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For other uses of "Hajj", see Hajj (disambiguation).
Pilgrims at the Masjid al-Haram on Hajj in 2008

The Hajj (Arabic: حجḤaǧǧ "pilgrimage") is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims which must be carried out at least once in lifetime by every adult Muslim who is physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support his family during his absence.[1][2][3] It is one of the five pillars of Islam. The gathering during Hajj is considered the largest gathering of people in the world.[4][5][6] The state of being physically and financially capable of performing the Hajj is called istita'ah, and a Muslim who fulfils this condition is called a mustati. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah).[7] The word Hajj means "to intend a journey" which connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions.[8]

The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one which is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, 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 unstitched cloth and abstain from certain things.[9]

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 (Ibrahim). 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 plane of Muzdalifa and throws stones at symbolic pillars of Satan at Jamarat in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha.[10][11][12][13]

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 one chooses 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.


A 1907 image of Masjid al-Haram with people praying therein
The Kaaba during Hajj

The present pattern of Hajj was established by Muhammad.[14] However, elements of Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim), around 2000 BCE. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hagar (Hājar) and his son Ishmael (ʼIsmāʻīl) alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. Looking for shelter, food and water, Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times with her son. In desperation, she laid the baby on the sand and begged for God's assistance. The baby cried and hit the ground with his heel, and the Zamzam Well miraculously sprang forth. Later, Abraham was commanded to build Kaaba (which he did with the help of Ishmael) and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there.[15] The Quran refers to these incidents in verses 2:124-127 and 22:27-30.[n 1] It is said that the arch-angel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to Kaaba.[16]

In pre-Islamic Arabia, a time known as jahiliyyah, Kaaba became surrounded by pagan idols.[17] In 630 CE, Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what was the first Hajj to be performed by Muslims alone, and the only one Muhammad attended. He cleansed the Kaaba by destroying all the pagan idols, and then reconsecrated the building to Allah.[18] It was from this point that the Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.

During the medieval times, pilgrims would gather in big cities of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq to go to Mecca in groups and caravans comprising tens of thousands of pilgrims,[19] often under state patronage.[20] Some Hajj caravans were to be guarded by soldiers because there were risks of robbery or attack or natural hazards.[20][n 2] Muslim travelers like Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta have recorded detailed accounts of Hajj-travels of medieval time.[21]


Diagram indicating the order of Hajj rites.

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.[22] In performing the rites of hajj, the pilgrims not only follow the model of Muhammad, but also commemorate the events associate with Abraham.[23] Male and female pilgrims pray together during pilgrimage, a reminder that both men and women will be standing together on the Day of Judgment.[24]


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;[25] 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.[26][27] 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.[28]

Tawaf and sa'ay[edit]

Direction of the Tawaf around the Kaaba

The pilgrims perform an arrival tawaf either as part of Umrah or as an welcome tawaf.[29] They enter Masjid al-Haram and walk seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba. 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).[30] 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 high 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.[25][30]

The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqaam Ibrahim), a site near Kaaba inside the mosque.[30] 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[31] which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque.[32]

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. Previously in open air, the place is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels.[33] 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 and ends the restriction of ihram.

First day of Hajj: 8th Dhu al-Hijjah[edit]

On the 7th 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.


Tents at Mina
Plain of Arafat during Hajj, 2003
Pilgrims on Plains of Arafat on the day of Hajj

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.

