A supplicating pilgrim at Masjid al-Haram, the mosque which was built around the Kaaba ("cube"), (the building at center). In this image of the Hajj from 2003, thousands of pilgrims are walking around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction (Tawaf).
The Hajj(Arabic: حج Ḥajj) is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah in the Arabic language). The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian date of the Hajj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special state in which Muslims live while on the pilgrimage. 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). 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 Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, 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, and throws stones 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. History:
The Hajj is based on a pilgrimage that was ancient even in the time of Muhammad in the 7th Century. According to Hadith, elements of the Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim), around 2000 BCE. It is believed that the Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife Hagar (Hājar) and his infant son Ishmael (ʼIsmāʻīl) alone in the desert. While he was gone, the child became thirsty, and Hagar ran back and forth seven times searching for water for her son. The baby cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that the angel Gabriel (Jibral) scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam. Prior to Muhammad's era, each year tribes from all around the Arabian Peninsula would converge on Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans. Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad as jahiliyyah, the "Days of Ignorance", during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols – totems of each of the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, with idols of pagan gods such as Hubal, al-Lat, Al-‘Uzzá and Manat, and also some representing Jesus (Isa), and Mary (Maryam). Muhammad was known to regularly perform the Umrah, even before he began receiving revelations. Historically, Muslims would gather at various meeting points in other great cities, and then proceed en masse towards Mecca, in groups that could comprise tens of thousands of pilgrims. Two of the most...