Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a journey of symbolism for Muslims. Every act performed during hajj holds its significance and has a historic background. It is compulsory to be performed once in life for Muslims who are adults, physically fit, can afford the journey and financially support their families during their absence.
Hajj is not just a form of worship. It helps understand the bigger and better meaning of life. Above all, it teaches equality by bringing people from all races and cultures at one place to praise Allah and understand the true meaning of love, devotion and worship.
Hajj is practiced in the month of Dhul Hajjah and is just two lunar months apart from the holy month of Ramadan. The significance of Hajj in Islam can be understood from the fact that a whole month is named after and solely devoted to it.
To grasp the importance of this form of worship, it is vital to understand each and every act performed during Hajj. Mentioned below are the prominent rituals of Hajj one should be aware of.
The word Ihraam has been derived from Haram and is a symbol of sacredness and purity. When in Ihraam, a person is prohibited from a number of acts which are otherwise acceptable to reflect complete submission to the will of Allah.
It is the primary preparation for commencing Hajj and a declaration that the person is ready for this sacred form of worship. Additionally, it’s a reminder that for entering the sacred Ka’abah, the house of Allah, a purified state must be reached. It also indicates that no matter how rich or poor someone is, everyone has to wear same white clothes in the house of Allah, stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer and worship in the same manner.
In the state of Ihraam, it is forbidden for men to cover their heads and for women to cover their faces. Ihraam for men comprises of two unstitched white sheets and for women, the white sheets are stitched in the form of their everyday dresses.
The white sheets of Ihraam are an indication of Muslim shroud that reminds the pilgrims of life after death and the limited time they have to spend in this world.
Tawaaf al Ka’abah or circumambulation of Ka’abah is an act of devotion to Allah. It shows that the center of focus for a pilgrim is Allah by going around Ka’abah while reciting Talbiya and completing seven circuits.
The tawaaf is suggested to be started from Hajar al Aswad (black stone) by touching it. However, due to the presence of a large crowd, it is not possible for every pilgrim to touch the holy stone. Instead, pilgrims can hold up their hand or point in the direction of Hajar al Aswad when they see it in every circuit.
After completing the seven circuits, pilgrims must go to the Station of Ibrahim and offer two rak’ah of nafl prayer. After this, pilgrims head to the well of Zamzam to drink water before starting Sa’yee.
This part of Hajj is a tribute to Hajjar, the wife of Ibrahim and the mother of Ismail, as it symbolizes her struggle in search of water for her son.
Hajjar was left with infant Ismail in the desert between the hills of Safa and Marwah by her husband, Ibrahim, on Allah’s command to test her faith. When the provisions exhausted, Hajjar ran between Safa and Marwah seven times in search of water for Ismail.
When she returned to Ismail, she found a well, later named Zamzam, near the foot of infant Ismail as a blessing from Allah for Hajjar’s struggle and patience.
Hence, pilgrims have to run between Safa and Marwah seven times.
Going to Mina is an important part of Hajj. Mina is located 3 miles away from Mecca and is the place where the pilgrims spend one complete day or offer five prayers. Pilgrims leave for Mina after performing Sa’yee and reach there after dawn. Hence, they offer prayers from Dhuhr to Isha of the 8th Dhul Hijjah and the Fajar of 9th Dhul Hijjah. After offering Fajar prayer on the 9th, pilgrims leave for Arafat.
9th Dhul Hijjah is the day of Arafat. Pilgrims reach Arafat after dawn and stay there till sunset of the same day. At Arafat, pilgrims spend the entire day in prayers and repent for their sins while asking for forgiveness from Allah.
Wuquf e Arafat is an important part of the stay at Arafat. The literal meaning of Wuquf is ‘standing’. Pilgrims observe Wuquf by standing in the direction of Ka’abah and raise their hands to pray with devotion.
At Arafat, the sermon of Hajj is given from Masjid e Nimra which must be attended and heard by all the pilgrims. After the sermon, Dhuhr and Asr prayers are combined and prayed together at Arafat.
When the sun sets, pilgrims leave for Muzdalfa without offering Maghrib prayer.
At Muzdalfa, Maghrib prayer is combined with Isha and prayed at the time of Isha. The pilgrims then gather at least 49 pebbles for the next day to be thrown at the Jamarat.
The pilgrims spend the night under open sky at Muzdalfa and leave for Mina after offering Fajr prayer.
Jamarat are stone pillars representing satan and are stoned by the pilgrims. It is another act symbolizing the resistance by Ibrahim to the temptations offered by satan three times to prevent him from sacrificing Ismail.
After reaching Mina, pilgrims proceed to Jamarat ul Kubra where they throw seven stones on each of the three Jamarat. After completing ramy, pilgrims proceed to the next ritual of Hajj which is sacrificing an animal in the way of Allah.
Pilgrims sacrifice an animal such as a lamb or camel after ramy. Allah had commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, Ismail, to test Ibrahim’s faith. Ibrahim told Ismail about Allah’s command to which Ismail replied he was ready to be sacrificed. Minutes before Ibrahim was going to sacrifice Ismail in the way Allah, Allah sent an angel with a lamb and commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice the lamb instead. This was a sign that Ibrahim passed the test.
Hence, pilgrims are commanded to sacrifice an animal in the way of Allah as an act of devotion.
After sacrificing an animal, pilgrims proceed to hair cutting. For men, it’s the shaving of the whole head. Women are supposed to cut a lock of their hair.
Once this is done, pilgrims take off Ihraam and wear normal clothes.
After this, the pilgrims go to Masjid ul Haram and perform Tawaf once again. After completing seven circuits, the pilgrims go to Muqam-e-Ibrahim where they offer two raka’ah of nafl and head back to Mina where they spend the night.
The day pilgrims sacrifice an animal is marked as the first day of Eid ul Adha. On the second day of eid, pilgrims visit the Jamarat and throw seven stones on each of the three Jamarat. After this, they go back to Mina and spend the night.
On the third day of eid, and fifth day of Hajj, pilgrims again go to Jamarat and throw seven stones on each of the three Jamarat.
Once that is done, pilgrims head to Mecca for Tawaf al Wadda (farewell pilgrimage). This marks the end of Hajj.