The Hajj: Its History, Meaning, Origin, Stories

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20120509-Pilgrims on the roof of the Grand mosque.jpg
Pilgrims on the roof of the Grand Mosque
The hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. Each Muslim who is financially, mentally and physically able is expected at least once in his or her lifetime to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and participate in prescribed religious rites performed at various specific sites in the holy city and its environs during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. In one of their most important rites, pilgrims pray while circumambulating the Kaaba, the sanctuary Muslims believe Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael) built to honor the one God. The end of hajj is marked with the celebration called Eid al-Adha when pilgrims sacrifice domesticated animals such as sheep and distribute the meat among the needy. Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, Kurban Bayrami (in Arabic, Id al Adha), this occasion is celebrated not only by the pilgrims but by all Muslims, and is observed in Turkey as a national holiday. The returning pilgrim is entitled to use the honorific haci (in Arabic, hajji ) before his or her name, a title that indicates successful completion of the pilgrimage. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Hajj takes place in the Muslim month of Dhul Hijjah, about 60 days after Ramadan, and can occur anytime of the year. The Muslim lunar year has only 354 days, which means that all Muslim holidays are 11 days earlier each year. The 70 day pilgrimage season begins during the tenth month of the Muslim year. The Hajj itself takes place during the last seven days of the pilgrimage season. The Hajj begins on the first day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, last month of the Muslim year, and includes before the Feast of the Sacrifice, which takes place on the tenth day of Dhul Hijjah. All Muslims who are physically and financially able, and who can afford to take care of family while they are gone, are required to perform the Hajj.

The prefix al-hajj or al-hajji is added to a name of a person has made the hajj. Muslims who have completed the Hajj are usually accorded great respect back in their hometowns. Muslims believe that they are cleared of all sins if they perform a sincere pilgrimage. Muhammad instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize sites associated with God and Abraham (Ibrahim), founder of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son, Ismail. According to the BBC: “Once a year, Muslims of every ethnic group, colour, social status, and culture gather together in Mecca and stand before the Kaaba praising Allah together. It is a ritual that is designed to promote the bonds of Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood by showing that everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah. The Hajj makes Muslims feel real importance of life here on earth, and the afterlife, by stripping away all markers of social status, wealth, and pride. In the Hajj all are truly equal." [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009]

According to the British Museum” There are two pilgrimages to Mecca. Hajj – known as the Greater Pilgrimage and ‘Umra – the lesser pilgrimage. Hajj can only be undertaken between the 8th and the 13th of Dhu al-Hijja – the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar. At all other times of the year, pilgrims may travel to Mecca to undertake ‘Umra. Both pilgrimages begin at stations known as miqat, which pilgrims cannot cross unless they are in the white garments known as ihram. It is here that they put them on, make their intention for Hajj and recite the talbiya – a prayer to announce to God their arrival for pilgrimage. [Source: British Museum]

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Hajj Duty

“For Muslims, the Hajj is the journey that every sane adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able. It is strongly recommended to do it as often as possible, preferably once a year. Only individuals whose financial position and health are severely insufficient are exempt from making Hajj (e.g. if making Hajj would put stress on one's financial situation, but would not end up in homelessness or starvation, it is still required). [Source: BBC, Wikipedia]

The Hajj It involves extraordinary travel logistics and has changed over time. The pilgrimage itself physically demanding journey tests pilgrims' patience as they withstand long waits and thick crowds on their path to achieving spiritual purification and repentance.

The Hajj answers the edict from the Qur’an: “And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel...from every deep ravine.” The Hajj literally means “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.” One of five pillars of Islam, it is regarded by many Muslims as a kind of dress rehearsal for the Judgement Day and incorporates elements of the other four "five pillars of Islam." [Source: Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, National Geographic November 1978; Thomas Abercrombie, National Geographic, January 1966]

Women are supposed to be accompanied by their husbands, fathers or another male guardians or escorts. State pilgrimage officials had been allowed to stand in the place of a male relative or husband. Some female pilgrims travel with Hajj officials who are their relatives. Sometimes Saudi authorities crack down on women traveling to the Hajj, even stopping women who did travel with their husbands.

