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Pilgrims on the roof of the Grand Mosque
The hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. Each Muslim who is financially, mentally and physically able is expected at least once in his or her lifetime to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and participate in prescribed religious rites performed at various specific sites in the holy city and its environs during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. In one of their most important rites, pilgrims pray while circumambulating the Kaaba, the sanctuary Muslims believe Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael) built to honor the one God. The end of hajj is marked with the celebration called Eid al-Adha when pilgrims sacrifice domesticated animals such as sheep and distribute the meat among the needy. Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, Kurban Bayrami (in Arabic, Id al Adha), this occasion is celebrated not only by the pilgrims but by all Muslims, and is observed in Turkey as a national holiday. The returning pilgrim is entitled to use the honorific haci (in Arabic, hajji ) before his or her name, a title that indicates successful completion of the pilgrimage. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Hajj takes place in Muslim month of Dhul Hijjah but can occur anytime of the year. The Muslim lunar year has only 354 days, which means that all Muslim holidays are 11 days earlier each year. The 70 day pilgrimage season begins during the tenth month of the Muslim year. The Hajj itself takes place during the last seven days of the pilgrimage season. The Hajj begins on the first day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, last month of the Muslim year, and includes before the Feast of the Sacrifice, which takes place on the tenth day of Dhul Hijjah. All Muslims who are physically and financially able, and who can afford to take care of family while they are gone, are required to perform the Hajj.

The Muslims believe that they are cleared of all sins if they perform a sincere pilgrimage. Muhammad instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize sites associated with God and Abraham (Ibrahim), founder of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son, Ismail. According to the BBC: “Once a year, Muslims of every ethnic group, colour, social status, and culture gather together in Mecca and stand before the Kaaba praising Allah together. It is a ritual that is designed to promote the bonds of Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood by showing that everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah. The Hajj makes Muslims feel real importance of life here on earth, and the afterlife, by stripping away all markers of social status, wealth, and pride. In the Hajj all are truly equal." [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009]

According to the British Museum” There are two pilgrimages to Mecca. Hajj – known as the Greater Pilgrimage and ‘Umra – the lesser pilgrimage. Hajj can only be undertaken between the 8th and the 13th of Dhu al-Hijja – the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar. At all other times of the year, pilgrims may travel to Mecca to undertake ‘Umra. Both pilgrimages begin at stations known as miqat, which pilgrims cannot cross unless they are in the white garments known as ihram. It is here that they put them on, make their intention for Hajj and recite the talbiya – a prayer to announce to God their arrival for pilgrimage. [Source: British Museum]

Book: “The Hajj: Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places” by F.E. Peters

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam

Hajj Duty

“For Muslims, the Hajj is the journey that every sane adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lives if they can afford it and are physically able. It is strongly recommended to do it as often as possible, preferably once a year. Only individuals whose financial position and health are severely insufficient are exempt from making Hajj (e.g. if making Hajj would put stress on one's financial situation, but would not end up in homelessness or starvation, it is still required). [Source: BBC, Wikipedia]

The Hajj It involves extraordinary travel logistics and has changed over time. The pilgrimage itself physically demanding journey tests pilgrims' patience as they withstand long waits and thick crowds on their path to achieving spiritual purification and repentance.

The Hajj answers the edict from the Qur’an: “And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel...from every deep ravine.” The Hajj literally means “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.” One of five pillars of Islam, it is regarded by many Muslims as a kind of dress rehearsal for the Judgement Day and incorporates elements of the other four "five pillars of Islam." [Source: Muhammad Abdul-Rauf, National Geographic November 1978; Thomas Abercrombie, National Geographic, January 1966]

Women are supposed to be accompanied by their husbands, fathers or another male guardians or escorts. State pilgrimage officials had been allowed to stand in the place of a male relative or husband. Some female pilgrims travel with Hajj officials who are their relatives. Sometimes Saudi authorities crack down on women traveling to the Hajj, even stopping women who did travel with their husbands.

Hajj as a Spiritual Experience

The Hajj is both a collective undertaking and a deeply personal experience. It is a journey, physical and spiritual, that pilgrims from the furthest reaches of the Islamic world have made responding to God’s call. Much reflection and preparation is needed for traversing the paths to the heart of Islam. During the Hajj Muslims recite the talbiya: “Labbayk allahumma labbayk… ’ ‘Here I am, Lord, responding to Your call [to perform the Hajj]. Praise belongs to You, all good things come from You and sovereignty is yours alone”

Participation in the Hajj is both a personal, spiritual experience for an individual and a chance to become part of global Muslim community by performing common rituals with hundred of thousands of Muslim from all over the world. It is a great honor to go on the Hajj. When word gets out in a Muslim community that someone is going people call them to offer their congratulations and often ask the future pilgrim to say special prayers for them.

