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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

EXPLAINER: What’s the Hajj pilgrimage and what does it imply for Muslims?

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Over 2 million Muslims will participate on this week’s Hajj pilgrimage to the holy metropolis of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, as one of many world’s largest spiritual gatherings returns to full capability following years of coronavirus restrictions.

The Hajj is without doubt one of the 5 pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to undertake it a minimum of as soon as of their lives if they’re bodily and financially ready to take action. For the pilgrims, it’s a profound non secular expertise that wipes away sins, brings them nearer to God and highlights Muslim unity.

For the Saudi royal household, which captured Mecca within the Twenties, organizing the pilgrimage is a significant supply of delight and legitimacy. Authorities have invested billions of {dollars} in fashionable infrastructure, however the Hajj has sometimes been marred by tragedy, as in 2015, when over 2,400 pilgrims died in a stampede.

Right here’s a take a look at the pilgrimage, which begins on Monday, and its that means.


The pilgrimage attracts Muslims from all over the world to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, the place they stroll within the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and retrace the journey of Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they’re recognized within the Christian and Jewish traditions.

As associated within the Quran, Ibrahim is named upon to sacrifice his son Ismail as a check of religion, however God stays his hand on the final second. Ibrahim and Ismail later are stated to have constructed the Kaaba collectively. Within the Christian and Jewish traditions, Abraham almost sacrifices his different son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah, which is related to a significant holy web site in Jerusalem.

The Kaaba was a middle for polytheistic worship amongst pagan Arabs till the arrival of Islam within the seventh century, when the Prophet Muhammad consecrated the positioning and inaugurated the Hajj.

Muslims don’t worship the Kaaba, a cube-shaped construction lined in a black, gold-embroidered material, however view it as their most sacred place and a strong image of unity and monotheism. Regardless of the place they’re on the earth, Muslims face towards the Kaaba throughout their every day prayers.

The Hajj has been held yearly because the time of the prophet, even by means of wars, plagues and different turmoil.

Within the Center Ages, Muslim rulers organized large caravans with armed escorts that might depart from Cairo, Damascus and different cities. It was an arduous journey by means of deserts the place Bedouin tribes carried out raids and demanded tribute. A infamous Bedouin raid in 1757 worn out a complete Hajj caravan, killing 1000’s of pilgrims.

In 2020, amid worldwide coronavirus lockdowns, Saudi Arabia restricted the pilgrimage to a couple thousand residents and native residents. That is the primary 12 months it returns to full capability.


Some pilgrims spend their entire lives saving up for the journey or wait years earlier than getting a allow, which Saudi authorities distribute to nations based mostly on a quota system. Journey brokers supply packages catering to all revenue ranges, and charities help needy pilgrims.

Pilgrims start by getting into a state of non secular purity generally known as “ihram.” Ladies forgo make-up and fragrance and canopy their hair, whereas males grow to be seamless terrycloth robes. The clothes can not include any stitching, a rule supposed to advertise unity amongst wealthy and poor.

Pilgrims are forbidden from reducing their hair, trimming their nails or participating in sexual activity whereas within the state of ihram. They don’t seem to be speculated to argue or combat, however the warmth, crowds and problem of the journey inevitably check individuals’s persistence.

Many Muslims go to Medina, the place the Prophet Muhammad is buried and the place he constructed the primary mosque, earlier than heading to Mecca.


The Hajj begins with Muslims circling the Kaaba in Mecca counter-clockwise seven instances whereas reciting prayers. Then they stroll between two hills in a reenactment of Hagar’s seek for water for her son, Ismail, a narrative that happens in several varieties 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 2 hills.

The following day, pilgrims head to Mount Arafat, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca, the place the Prophet Muhammad delivered his ultimate sermon. Right here, they stand in prayer all through the day asking God for forgiveness of their sins in what many view because the non secular excessive level of the pilgrimage.

Round sundown, pilgrims stroll or take buses to an space referred to as Muzdalifa, 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat. They decide up pebbles to make use of the following day in a symbolic stoning of the satan within the valley of Mina, the place Muslims imagine Ibrahim was tempted to disregard God’s command to sacrifice his son. The pilgrims keep for a number of nights in Mina in one of many largest tent camps on the earth.

The pilgrimage ends with a ultimate circling of the Kaaba and additional casting of stones at Mina. Males usually shave their heads and girls clip a lock of hair, signaling renewal. Many will assume the title of “hajj” or “hajja” — an important honor, notably in additional conventional communities. Some paint murals on their properties with photographs of airplanes, ships and the Kaaba to commemorate the journey.

The ultimate days of Hajj coincide with Eid al-Adha, or the competition of sacrifice, a joyous event celebrated by Muslims all over the world to commemorate Ibrahim’s check of religion. Through the three-day Eid, Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.


Related Press faith protection receives assist by means of the AP’s collaboration with The Dialog US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely chargeable for this content material.


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