Hajj as a Spiritual Experience

The Hajj is both a collective undertaking and a deeply personal experience. It is a journey, physical and spiritual, that pilgrims from the furthest reaches of the Islamic world have made responding to God’s call. Much reflection and preparation is needed for traversing the paths to the heart of Islam. During the Hajj Muslims recite the talbiya: “Labbayk allahumma labbayk… ’ ‘Here I am, Lord, responding to Your call [to perform the Hajj]. Praise belongs to You, all good things come from You and sovereignty is yours alone”

Participation in the Hajj is both a personal, spiritual experience for an individual and a chance to become part of global Muslim community by performing common rituals with hundred of thousands of Muslim from all over the world. It is a great honor to go on the Hajj. When word gets out in a Muslim community that someone is going people call them to offer their congratulations and often ask the future pilgrim to say special prayers for them.

One pilgrim wrote in the Chicago Tribune that attending the Hajj “was the most powerful and immense spiritual experience of my entire life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my time in Mecca.” A Mecca resident told National Geographic, “It’s a wonderful experience, a joyous time. When people leave their worldly gains behind and come to pray in simple white garments, to realize there’s no difference between rich and poor, black and white. There’s a sense of equality. Those that attend the Hajj receive forgiveness for all their past sins.”

Impressions of the Hajj

circling the Kaaba

Reem Al Faisal, a female photographer born in Jedda, said: “It is difficult to capture the Hajj in text or visually since the Hajj is larger than any possible description. No book or photograph can ever give the Hajj its due. Even those who perform the Hajj can never fully comprehend it. From the first day of the Hajj one is swept away by the sheer motion and size of it and you find yourself moving at another level of your consciousness. As you perform one ritual after the other you slowly discover the rhythm of the universe.” [Source: British Museum =]

Ayman Yossri wrote: “The Hajj emphasizes the concept of equality of mankind, Muslims dress in the same way and observe the same rituals for one purpose, which allows no superiority on the basis of race, gender or social status, only humility and devotion.” =

Qaisra Khan, who went on the Hajj in 2010, wrote: “The many and varied nationalities of pilgrims was one of the most fascinating facets of Hajj. Especially where people are relaxed, they have time to chat and are all dressed in national costume. The Uzbeks in blue, the Turks in pink and the Africans in their multi-coloured Hajj dresses. Many pilgrims wore their national costumes, Kazakhs with tall furry hats, the Malians in vibrant indigo, Indians in ‘shalwar qamis’ and the orderly South-East Asians with matching flowers in their hijabs (the women of course!). … The faces, stories (one Indian man told us he gave up his job to go on Hajj) and the parts of the earth these people had travelled from – was quite inspirational and captivating.” =


Mecca (45 miles east of Jeddah) is the Islam’s holiest city. Situated in barren basin between two ranges of steep hills, it is where the Prophet Mohammed was born and raised and had his first revelations from God. After being banished from the city he returned and conquered it and then cleaned a huge black box, called the Kaaba, of idols, an act as important to Muslims as the crucifixion of Christ is to Christians. Each year millions of Muslim pilgrims descend on Mecca for the Hajj to the relive the cleaning of the Kaaba and other events central to Muslim faith.

Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. The sanctuary there with the Kaaba is the holiest site in Islam. As such, it is a deeply spiritual destination for Muslims all over the world; it is the heart of Islam. Mecca is a place that is holy to all Muslims. It is so holy that no non-Muslim is allowed to enter. Adorning the holy sanctuary in Mecca has traditionally been part of the reverence owed to this sacred place. Made from the best materials and inscribed beautifully with verses from the Qur’an and pious expressions, the textiles have become some of the most iconic objects related to the Hajj.

Mecca was major religious center long before Islam. Located at the crossroads for all major caravans in the area, it attracted ancient caravans, trade fairs and pilgrims who payed a fee to see the 360 idols in the Kaaba, which including an image of Uzza (the Arabian version of Aphrodite) and representations of celestial gods for the moon, sun and morning star from ancient Sheba. The city also has links to Abraham. Non-Muslims are not only banned from Mecca they are banned from an area 25 kilometers around it.