One pilgrim wrote in the Chicago Tribune that attending the Hajj “was the most powerful and immense spiritual experience of my entire life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my time in Mecca.” A Mecca resident told National Geographic, “It’s a wonderful experience, a joyous time. When people leave their worldly gains behind and come to pray in simple white garments, to realize there’s no difference between rich and poor, black and white. There’s a sense of equality. Those that attend the Hajj receive forgiveness for all their past sins.”

Impressions of the Hajj

circling the Kaaba

Reem Al Faisal, a female photographer born in Jedda, said: “It is difficult to capture the Hajj in text or visually since the Hajj is larger than any possible description. No book or photograph can ever give the Hajj its due. Even those who perform the Hajj can never fully comprehend it. From the first day of the Hajj one is swept away by the sheer motion and size of it and you find yourself moving at another level of your consciousness. As you perform one ritual after the other you slowly discover the rhythm of the universe.” [Source: British Museum =]

Ayman Yossri wrote: “The Hajj emphasizes the concept of equality of mankind, Muslims dress in the same way and observe the same rituals for one purpose, which allows no superiority on the basis of race, gender or social status, only humility and devotion.” =

Qaisra Khan, who went on the Hajj in 2010, wrote: “The many and varied nationalities of pilgrims was one of the most fascinating facets of Hajj. Especially where people are relaxed, they have time to chat and are all dressed in national costume. The Uzbeks in blue, the Turks in pink and the Africans in their multi-coloured Hajj dresses. Many pilgrims wore their national costumes, Kazakhs with tall furry hats, the Malians in vibrant indigo, Indians in ‘shalwar qamis’ and the orderly South-East Asians with matching flowers in their hijabs (the women of course!). … The faces, stories (one Indian man told us he gave up his job to go on Hajj) and the parts of the earth these people had travelled from – was quite inspirational and captivating.” =


Mecca (45 miles east of Jeddah) is the Islam’s holiest city. Situated in barren basin between two ranges of steep hills, it is where the Prophet Mohammed was born and raised and had his first revelations from God. After being banished from the city he returned and conquered it and then cleaned a huge black box, called the Kaaba, of idols, an act as important to Muslims as the crucifixion of Christ is to Christians. Each year millions of Muslim pilgrims descend on Mecca for the Hajj to the relive the cleaning of the Kaaba and other events central to Muslim faith.

Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. The sanctuary there with the Kaaba is the holiest site in Islam. As such, it is a deeply spiritual destination for Muslims all over the world; it is the heart of Islam. Mecca is a place that is holy to all Muslims. It is so holy that no non-Muslim is allowed to enter. Adorning the holy sanctuary in Mecca has traditionally been part of the reverence owed to this sacred place. Made from the best materials and inscribed beautifully with verses from the Qur’an and pious expressions, the textiles have become some of the most iconic objects related to the Hajj.

Mecca was major religious center long before Islam. Located at the crossroads for all major caravans in the area, it attracted ancient caravans, trade fairs and pilgrims who payed a fee to see the 360 idols in the Kaaba, which including an image of Uzza (the Arabian version of Aphrodite) and representations of celestial gods for the moon, sun and morning star from ancient Sheba. The city also has links to Abraham. Non-Muslims are not only banned from Mecca they are banned from an area 25 kilometers around it.

Hajj Pilgrims

Hajj Pilgrim
The Hajj is arguable the largest annual gathering of people in the world today. Muslims from the Arab world, black Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas and countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Turkey, Indonesia, Sudan, Egypt, the Comoros Island, Algeria, India, Bangladesh and France arrive in Mecca by foot, on chartered planes and on buses. Even some blonde, blue-eyed ones from the United States show up. Describing the scene on pilgrim wrote: "Mecca was awash in a sea of people... Black people. brown people, white people. Every kind of people."

Pilgrims who complete the Hajj are described as reborn. Their sins are washed away and their soul is cleansed. The exile of Adam and Eve are and the sacrifice of the prophets are recalled. Many have saved their entire life for the journey and some have walked all the way from Africa to get there. Around five or six million people now show up for the Hajj each year and millions more come to Mecca for mini-Hajj's which Muslims can do year round. Some large Hindu Ganges festivals draw over 50 million people but they are held every 12 years and not annual events like the Hajj.