Second day: 9th Dhu al-Hijjah[edit]


Main article: Mount Arafat

On 9th Dhu al-Hijjah before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometers east of Mecca,[34] where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek mercy of God near Jabal al-Rahmah (The Mount of Mercy) from where Muhammad delivered his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset,[34] this is known as 'standing before God' (wuquf), one of the most significant rites of Hajj.[26] At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together at noon time.[31] A pilgrim's Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.[11][34]


Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah after sunset without praying maghrib (evening) prayer at Arafat.[35] Muzdalifah is an area between Arafat and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly,[31] 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).[36]

Third day: 10th Dhu al-Hijjah[edit]

Ramy al-Jamarat[edit]

Main article: Stoning of the Devil
Pilgrims performing Stoning of the devil ceremony at 2006 Hajj

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.[11] The remaining two pillars (jamarah) are not stoned on this day.[37] These pillars are said to represent Satan.[38] 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.[39][40]

Animal sacrifice[edit]

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.[11][33] 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.[12]

Hair removal[edit]

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 only cut the tip of hair.[27][41]

Tawaf Al-Ifaadah[edit]

Pilgrims performing Tawaf around Kaaba

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.[27] 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.

Fourth day: 11th Dhu al-Hijjah[edit]

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.

Fifth day: 12th Dhu al-Hijjah[edit]

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, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.[31]

Tawaf al-Wida[edit]

Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wida. 'Wida' means 'to bid farewell'.[11]

Journey to Medina[edit]

Though not a part of Hajj, pilgrims must choose to travel to the city of Medina and the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains Muhammad's tomb.[33] The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Qiblatain are also usually visited.[42]

Arrangement and facilities[edit]

Making necessary arrangements each year for the growing number of pilgrims poses a logistic challenge for the government of Saudi Arabia who has, since the 1950s, spent more than $100 billion to increase pilgrimage facilities.[20][43] Major issues like housing, transportation, sanitation, and health care have been addressed and improved greatly by the government by introducing various development programs, with the result that pilgrims now enjoy modern facilities and perform various rites at ease.[33] The Saudi government often sets quota for various countries to keep the pilgrims’ number at a manageable level, and arranges huge security forces and CCTV cameras to maintain overall safety during Hajj.[20][44][45] Various institutions and government programs, such as the Haj subsidy offered in India or the Tabung Haji based in Malaysia assist pilgrims in covering the costs of the journey.[46] For 2014 Hajj, special Hajj information desks were set up at Pakistani airports to assist the pilgrims.[47]


Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups. During the early 19th century, the traditional overland pilgrimage caravans began to cease as many pilgrims began arriving in Mecca by steamship which continued for some time,[48] until after Egypt introduced the first airline service for Hajj pilgrims in 1937.[49] Today, many airlines and travel agents offer Hajj packages, and arrange for transportation and accommodation for the pilgrims.[50] King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina have dedicated pilgrim terminals to assist the arrival of pilgrims.[51][52] Other international airports around the world, such as Indira Gandhi in New Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, Jinnah in Karachi and Soekarno-Hatta in Jakarta also have dedicated terminals or temporary facilities to service pilgrims as they depart and return home.[53] During Hajj, many airlines run extra flights to accommodate the large number of pilgrims.[51]

Modern crowd-control issues[edit]

Because pilgrims’ number has largely increased in recent years that often leads to some accidents, various crowd-control techniques have been adapted to ensure safety. Because of the large numbers of people, many of the rituals have become more symbolic. It is not necessary to kiss the Black Stone, but merely to point at it on each circuit around the Kaaba. Throwing pebbles was done at large pillars, which for safety reasons in 2004 were changed to long walls with catch basins below to catch the stones.[39][40] The slaughter of an animal can be done either personally, or by appointing someone else to do it, and so forth.[25] But even with the crowd control techniques, there are still many incidents during the Hajj, as pilgrims are trampled in a crush, or ramps collapse under the weight of the many visitors. Concerns were raised in 2013 and 2014 about the spread of MERS because of mass gathering.[6][54] Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabia said authorities had so far detected no cases of MERS among the pilgrims.[55] He also said that despite few cases of MERS, Saudi Arabia was ready for 2014 pilgrimage.[56]


To the Muslims, Hajj is associated with religious as well as social significance. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit which provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal.[57] Hadith literature (sayings of Muhammad) articulates various merits a pilgrim achieves upon successful completion of their Hajj.[n 3] After performing pilgrimage, a person becomes known as Hajji, and is held with respect in Muslim society.[43] Hajj brings together and unites the Muslims from different parts of the world irrespective of their race, color, and culture which acts as a symbol of equality.[26]