Hajj Pilgrims

Hajj Pilgrim
The Hajj is arguable the largest annual gathering of people in the world today. Muslims from the Arab world, black Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas and countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Turkey, Indonesia, Sudan, Egypt, the Comoros Island, Algeria, India, Bangladesh and France arrive in Mecca by foot, on chartered planes and on buses. Even some blonde, blue-eyed ones from the United States show up. Describing the scene on pilgrim wrote: "Mecca was awash in a sea of people... Black people. brown people, white people. Every kind of people."

Pilgrims who complete the Hajj are described as reborn. Their sins are washed away and their soul is cleansed. The exile of Adam and Eve are and the sacrifice of the prophets are recalled. Many have saved their entire life for the journey and some have walked all the way from Africa to get there. Around five or six million people now show up for the Hajj each year and millions more come to Mecca for mini-Hajj's which Muslims can do year round. Some large Hindu Ganges festivals draw over 50 million people but they are held every 12 years and not annual events like the Hajj.

The British adventurer Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) was one of the first Westerners to witness the Hajj. In 1853 he donned Arab robes, stained his skin with walnut juice, and was circumcised to pass himself off as a Muslim. Pretending to be was a Pathan doctor, treating his patients with "magic nostrums, incantations, aphrodisiacs and hypnosis," he claims he contracted syphilis in Mecca and said if his non-Muslim identity had been discovered he would have been killed. His three volume chronicle of his experiences was a bestseller.

Describing the people that had gathered around Kaaba in Mecca, Burton wrote: "What a scene of contrasts! Here stalked the Badawi woman, in her long black robe like a nun's serge, and poppy-colored face-veil, pierced to show two fiercely flashing orbs. There an Indian woman, with her semi-Tartar features, nakedly hideous, and her thin legs, encased in wrinkled tights...Every now and then a corpse, borne upon its wooden shell, circuited the shrine by means of four bearers...In another, some poor wretch with arms thrown on high, so every part of his person might touch the Ka'abah, was clinging to the curtain and sobbing as though his heart would break."

Meaning of the Hajj

“Labbayk allahumma labbayk… ’ ‘Here I am, Lord, responding to Your call [to perform the Hajj]. Praise belongs to You, all good things come from You and sovereignty is yours alone. — The talbiya

Peter Sanders wrote: “The pilgrimage to Mecca, is the fifth pillar of Islam and a religious duty that Muslims should undertake if they are able, at least once in their lives. It is both a collective undertaking and a deeply personal experience. Hajj occurs in the month of Dhu al-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. It involves a series of rituals that take place in and around Mecca over a period of five to six days. The first of these is tawaf in which pilgrims walk around the Ka‘ba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction. Muslims believe that the rituals of Hajj have their origin in the time of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). Muhammad led the Hajj himself in 632, the year of his death. The Hajj now attracts about three million pilgrims every year from across the world. It is not only a journey in space to the centre towards which one has always turned one’s face in prayers, but also a journey in time far back beyond the missions of Muhammad, Jesus and Moses.

Mina during the Hajj

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: “Another example which demonstrates the universality of Islamic injunctions regarding the practice of religion is the instance of Hajj, the pilgrimage. Once again one finds the institution of pilgrimage in all religions of the world, but the sites for pilgrimage are scattered at different places in one or more countries. One does not find a single central place which all the followers of a religion must visit at least once in their lifetime. Amazingly in Islam we find exactly such a place in Mecca, where Muslims from all over the world are expected to gather and spend about ten days entirely dedicated to the memory of God. The pilgrims come from all countries, all nations, and all races and in all ages. Men, women and children, they all gather once a year for a fantastic rally which sometimes runs into the millions. This grand display of universality is seen nowhere else in any other religion. Hence all these fingers, which were raised in different areas of Islamic teaching, point to the same message of unification of man on earth under the Unity of God. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

Qur’an on the Hajj

The Qur’an reads: And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham [Ibrahim] a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael [Isma‘il], [saying], "Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer]. — Qur’an 2 - al-Baqara: 125

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], "Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” — Qur’an 22 - al-Hajj: 25-27

“It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are sailing on ships and rejoicing in the favouring wind, a storm arrives: waves come at those on board from all sides and they feel there is no escape.” — Qur’an 10 – Nuh :22.