The British adventurer Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) was one of the first Westerners to witness the Hajj. In 1853 he donned Arab robes, stained his skin with walnut juice, and was circumcised to pass himself off as a Muslim. Pretending to be was a Pathan doctor, treating his patients with "magic nostrums, incantations, aphrodisiacs and hypnosis," he claims he contracted syphilis in Mecca and said if his non-Muslim identity had been discovered he would have been killed. His three volume chronicle of his experiences was a bestseller.

Describing the people that had gathered around Kaaba in Mecca, Burton wrote: "What a scene of contrasts! Here stalked the Badawi woman, in her long black robe like a nun's serge, and poppy-colored face-veil, pierced to show two fiercely flashing orbs. There an Indian woman, with her semi-Tartar features, nakedly hideous, and her thin legs, encased in wrinkled tights...Every now and then a corpse, borne upon its wooden shell, circuited the shrine by means of four bearers...In another, some poor wretch with arms thrown on high, so every part of his person might touch the Ka'abah, was clinging to the curtain and sobbing as though his heart would break."

Meaning of the Hajj

“Labbayk allahumma labbayk… ’ ‘Here I am, Lord, responding to Your call [to perform the Hajj]. Praise belongs to You, all good things come from You and sovereignty is yours alone. — The talbiya

Peter Sanders wrote: “The pilgrimage to Mecca, is the fifth pillar of Islam and a religious duty that Muslims should undertake if they are able, at least once in their lives. It is both a collective undertaking and a deeply personal experience. Hajj occurs in the month of Dhu al-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. It involves a series of rituals that take place in and around Mecca over a period of five to six days. The first of these is tawaf in which pilgrims walk around the Ka‘ba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction. Muslims believe that the rituals of Hajj have their origin in the time of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). Muhammad led the Hajj himself in 632, the year of his death. The Hajj now attracts about three million pilgrims every year from across the world. It is not only a journey in space to the centre towards which one has always turned one’s face in prayers, but also a journey in time far back beyond the missions of Muhammad, Jesus and Moses.

Mina during the Hajj

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: “Another example which demonstrates the universality of Islamic injunctions regarding the practice of religion is the instance of Hajj, the pilgrimage. Once again one finds the institution of pilgrimage in all religions of the world, but the sites for pilgrimage are scattered at different places in one or more countries. One does not find a single central place which all the followers of a religion must visit at least once in their lifetime. Amazingly in Islam we find exactly such a place in Mecca, where Muslims from all over the world are expected to gather and spend about ten days entirely dedicated to the memory of God. The pilgrims come from all countries, all nations, and all races and in all ages. Men, women and children, they all gather once a year for a fantastic rally which sometimes runs into the millions. This grand display of universality is seen nowhere else in any other religion. Hence all these fingers, which were raised in different areas of Islamic teaching, point to the same message of unification of man on earth under the Unity of God. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

Qur’an on the Hajj

The Qur’an reads: And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham [Ibrahim] a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael [Isma‘il], [saying], "Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer]. — Qur’an 2 - al-Baqara: 125

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], "Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” — Qur’an 22 - al-Hajj: 25-27

“It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are sailing on ships and rejoicing in the favouring wind, a storm arrives: waves come at those on board from all sides and they feel there is no escape.” — Qur’an 10 – Nuh :22.

History of the Hajj

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Kaaba in 1937
The Hajj is said to date back to the time of Abraham (4000 years ago). When pagan practices were reintroduced to the Middle East the Hajj died out. It wasn't until the A.D. 7th century when of Islam was born that it became the deeply spiritual journey it is today.

In Muhammad’s time, Mecca was a major commercial center with large pagan, Jewish and Christian communities. Situated at the center of a network of ancient caravan routes, it drew traders from all over the Middle East and hosted trade fairs. It owed its success to it connection with religion. Violence was not tolerated and people were forbidden from carry weapons, thus traders and merchants were able to conduct business with relatively few worries.

Mecca was major religious center long before Islam. Members of desert tribes went on pilgrimages to Mecca just like today's Muslims do. "In the 'Days of Ignorance' before Islam," the Qur’an reads, "regularly tribesmen come from all over Arabia to pay homage to the pantheon." They paid a fee to see the Kaaba, a great shrine officially dedicated to the Nabatean the deity Hubal and venerated as the shrine for the high God Allah.

Until recently Mecca could only be reached by caravan or by sea. Many pilgrims took the traditional 40-day "fast caravan from Damascus to Mecca.” 1908 the Ottoman Turks built the narrow-gauge Hejaz railroad across Jordan, following much of the 40-day caravan route, to make it easier for Hajj pilgrims to get from Damascus to Medina. For religious reasons a railroad was never built between Medina and Mecca.

