Hajj. Once a Muslim completes the Hajj, they are given a special title: "Al-Hajj" for men and "Al-Hajja" for women. This title holds a lot of respect in Islamic communities.
6 Days of Hajj
The six days of rituals are symbolic of events in Islam's history but some practices were derived from idol worshiping tribes during the time of Muhammad. Let’s break down the six days:
Salat (prayer) and preparation: Five miles away from the center of Mecca, Muslim men and women bathe (in separate places) and perform salat (prayer). Then the men put on two seamless white cloths, so that everyone partaking in the Hajj is dressed the same, removing evidence of any social or economic differences. Women must remain modestly dressed and covered while they perform the Hajj. The Muslim must state their intent to begin Hajj: "O Allah, I purpose to make the Hajj; make this service easy to me, and accept it from me."
Circling the Ka'aba (Tawaf): Next, the pilgrims circle the Ka'aba (the black cube) seven times. They are supposed to run around the first three times and walk the remaining four, however, considering that millions of Muslims will be trying to do this at the same time, it is hard to run or even walk. In fact, every year there are several incidents of stampedes injuring some of the pilgrims. The pilgrim performs another salat (prayer), before moving on to the next step.
Running between hills (Sa’ay): After circling the Ka'aba, the pilgrims walk between two hills (Safa and Marwa), to symbolize when Hagar ran between the two hills, searching for water for her child Ishmael.
Prayer at mosque: The pilgrims travel to Mina, a sprawling tent city about 5 miles away, where they spend the day in prayer and spend the night.
Meditation at Arafat: The pilgrims must meditate on a hill near Arafat, a little over 12 miles away from Mina, in order to fully complete the Hajj. Muslims believe Arafat is the plain where Adam and Eve went after they fell from paradise and where Muhammad gave his last sermon. That night, they gather pebbles for what comes next.
Ramy Al Jamaret: They return to Mina where they throw stones at rock pillars, where Muslims believe Abraham stoned the devil who was trying to prevent him from following Allah's command. This is called “Ramy Al Jamaret.”
Eid Al Adha: They celebrate the feast of Eid Al Adha which is a remembrance of when Abraham almost sacrificed his son to Allah. Muslims believe he was going to sacrifice Ishmael, but Genesis 22 tells the story of Abraham obeying God's command to sacrifice his son Isaac as a testing of his faith. Eid Al Adha officially begins after the pilgrims offer a sacrifice. If they have the means, they sacrifice an animal near the place where they believe God provided a replacement for Ishmael – or they pay for someone to sacrifice the animal in their name.
Repeat Ramy Al Jamaret: The pilgrims perform another symbolic stoning and then spend the night again in Mina.
Farewell Tawaf: The pilgrims complete another Ramy Al Jamaret, then return to the Ka-aba to walk around it seven times again in the farewell Tawaf. They then have completed the Hajj and can return to normal clothing, but if anyone is unable to leave on this day, they must repeat the process the following day for the Hajj to be officially ended.
After the six days, some Muslims go to Medina to visit the site where Muhammad is buried with his close companions. Doing this gains the Muslim more favor from Allah.
Usama’s Story of meeting God during the Hajj
How to talk to your Muslim friend about the Hajj
Ask them these questions to start the conversation:
- Have you completed the Hajj, or do you have plans to do so in the future?
- Why is completing the Hajj important?
- What happens if you don’t complete the Hajj?