History of the Hajj

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Kaaba in 1937
The Hajj is said to date back to the time of Abraham (4000 years ago). When pagan practices were reintroduced to the Middle East the Hajj died out. It wasn't until the A.D. 7th century when of Islam was born that it became the deeply spiritual journey it is today.

In Muhammad’s time, Mecca was a major commercial center with large pagan, Jewish and Christian communities. Situated at the center of a network of ancient caravan routes, it drew traders from all over the Middle East and hosted trade fairs. It owed its success to it connection with religion. Violence was not tolerated and people were forbidden from carry weapons, thus traders and merchants were able to conduct business with relatively few worries.

Mecca was major religious center long before Islam. Members of desert tribes went on pilgrimages to Mecca just like today's Muslims do. "In the 'Days of Ignorance' before Islam," the Qur’an reads, "regularly tribesmen come from all over Arabia to pay homage to the pantheon." They paid a fee to see the Kaaba, a great shrine officially dedicated to the Nabatean the deity Hubal and venerated as the shrine for the high God Allah.

Until recently Mecca could only be reached by caravan or by sea. Many pilgrims took the traditional 40-day "fast caravan from Damascus to Mecca.” 1908 the Ottoman Turks built the narrow-gauge Hejaz railroad across Jordan, following much of the 40-day caravan route, to make it easier for Hajj pilgrims to get from Damascus to Medina. For religious reasons a railroad was never built between Medina and Mecca.

Today the Hajj is captured on live video and televised via satellite to more than 40 countries. On the radio prayers are broadcast in seven tongues.

Hajj Story

Hajira (Hagar) and Is'mail in the wilderness

Muslims believe the rites trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible. According to the BBC: “Four thousand years ago the valley of Mecca was a dry and uninhabited place. Muslims believe the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) was instructed to bring his wife, Hajira (Hagar) and their child Is'mail to Arabia from Palestine to protect them from the jealousy of Ibrahim's first wife Sarah.Allah told the Prophet Ibrahim to leave them on their own, and he did so, with some supplies of food and water. However the supplies quickly ran out and within a few days Hajira and Is'mail were suffering from hunger and dehydration. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“In her desperation Hajira ran up and down two hills called Safa and Marwa trying to see if she could spot any help in the distance. Finally she collapsed beside Is'mail and prayed to Allah for deliverance. Is'mail struck his foot on the ground and this caused a spring of water to gush forth from the earth. Hajira and Is'mail were saved. Now they had a secure water supply they were able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies. |::|

“After a while the Prophet Ibrahim returned from Palestine to check on his family and was amazed to see them running a profitable well. The Prophet Ibrahim was told by Allah to build a shrine dedicated to him. Ibrahim and Is'mail constructed a small stone structure - the Kaaba or Cube - which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in Allah. |::|

“As the years passed Is'mail was blessed with Prophethood and he gave the nomads of the desert the message of surrender to Allah. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving city thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zam Zam. Gradually, the people began to adopt polytheistic ideas, and worship spirits and many different gods. The shrine of the Prophet Ibrahim was used to store idols. |::|

Origins of the Hajj

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: ““The institution of pilgrimage can be traced back to the time of Abraham(as), peace be upon him. But there are very clear statements in the Quran describing it as an ancient institution, starting from times immemorial when the first House of God was built in Mecca. In the olden times Mecca was pronounced Baka, so the Holy Quran refers to the first house as being built not in Mecca but in Baka. It is also called Bait-ul-Ateeq, or the most ancient house. Abraham(as) raised it from the ruins which he discovered under divine guidance, and about which he was commissioned by God to rebuild with the help of his son Ishmael(as). It is the same place where he had left his wife Hagar and infant son Ishmael(as), again under divine instruction. But work on the House of God awaited attention until Ishmael(as) grew to an age where he could be of some help. So, both of them worked together to rebuild the house and restart the institution of pilgrimage. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

