The Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca

Beliefnet blogger Reed Hall explains the ins and outs of the Hajj.

BY: Reed Hall


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Muslims believe that Abraham (Ibrahim in the Quran) constructed the original Kaaba, around 2130 BCE; it has been frequently reconstructed over the centuries. Set in the eastern corner of the Kaaba is the Black Stone, an ancient stone (possibly meteoric) said to have fallen from heaven at the time of Adam and Eve, and installed in the Kaaba’s eastern corner by Abraham.

Crowds permitting, pilgrims today still attempt to kiss the Black Stone as they circumambulate counterclockwise seven times around the Kaaba (a procedure that, given the crowded conditions, can take several hours to complete).

After circumambulating the Kaaba seven times, pilgrims offer special prayers and then hurry back and forth seven times between two sacred hills, recalling Hagar’s desperate search for water for her son Ishmael (through whom Muslims trace their ancestral lineage back to Abraham). Pilgrims then drink water drawn a well an angel is said to have opened for Hagar.

About twelve miles outside of Mecca, pilgrims visit Mount Arafat for an afternoon of prayer, pious contemplation, and Quran recitation, near the site of Muhammad’s final sermon. This deeply reflective period is, in fact, regarded as the summit of the entire pilgrimage; no Hajj is considered complete without it.

At Mina (a few miles from Mecca), pilgrims ritually throw seven small stones or pebbles at three pillars, recalling Abraham’s act of defiantly throwing stones at the Devil, who thrice tempted him to refuse God’s command to sacrifice his son Ishmael (a famous test of faith in which the Bible specifies Isaac as the potential victim, rather than Ishmael as indicated by the Quran).

Animal sacrifices follow, reflecting God permitting Abraham to substitute a ram for his son. This launches the start of one of Islam’s two major festivals, Eid al-Adha (“Feast of Sacrifice”), from the 10th to the 12th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah (approximately Oct 26 - 29, 2012).

Bringing to a festive conclusion the events of the annual Hajj period, Eid al-Adha is a four-day holiday celebrated not only in Mecca, but globally – by all Muslims, worldwide.

During these final days of the Hajj, pilgrims again circumambulate the Kaaba, and again throw pebbles at the pillars representing the Devil. Following the Hajj proper, pilgrims may optionally visit nearby Medina, the second holiest city in Islam (and the location of Muhammad’s tomb).

The subjective impact and personal spiritual significance of the Hajj is not to be underestimated or underappreciated. For Muslims, going on the Hajj is a profound, deeply moving, even life-changing experience.

Read more from Reed Hall at his Religion 101 Beliefnet blog!

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Related Topics: Faiths, Islam, Hajj