Today the Hajj is captured on live video and televised via satellite to more than 40 countries. On the radio prayers are broadcast in seven tongues.

Hajj Story

Hajira (Hagar) and Is'mail in the wilderness

Muslims believe the rites trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible. According to the BBC: “Four thousand years ago the valley of Mecca was a dry and uninhabited place. Muslims believe the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) was instructed to bring his wife, Hajira (Hagar) and their child Is'mail to Arabia from Palestine to protect them from the jealousy of Ibrahim's first wife Sarah.Allah told the Prophet Ibrahim to leave them on their own, and he did so, with some supplies of food and water. However the supplies quickly ran out and within a few days Hajira and Is'mail were suffering from hunger and dehydration. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“In her desperation Hajira ran up and down two hills called Safa and Marwa trying to see if she could spot any help in the distance. Finally she collapsed beside Is'mail and prayed to Allah for deliverance. Is'mail struck his foot on the ground and this caused a spring of water to gush forth from the earth. Hajira and Is'mail were saved. Now they had a secure water supply they were able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies. |::|

“After a while the Prophet Ibrahim returned from Palestine to check on his family and was amazed to see them running a profitable well. The Prophet Ibrahim was told by Allah to build a shrine dedicated to him. Ibrahim and Is'mail constructed a small stone structure - the Kaaba or Cube - which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in Allah. |::|

“As the years passed Is'mail was blessed with Prophethood and he gave the nomads of the desert the message of surrender to Allah. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving city thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zam Zam. Gradually, the people began to adopt polytheistic ideas, and worship spirits and many different gods. The shrine of the Prophet Ibrahim was used to store idols. |::|

Origins of the Hajj

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: ““The institution of pilgrimage can be traced back to the time of Abraham(as), peace be upon him. But there are very clear statements in the Quran describing it as an ancient institution, starting from times immemorial when the first House of God was built in Mecca. In the olden times Mecca was pronounced Baka, so the Holy Quran refers to the first house as being built not in Mecca but in Baka. It is also called Bait-ul-Ateeq, or the most ancient house. Abraham(as) raised it from the ruins which he discovered under divine guidance, and about which he was commissioned by God to rebuild with the help of his son Ishmael(as). It is the same place where he had left his wife Hagar and infant son Ishmael(as), again under divine instruction. But work on the House of God awaited attention until Ishmael(as) grew to an age where he could be of some help. So, both of them worked together to rebuild the house and restart the institution of pilgrimage. |[Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

Muhammad at the Kaaba

“Many rites performed during pilgrimage are rooted in those early days of the reconstruction of the House of God, and some even go beyond that. For instance, the running between Safa and Marwah, two small hillocks close to the House of God, is done in memory of Hagar’s search for some sign of human presence to help her and her child in their dire hour of need. The child is described as having become extremely restive with the agony of thirst, striking the earth with his heels in desperation. There, it is said, sprouted a fountain which still exists today in some form. Later, a well which was created around that spot and its water is considered to be the blessed water. Most of the pilgrims who perform the Hajj try to bring some water from there by way of blessing for their relatives and friends.

“After many years, Allah told the Prophet Muhammed that he should restore the Kaaba to the worship of Allah only. In the year 628 the Prophet Muhammed set out on a journey with 1400 of his followers. This was the first pilgrimage in Islam, and would re-establish the religious traditions of the Prophet Ibrahim. |::|


For those who can not make the Hajj, a visit to a major shrine is considered the next best thing. Umra, the lesser Hajj, can be performed any time of the year and entails fewer requirements than the Hajj. It entails taking seven trips around the Kaaba. Those that attend the umra receive forgiveness for some of their past sins. When umra pilgrims enter the Great Mosque in Mecca, they pray "O, Lord Allah we have come from distant lands...Open the door of Thy mercy and Thy forgiveness."

According to British Museum: ‘Umra involves rituals which take place in the sanctuary at Mecca itself: circumambulation of the Ka‘ba (tawaf) and the passing between the hills of Safa and Marwa (sa‘i). Pilgrims also pray behind the Station or Maqam of Abraham and drink Zamzam water. All of these rituals can be completed in a matter of hours. The Hajj begins with the same rituals as those of ‘Umra, on day one, and continues with visits to the holy sites of ‘Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina on subsequent days. [Source: British Museum]