Muhammad at the Kaaba

“Many rites performed during pilgrimage are rooted in those early days of the reconstruction of the House of God, and some even go beyond that. For instance, the running between Safa and Marwah, two small hillocks close to the House of God, is done in memory of Hagar’s search for some sign of human presence to help her and her child in their dire hour of need. The child is described as having become extremely restive with the agony of thirst, striking the earth with his heels in desperation. There, it is said, sprouted a fountain which still exists today in some form. Later, a well which was created around that spot and its water is considered to be the blessed water. Most of the pilgrims who perform the Hajj try to bring some water from there by way of blessing for their relatives and friends. After many years, Allah told the Prophet Muhammed that he should restore the Kaaba to the worship of Allah only. In the year 628 the Prophet Muhammed set out on a journey with 1400 of his followers. This was the first pilgrimage in Islam, and would re-establish the religious traditions of the Prophet Ibrahim. |::|

According to the “Encyclopaedia Judaica”; In contradistinction to prayer, the Muslim pilgrimage has clear antecedents in the pre-Islamic period. Muslim tradition maintains that pre-Islamic Arabs performed pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca, which was then a pagan place of worship, with images of idols. The transformation of the Kaaba into a Muslim sanctuary and of the pilgrimage into a Muslim ritual necessitated an infusion of monotheistic elements into the history of both. This was achieved by describing the pilgrimage as a ritual which had begun long before Arabian idolatry came into being and was a part of the ancient monotheistic religion associated with Abraham "who was neither a Jew nor a Christian but a anif Muslim and was not of the idolaters" (Qur’an 3:67). According to the Qur’anic account, Abraham was the man who built the Kaaba together with his son Ishmael and made it into a pure place of worship (Qur’an 2:125, 3:95–97). [Source: Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg, “Encyclopaedia Judaica”, 2000,]

Hence the Kaaba, an idolatrous sanctuary in the pre-Islamic period, became the holiest place in Islam. The way was now open for the next step, transformimg the pilgrimage to Mecca into an Islamic commandment: "It is the duty of all people to come to the House as pilgrim, if he is able to make his way there" (Qur’an 3:97). Thus the pilgrimage is a case in which Islam did not abolish a pre-Islamic ritual, but rather filled it with new content and significance. The identity of the Muslim rituals with the pre-Islamic ones caused misgivings among some early believers and at least in one case a special revelation was needed to give legitimacy to such a ritual.

Umrah — the Mini-Hajj

For those who can not make the Hajj, a visit to the major sites of Hajj at a different time is considered the next best thing. Umrah (also spelled Umra), the lesser Hajj, can be performed any time of the year and entails fewer requirements than the Hajj. People that do it take seven trips around the Kaaba and receive forgiveness for some of their past sins. When umrah pilgrims enter the Great Mosque in Mecca, they pray "O, Lord Allah we have come from distant lands...Open the door of Thy mercy and Thy forgiveness." Around 10 million people do the Umrah every years. The cost of an Umrah tourist package can be around $3,000,

‘Umrah involves rituals which take place in the sanctuary at Mecca itself: circumambulation of the Ka‘ba (tawaf) and the passing between the hills of Safa and Marwa (sa‘i). Pilgrims also pray behind the Station or Maqam of Abraham and drink Zamzam water. All of these rituals can be completed in a matter of hours. The Hajj begins with the same rituals as those of Umrah, on day one, and continues with visits to the holy sites of Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina on subsequent days. [Source: British Museum]