A 2008 study on the impact of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslim communities become more positive and tolerant after Hajj experience. Entitled Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam's Global Gathering and conducted in conjunction with Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the study noted that the Hajj "increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment" and that "Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions."[58]

Malcolm X, an American civil rights activist, describes the sociological atmosphere he experienced at his Hajj in the 1960s as follows:

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.[59]

Masjid al-Haram panorama during Hajj, 2007.

Number of pilgrims per year[edit]

Before the World War ll, the number of pilgrims was 10,000 or less.[23] There has been substantial progress in the number of pilgrims during the last 92 years, and the number of foreign pilgrims has increased phenomenally by approximately 2,824 percent, up from just 58,584 in 1920 to 1,712,962 in 2012.[60] Because of development and expansion work at Masjid al-Haram, the authority restricted the number of pilgrims in 2013.[61][62] The following number of pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia each year to perform Hajj.

Year Hijri year Saudi pilgrims Foreign pilgrims Total
1920 1338 58,584[60]
1921 1339 57,255[60]
1922 1340 56,319[60]
1950 1369 100,000 (approx.)[1]
1996 1416 784,769 1,080,465 1,865,234[63][64]
1997 1417 774,260 1,168,591 1,942,851[64][65]
1998 1418 699,770 1,132,344 1,832,114[64][66]
1999 1419 775,268 1,056,730 1,831,998[64]
2000 1420 571,599 1,267,555 1,839,154[64]
2001 1421 549,271 1,363,992 1,913,263[67]
2002 1422 590,576 1,354,184 1,944,760[64]
2003 1423 610,117 1,431,012 2,041,129[64]
2004 1424 592,368 1,419,706 2,012,074[64]
2005 1425 629,710 1,534,769 2,164,469[64][68]
2006 1426 573,147 1,557,447 2,130,594[64][69]
2007 1427 746,511 1,707,814 2,454,325[64][70][71]
2008 1428 1,729,841[64][72]
2009 1429 154,000 1,613,000 2,521,000[73]
2010 1430 989,798 1,799,601 2,854,345[74]
2011 1431 1,099,522 1,828,195 2,927,717[75]
2012 1432 1,408,641 1,752,932 3,161,573[76]
2013 1433 700,000 (approx.)[77] 1,379,531 [78] 2,061,573 (approx.)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The verses read: And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled... Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). ... And remember Abraham and Isma'il raised the foundations of the House (2:124-127) and And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, through deep and distant mountain highways, that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allah, through the Days appointed, over the cattle which He has provided for them (for sacrifice): then eat ye thereof and feed the distressed one, the needy. Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House. (22: 27-29)
  2. ^ Ibn Jubayr noted the skeletons of the faithful who had died of thirst en route. In the 17th century, a group of Egyptian pilgrims lost over 1,500 people and 900 camels. In 1924 around one-fifth of a group of Syrian pilgrims died and two years later, 12,000 are thought to have died during the journey. [Islam in the World by Malise Ruthven. Page 2. Granta Publications, 2006 ISBN 1-86207-906-4]
  3. ^ For example, one such Hadith says: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "Whoever performs Hajj for Allah's pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew." Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:26:596


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  74. ^ "2.8 million pilgrims participated in Hajj 1431". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. 2010-11-18. Retrieved 2010-12-28. 
  75. ^ "2,927,717 pilgrims performed Hajj this year". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  76. ^ "3,161,573 pilgrims perform Hajj this year". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. October 27, 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  77. ^ "Two million pilgrims taking place in Hajj". Euronews. October 14, 2013. Retrieved 2014-02-13. 
  78. ^ "1,379,531 pilgrims from 188 countries arrived for Hajj". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. October 13, 2013. Retrieved 2014-02-13. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]