According to the BBC: “The Hajj is a real pilgrimage - a journey, with rites and rituals to be done along the way. You begin at a place just outside Mecca called the Miqat, or entry station to the Hajj. There you bathe, put on the Ihram (the special white clothes), make the intention for Umra and begin reciting the Talbiya Du'a (prayer). “Here I am at Your service, O Allah, here I am at your service! You have no partner. Here I am at your service. All praise and blessings belong to you. All dominion is yours and You have no partner.” Talbiya Du'a [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“Then you go to the Masjid al Haram and walk around the Ka'ba seven times repeating du'as and prayers. This is called the Tawaf. Afterwards you should sip some Zam Zam water. Zam Zam water is water from the Zam Zam well, the sacred well which opened in the desert to save Hajira and Is'mail from dying of thirst. |::|

“Next you go to the walkway between the hills of Safa and Marwa and walk back and forth between them seven times. This completes the Umra portion of the Hajj rituals and some of the Ihram restrictions are relaxed. |::|

Traveling to the Hajj and Hajj Caravans

Hejaz train took pilgrims from Damascus to Medina

About 1 million pilgrims arrive by land, with about two thirds of these coming from within Saudi Arabia. More than 1.5 million people arrive by plane on 5,000 or so flights that arrive mostly at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah. During the Hajj regular flights are suspended while special pilgrim flights operate around the clock. Saudi Arabian Airlines alone carries about 555,000 passengers from around the world. The Saudi government sets a deadline for pilgrims arriving by air to maintain some order. Even so clearing customs can take 16 hours or more.

Some airplanes go to and from Mecca almost 24 hours a day. My sister in law worked as a stewardess for Saudi Airlines, and said around the time of Hajj she barely had time to sleep while the planes ferried pilgrims to Jeddah airport nearly non-stop. I was once on a plane that stopped for refueling in Jeddah during the Hajj. It was very strange watching hundreds of toga-clad pilgrims climb off of 747's and step into ultra-modern buses at the mega-modern airport.

Some Muslims argue that charter flights have had devalued the pilgrimage by making it too easy. They advocate a return to the more arduous and challenging overland journey which they say is more spiritually enriching.

Hajj Travel Tips

Typically pilgrims go to the Hajj in large groups organized by specialty travel agencies sort of like those that arrange package tours for the Olympics or the World Cup soccer tournament. For some the Hajj is quite profitable. A typical Hajj package tour costs around $5,000. Cheap ones go for around $2,000 but require pilgrims to stay in same sex dormitories with strangers. People living in Saudi Arabia can sometimes do it more cheaply. Rich pilgrims like those from oil-rich United Arab Emirates spend around $7000 per each for luxurious accommodation. Many pilgrims are led by professional guides. Some pilgrims bring things like carpets and jewelry to sell and use they money to cover their expenses.

Muhammad, Majmac-al-Tawarikh
All able-bodied Muslims who can afford it are expected to perform Hajj at least once in their lives, leading people to go to great lengths to make the trip. Some pilgrims sell their cows and jewelry and others save for months or years to pay their own way to Mecca. Muslim philanthropists and politicians typically sponsor some pilgrims annually.

According to the BBC: “It's best to travel light, so only take essentials. Many pilgrims fly to Jeddah, and then travel to Mecca by bus. Once you get to Mecca, there are two rituals which you can perform; the lesser pilgrimage or Umra, and the main pilgrimage or Hajj. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009 |::|]

“The Umra is an extra, optional pilgrimage and does not count as the once-in-a-lifetime Hajj. Although it includes some of the rituals of the Hajj, they are shortened and there are fewer of them. |::|

“Most pilgrims who come for the Hajj arrive a few days before it actually starts and perform Umra first. Combining the Hajj with the Umrah is called a Hajji-Tamattu. |::|

“Being pure: To carry out the pilgrimage rituals you need to be in a state of Ihram, which is a special state of ritual purity. You do this by making a statement of intention, wearing special white clothes (which are also called ihram) and obeying the regulations below. |::|

“The person on the Hajj may not; 1) Engage in marital relations; 2) Shave or cut their nails; 3) Use cologne or scented oils; 4) Kill or hunt anything; 5) Fight or argue. 6) Women must not cover their faces, even if they would do so in their home country. 7) Men may not wear clothes with stitching. 8) Bathing is allowed but scented soaps are frowned upon. |::|

Hajj Clothes

The Hajjis or pilgrims wear simple white clothes called Ihram. During the Hajj the Pilgrims perform acts of worship and they renew their sense of purpose in the world.

During the hajj, pilgrims are expected to shed symbols of materialism, though the trip itself can be quite expensive for most. Male pilgrims are required to wear seamless, white terrycloth garments for the entirety of the hajj. Women wear loose clothing, cover their hair and forgo makeup and nail polish to achieve a state of humility and spiritual purity.

