The Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca
Beliefnet blogger Reed Hall explains the ins and outs of the Hajj.
BY: Reed Hall
The so-called “Five Pillars of Islam” are the foundations and cornerstones -- or, as the term itself suggests, the “pillars” or supports – of Islamic faith and practice. All five are incumbent upon every physically and financially able Muslim:
(1) the recitation of the shahadah or creed (“There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his messenger”);
(2) formal prayers five times each day (at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall, always while facing Mecca);
(3) institutionalized charity to the poor (a percentage of one’s wealth [commonly 2.5%] is donated annually);
(4) the annual month-long fast during Ramadan (no food, no drink, no smoking, and no sex from dawn till dusk throughout the ninth month of the Islamic calendar); and
(5) the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage (Hajj) to the Islamic holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia (during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, a month known as Dhu al-Hijjah).
Within Dhu al-Hijjah each year, the 8th to the 12th days of the month are dedicated to the annual Hajj (Arabic for “pilgrimage”). On the Western or Gregorian calendar this year, the upcoming Hajj period is estimated to coincide approximately with October 24 - 28, 2012.
During that time frame, approximately three million Muslims from all over the world will converge upon Mecca as pilgrims, fulfilling the fifth of Islam’s “Five Pillars” by participating in one of the world’s largest religious pilgrimages: the Hajj, or holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Hajj is not optional, but mandatory. As one of Islam’s “Five Pillars,” going on the pilgrimage to Mecca is a required religious duty, which must be performed at least once in the lifetime of every Muslim who is physically as well as financially able to do so.
As the birthplace and hometown of Muhammad, Mecca is Islam’s holiest city – so holy, in fact, that non-Muslims are not even permitted to enter. On the other hand, millions of Muslims from around the globe enter and crowd the city annually, temporarily tripling its population during the days of the Hajj.
This year, during the 8th to the 12th days of Dhu al-Hijjah, Muslim pilgrims (referred to as Hajjis) will arrive in Mecca and proceed to the Grand Mosque (the Masjid al-Haram, the largest and most sacred mosque in the world), which is large enough to accommodate up to four million pilgrims during the 2012 Hajj.
After preliminary purifications, and with men dressed only in sandals and two sheets of seamless white cloth (symbolizing equality before God), vast crowds of pilgrims will enter the immense central courtyard of the Grand Mosque. There, this vast sea of humanity will circle seven times around the Kaaba, the 43-foot-tall cube-shaped building that is the holiest site in Islam.
Built of granite, standing upon a marble base, and covered by a black silk curtain trimmed with gold, the Kaaba is the center of the Islamic universe. When Muslims around the world pray five times each day, every day, the direction they face during those ritual prayers is not just the direction of Mecca; it is the Kaaba itself to which they turn and face.