According to the BBC: “You begin at a place just outside Mecca called the Miqat, or entry station to the Hajj. There you bathe, put on the Ihram (the special white clothes), make the intention for Umrah and begin reciting the Talbiya Du'a (prayer). “Here I am at Your service, O Allah, here I am at your service! You have no partner. Here I am at your service. All praise and blessings belong to you. All dominion is yours and You have no partner.” Talbiya Du'a [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“Then you go to the Masjid al Haram and walk around the Ka'ba seven times repeating du'as and prayers. This is called the Tawaf. Afterwards you should sip some Zam Zam water. Zam Zam water is water from the Zam Zam well, the sacred well which opened in the desert to save Hajira and Is'mail from dying of thirst. Next you go to the walkway between the hills of Safa and Marwa and walk back and forth between them seven times. This completes the Umrah portion of the Hajj rituals and some of the Ihram restrictions are relaxed. |::|

Hajj in 2023

In 2023, around 1.8 million Muslims from 160 countries took part in the Hajj pilgrimage. Associated Press reported: The Hajj began with Muslims circling the Kaaba in Mecca counter-clockwise seven times while reciting prayers. Then they walked between two hills in a reenactment of Hagar's search for water for her son, Ismail, a story that occurs in different forms in Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions. All of this takes place inside Mecca's Grand Mosque — the world's largest — which encompasses the Kaaba and the two hills.

Riazat Butt wrote: The vast marble court around the Kaaba was packed with the faithful, walking nearly shoulder to shoulder — in stark contrast to scenes two years ago at the height of the pandemic, when the sparse numbers kept far from each other in the nearly empty court as they walked the circuit. Carrying umbrellas against the sun in temperatures reaching 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) on Friday, pilgrims walked for kilometers (miles) from bus lots into the Grand Mosque area in central Mecca, often jostling with barricades set up by security forces to direct the giant flows of people. Coming from all around the world, many pilgrims converged on nearby shops and malls to buy souvenirs. [Source: Riazat Butt, Associated Press, June 27, 2023]

Muslim pilgrims prayed in front of the Kaaba door. Some Somalian pilgrims took selfies nearby. Outside the Grand Mosque, pilgrims walked beside pigeons, took naps after dawn prayers, bought fruits from vendors and lined up in two rows, one for men and one for women, at restaurants. Dozens of buses parked some distance away from the Grand Mosque. Men pushed trollies full of Zamzam water bottles, drawn from the well beneath the Grand Mosque at Zamzam bottle point. Members of the Saudi special forces, Special Force for Hajj and Umra (SFHU), warmed up for the even at military parade. Saudi policewomen and policemen worked at 911 headquarters where Saudi police officers monitor screens displaying the Grand Mosque.

In 2019, more than 2.4 million pilgrims participated in the Hajj. In 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, fewer than 10,000 did amid worldwide coronavirus lockdowns and Saudi Arabia limiting the pilgrimage to a few thousand Saudi citizens and local residents. Around 60,000 did it in 2021 — all of them residents of Saudi Arabia since pilgrims were forbidden to come from abroad. In 2022, just under 900,000 attended as Saudi Arabia allowed limited numbers of pilgrims from abroad.

The next day, pilgrims headed to Mount Arafat, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Here, they stood in prayer throughout the day asking God for forgiveness of their sins in what many view as the spiritual high point of the pilgrimage. Around sunset, pilgrims walked or took buses to an area called Muzdalifa, 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat. They picked up pebbles to use the next day in a symbolic stoning of the devil in the valley of Mina, where Muslims believe Ibrahim was tempted to ignore God's command to sacrifice his son. The pilgrims stayed for several nights in Mina in one of the largest tent camps in the world.

In Mina, soldiers sprayed pilgrims with water to cool them down in the heat in the desert plain, where there is little respite from the blazing sun. The faithful set up in their tents, resting in the rows of cubicles and praying together to prepare for the coming rituals. Egyptian businessman Yehya Al-Ghanam said he was at a loss for words to describe his feelings upon arriving at Mina, one of the biggest tent camps in the world outside Mecca, where pilgrims will stay for much of the Hajj. “Tears will fall from my eyes out of joy and happiness,” he said. “I do not sleep. I have not slept for 15 days, only an hour a day,” overwhelmed by the emotions surrounding his pilgrimage.

Image Sources: Al Jazeera English, Wikimedia Commons except chocolates, The Favor Gallery, Pinterest

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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