After the rituals in Mina, many men shed their traditional white robes in favor of Western clothing. Many have their heads shaved heads on the first day of the stoning as a symbol of renewal.

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Pilgrims on Arafat
According to British Museum: “On arrival at the miqat, pilgrims must enter into ihram. It is recommended that they have a full body wash and perfume themselves, and men must change into the Ihram clothing, consisting of two pieces of seamless white cloth (such as towels), one fixed round the waist and the other covering the top of the body. These can be secured with pins or a belt. Footwear should also be simple and not sewn. Women’s clothing for Hajj is normal and can be any colour, although usually they choose white, but they should not cover their faces. Once the pilgrims are in ihram they must not use perfume, shave, cut their hair or nails, or have sexual intercourse. Entering into ihram is a high spiritual moment, one the pilgrims have long anticipated.”

An obligatory ritual is the "taqsir" or "halq" (cutting or shaving) of the hair, which occurs twice during Hajj; at the beginning and near the end. Male pilgrims shave their hair and women cut a lock of hair yo symbolize the shedding of worldly attachments and as a sign of renewal for completing the hajj. After Eid al-Adha (festival of sacrifice) pilgrims shave or cut their hair to mark the end of the consecrated state (ihram) and are allowed everything except sexual intercourse The shaving is done with simple scissors and razor. The Saudi Arabian government provides licensed barbers with a new razor blade for each male pilgrim, while women snip only a lock of hair.

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad wrote: “In Hajj the pilgrims do not wear any sewn garments; rather, they dress in two loose sheets. This is further indicative of the tradition being most ancient. It indicates that the institution of Hajj began when man had not learnt to wear sewn clothes. They had only started to cover themselves. As such it seems that it is in memory of those ancient people who used to circuit the first house built for the worship of God in that preliminary dress that the pilgrims are required to do the same. Again, the shaving of the head is an important feature which is also universally found as a symbol of dedication among monks, priests, hermits and vishnus. This further adds to the universality of its character. Women are exempt from shaving, but they have to symbolically cut their hair as a token. Also, in the places where Hadrat Abraham(as) is known to have remembered God in the style of an intoxicated lover and extolled his glory with loud chanting, the pilgrims are required to do the same in the same places. [Source: Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]

Hajj Pilgrim Daily Life

Despite all the people and all the hassles, pilgrims say there is no crime or ill tempers. People are helpful and call everyone brother and sister. Food that is brought is offered to everyone. People help each other carry their bags. Shop owners are so unworried about theft they place piles of money on the ounter instead of in their registers.

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Baskin Robbins in the Holy City
Bazaars sell everything from prayer rugs to cell phones. Local merchants often do more business in the Hajj season than they do the rest of the year. The most plentiful kind of food is dates, which are offered in hundreds of varities in shops, souks and from vendors. During prayer time, faithful with prayers rugs turn them sideways and share them with faithful who don’t have them. Many pilgrims line up to get a haircut after circling the Kaaba for the final time to mark the end of the Hajj.

Pilgrims often move from place to place in the middle of the night to avoid traffic jams, which are caused by hundreds of thousands of people doing the same thing at the same time and having to go to the same place to do it. Fearless of getting lost or separated individuals often stay close to their tour group. Often members of the groups become very close and stay in contact after the Hajj is over.

The sun is very bright and direct. Many women carry umbrellas. Men and women are jammed side by by side — a shock for some pilgrims who come from societies where women and men are strictly segregated. Many pilgrims say they experience a sense of freedom that they don’t find in their home countries. They feel freer to express their feelings, voice opinion and discuss controversial subjects openly.

Rich Muslims stay in hotels that charge hundreds and even thousands dollars a night for a room. The super-luxurious Mecca Inter-Continental Hotel has its own mosque, and each balcony has markings that indicate where guests should stand during the five daily prayers. Sometimes it is necessary to book these rooms years in advance. Most pilgrims obviously can't afford to stay at these hotels. The poorer ones sleep in tents pitched in the hills or lay out their prayers rugs and sleep on the dusty streets and sidewalks. Small hotels can be so packed that some guests have to sleep on the roofs.

