The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th (or in some cases 13th) of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Islamic year is about eleven days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Gregorian date of Hajj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which pilgrims wear two white sheets of seamless cloth and abstain from certain things.
The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham. During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka'aba (the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for the Muslims), runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at three pillars. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the "lesser pilgrimage", or Umrah. However, even if they choose to perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.
Fiqh literature describes in detail the manners of carrying out the rites of Hajj, and pilgrims generally follow handbooks and expert guides to successfully fulfill the requirements of Hajj. In performing the rites of hajj, the pilgrims not only follow the model of Muhammad, but also commemorate the events associated with Abraham.
When the pilgrims are about 6 miles (10 km) from Mecca, they enter into a state of holiness – known as Ihram – that consists of wearing two white seamless cloths for the male, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side; wearing ordinary dress for the female that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands or face uncovered;[page needed] taking ablution; declaring the intention (niyah) to perform pilgrimage and to refraining from certain activities such as clipping the nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering head (for men) or the face and hands (for women); getting married; or carrying weapons. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a Miqat. The ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in front of God: there is no difference between the rich and the poor.
Tawaf means walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba. Upon arriving at Masjid al-Haram, pilgrims perform an arrival tawaf either as part of Umrah or as a welcome tawaf. During tawaf, pilgrims also include Hateem – an area at the north side of Kaaba – inside their path. Each circuit starts with the kissing or touching of the Black Stone (Hajar al- Aswad). If kissing the stone is not possible because of the crowds, they may simply point towards the stone with their hand on each circuit. Eating is not permitted but the drinking of water is allowed, because of the risk of dehydration due to the often low humidity in Mecca. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, known as Ramal, and the following four at a leisurely pace.[page needed]
The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqam Ibrahim), a site near Kaaba inside the mosque. However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque. After prayer, pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the ground level, tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowd.
Tawaf is followed by sa'ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near Kaaba. Previously in open air, the place is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels. Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they are allowed to run. There is also an internal "express lane" for the disabled. After sayee, the male pilgrims shave their heads and women generally clip a portion of their hair, which completes the Umrah.
Sa'yee towards Al-Safa
Central section reserved for the elderly and the disabled. Note that it is also divided into two directions of travel.
Sa'yee returning from Al-Safa
On the 8th Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of ihram start now.
After the morning prayer on the 8th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the whole day and offer noon, afternoon, evening, and night prayers. The next morning after morning prayer, they leave Mina for Arafat.
On 9th Dhu al-Hijjah before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometers east of Mecca, where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek mercy of God, and listen to sermon from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near Jabal al-Rahmah (The Mount of Mercy) from where Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset, this is known as 'standing before God' (wuquf), one of the most significant rites of Hajj. At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together at noon time. A pilgrim's Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.
Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah after sunset without praying maghrib (evening) prayer at Arafat. Muzdalifah is an area between Arafat and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly, spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day's ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan).
Back at Mina, the pilgrims perform symbolic stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat) by throwing seven stones at only the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat al-Aqabah. The remaining two pillars (jamarah) are not stoned on this day. These pillars are said to represent Satan. Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-levelled Jamaraat Bridge, from which they can throw their pebbles at the jamarat. Because of safety reasons, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.
After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ishmael. Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat, which is then sent as charity to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
After sacrificing animal, another important rite of Hajj is shaving head or trimming hair (known as Halak). All male pilgrims shave their head or trim their hair on the day of Eid al Adha and women pilgrims cut the tips of their hair.
On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca for another tawaf, known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, an essential part of Hajj. It symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
At noon on the 11 Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. This is commonly known as the "Stoning of the Devil".
On 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, the same process of stoning of the pillars as of 11 Dhu al-Hijjah takes place. Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th.
If unable to leave on the 12th, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wida. 'Wida' means 'to bid farewell'. The pilgrims circle the ka'ba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the ka'ba.
Though not a part of Hajj, pilgrims may choose to travel to the city of Medina and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains Muhammad's tomb. The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Qiblatain are also usually visited.
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