Hajj Items

For centuries Mecca was an important commercial as well as a religious centre. Pilgrims would bring goods for sale to help finance their Hajj. Many of these objects then found their way around the world. Today, many shops surround the sanctuaries at Mecca and Medina and the rituals of Hajj are combined with the purchase of souvenirs to take home to recall this momentous experience. [Source: British Museum =]

plaque for printing a pilgrimage certificate

Objects displayed at to a British Museum exhibition at the British Museum included: a mahmal, which would have travelled on top of a camel on the route to Mecca; 15th and 17th century Hajj certificates; an ivory sundial and Qibla pointer, made by Bayram b. Ilyas. Turkey, 1582-3; a 19th century water bottle made of Chinese porcelain containing Zamzam water; a late 19th century silk vest from the Malay Peninsula century made from the internal kiswa of the Ka’ba; a copy of the Anis ul-Hujjaj, a 17th century guide to pilgrimage from Mughal India;

The Thomas Cook Indian Hajj archives contains a pilgrim report, pilgrim booklet, and a pilgrim ticket (1886, Peterborough, UK). The pilgrim report is by one of the agents sent by Thomas Cook to Jedda to advise on how shipping and transportation arrangements could be improved for Indian pilgrims. On learning of his father’s appointment to the post of agent, Thomas Cook’s son commented: ‘I know this business is surrounded with more difficulties and prejudices than anything I have hitherto undertaken.’ The pilgrim booklet gives a detailed description of Thomas Cook’s involvement with the Hajj. Thomas Cook tickets were issued to the thousands of pilgrims who travelled from India to the Hijaz for Hajj. [Source: British Museum =]

Pilgrim receipts were introduced in 1953. As currency exchange throughout the world became more competitive, the monetary options available to pilgrims increased. Pilgrim receipts, used like travellers cheques, were purchased by pilgrims at banks in their home countries and exchanged in Saudi Arabia for Saudi riyals. This meant that pilgrims were no longer disadvantaged by poor exchange rates on their arrival in Saudi Arabia. A typical receipt was for 1 riyal. =

The Sanctuary at Mecca drawn in Aceh (c. 1850 – 1870, Indonesia) is a plan of the sanctuary at Mecca was probably made as a guide for hajjis or pilgrims. Each location is marked in Malay and Arabic, showing which rite should be performed at each place. The decorative features, shape of the arches and other details show an Indonesian influence. A text on the back states that it was made for Teungku Imam Beutong. It was brought back from Aceh by a Dutch seaman stationed there during the 1870s. [Source: British Museum =]

The Diary of the King of Boné (c. 1780) is the personal diary of Arumpone (king of Boné) Ahmed al-Salih (ruled 1775 – 1812), written in the Bugis language with occasional words in Arabic. Pilgrims wishing to go on Hajj needed to obtain the permission of both the Arumpone and the Dutch. The Arumpone notes that on 18 May 1780 he gave a prospective pilgrim, La Panuq, a sealed permit, and on 22 May La Panuq departed for Mecca.

Hajj Souvenirs

It is part of the Hajj experience that pilgrims spare time to purchase gifts for friends and family. Even today, pilgrimage is combined with shopping for mementos and souvenirs. As part of the Hajj experience, most pilgrims buy gifts for friends and family from the many bazaars and shops of Mecca and Medina. These objects often take pride of place in the recipients’ homes. Souvenirs from Mecca are among the most precious objects that a Muslim owns. These items include Zamzam bottles, prayer beads, white head caps, prayer matts, miswak, camel bone writing implements, and teeth cleaning twigs made from the Salvadora persica tree. [Source: British Museum =]

Hajj chocolates

Abdella Hammoudi, who performed Hajj in 1999, wrote: “We went deeper into the markets… everywhere were carpets, caps, sheets, turbans, belts, watches, compasses, radios, tea sets…After the initial surprise, it was clear that for centuries pilgrims had divided their time between mosque and commerce. =

Tim Insoll wrote in 2010: “Pilgrims are requested by their families and friends to bring back something as a blessing, such as sealed containers of Zamzam water. They will also bring back head caps, prayer beads, scarves and representations of the holy places and the famous sweet dates of Medina. Many pilgrims will keep their ihram robes, sprinkled with Zamzam water, to use as shrouds when they die.” =

A colourful and vast array of souvenirs can be bought on the site of Mount Uhud in Medina. They can be also be bought from stalls adjacent to the Grand Mosque in Bamako, Mali and from ones in Timbuktu which were originally bought in Mecca. They include kohl, incense, perfumes, prayer rugs, Zamzam water and prayer beads.

Textiles embroidered with verses from the Qur’an are often brought back by pilgrims as gifts. They often include the words ‘Allah, may His glory be magnified’ or ‘Muhammad, Messenger of God’ on the green roundels. Around the sides is the "Throne verse" (ayat al-kursi ) Qur’an 2 - al-Baqara:255-6.

A Malay waistcoat (c. 19th-20th century) was fashioned from a piece of the internal kiswa of the Ka‘ba. It was probably acquired by a Malay pilgrim while on Hajj and then made into a garment once he had returned home. As the textiles of Mecca and Medina had been in contact with Islam’s holiest buildings, they were believed to be infused with baraka (divine blessings). Waistcoats like this were worn on important occasions to ward off misfortune =

The Qibla compass enabled the user to find the qibla (the direction of Mecca) from wherever they were. The first step was to locate north–south by placing the instrument on a flat surface and allowing the needle to find magnetic north. The board was then rotated. The inscriptions on the wood form a rough map. Standing in Baghdad, for example, a line towards Mecca could be drawn and this was the direction in which to pray.

High Prices at the Hajj

The price of going to Haj from Australia — our example here — increased between 40 and 50 percent between 2009 and 2016 from about US$7,500 in 2009 to US$13,000 in 2016. According to British Haj Travel the prices in those years increased by more than 30%, and in some cases, almost doubled. In 2009, the average price for 1 person in a 2-shared room (for the higher-end packages) with breakfast and dinner, was = US$7,600. In 2016, a similar package costed US$12,000. The lower-end packages (breakfast only, 4 per room, 4 star hotels etc.) costed US$5,000 in 2009, yet the 2016 equivalent was priced at $8,000-$9,000 per person. In Saudi Arabia itself, if you were in Jeddah and signed up with a local Hajj operator; in 2004, it would have cost you +-SR2000 (US$500) per person for the 5 days. In 2011, the cost was about SR8500 (US$2,225); and in 2016, +-SR14500 (US$3,00). And that is for 5 days only! [Source: British Haj Travel]

In 2016, Dahlia Nehme of Reuters wrote: “Despite the smaller crowds, merchants in Mecca do not seem to be lowering their prices. The high cost of basic goods, especially near the Grand Mosque, is a perennial complaint for pilgrims. Senior Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdullah Bin Sulaiman al-Manea told Okaz newspaper businesses should not gouge customers, and criticized the spread of billboards in the city: “The duty of Hajj should not become a venue for trade, profit and gain.” [Source: Dahlia Nehme, Reuters, September 12, 2016]

“Fatima al-Murabit, a Moroccan who together with her husband was visiting for the second year in a row, said prices had gone up since last year. “Even dates are expensive, and bad manners are a general feature of traders and workers in the markets,” she lamented. “There is exploitation of the ignorant. I hope that gets changed in the future. People come for the Prophet’s Mosque and the Kaaba, but there’s some exploitation and a lack of oversight.”“

Jamarat Bridge

Female Hajj Pilgrims Held for Not Traveling with Male Relatives

In 2012, Saudi authorities held 908 Nigerian women in poor conditions "with some needing urgent medical attention" at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's busiest airport, and threatened to deport them, over a rule requiring them to travel with a husband or male relative is threatening to bring a diplomatic dispute between the two nations. the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria said. [Source: Bashir Adigun, Associated Press, September 26, 2012]

Bashir Adigun of Associated Press wrote: “The report said female pilgrims who had landed in a smaller airport in Medina had been unaffected. However, Fuwaiba Muhammad, a pilgrim, told an Associated Press reporter at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in the northern Nigerian city of Kano that she had been deported from the Saudi Arabian city of Medina, along with dozens of others.

Uba Mana, a spokesman for the National Hajj Commission, said no pilgrim had been deported by Saudi authorities yet, but that the commission had asked for female pilgrims who did not meet the Saudi immigration officials' requirements to temporarily be brought back to Nigeria to avoid deportations. "Medina is a small airport," Mana said, "and if we allow people to get deported from there, the pilgrims won't be able to return to Saudi Arabia for another five years, and by no fault of their own," he said.

This is the first time pilgrims have faced the possibility of mass deportation over the male escort issue, the commission has said. According to the report, an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria exempts female pilgrims from requiring a male relative to escort them for the mandatory Hajj pilgrimage, which costs about $4,000 per person.

Mana had said that the escort situation had been resolved through diplomatic channels, but the commission's report said Saudi authorities have "remained adamant." The report said top Nigerian officials had held meetings with Saudi officials in Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia in a bid to come to reach a compromise. Nigeria's Foreign Ministry sent a letter of undertaking guaranteeing the return of the female pilgrims after Hajj, it added, but Saudi authorities still did not release them. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan put together a high-profile delegation late Wednesday to travel to Saudi Arabia "as soon as an appointment is finalized with the appropriate authority," a government statement said.

Image Sources: Al Jazeera English, Wikimedia Commons except chocolates, The Favor Gallery, Pinterest

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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