Hajj 2024: Millions descend upon Mecca for annual Muslim pilgrimage

Grand Mosque, Hajj

An overview of the Grand Mosque, during Hajj. Photo by Fadi El Binni of Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JUNE 14: Upwards of 1 million Muslim pilgrims have been pouring into Mecca from across the globe, preparing for a journey most have anticipated their entire lives: Today begins the annual pilgrimage that is Hajj. Arriving via every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe, this annual Islamic pilgrimage is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

To complete one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims must visit Mecca and fulfill the Hajj rituals that reenact the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage,” in 632 AD. In Islam, this year marks Hajj 1445.

NEWS 2024: Saudi Arabia has issued a heat warning for Hajj 2024, as the days of the pilgrimage this year will fall during the hottest time of year and be “above average,” according to the Saudi National Centre of Meteorology. Though measures are taken to cool pilgrims, including large-scale mists and air conditioning for tents, last year saw thousands of cases of heat stress. In the afternoons during Hajj 2024, temperatures may reach up to 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 degrees Fahrenheit). (Read more from the VOA News and Arab News.)

With the vast number of pilgrims performing Hajj, the Saudi Ministry of Health has reported that more than 32,000 medical and administrative staff have been deployed across 183 health facilities, with more than 5,000 doctors specializing in various categories. According to Morocco World News, coordination is also underway to use drones to transport blood units and laboratory samples between hospitals at the holy sites.

On an environmental level, Saudi Arabia has announced a plan aimed at environmental compliance that will take place during Hajj 2024, according to Gulfnews.com. As unveiled by the Saudi National Centre for Environmental Compliance, this plan will involved a daily monitor of the quality of air, water and soil, as pilgrims travel through the sites.

PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA: AN ANCIENT JOURNEY

The Hajj pilgrimage is regarded as a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime—if that person has the mental, physical and financial ability to make the long journey. Despite the word “duty,” Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca actually stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Islamic prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj in the seventh century. The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah (God).

Arafat Hajj

Pilgrims perform the ritual known as the Standing of Arafat, during Hajj. Photo by BBC World Service, courtesy of Flickr

THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & ISHMAEL

Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, food and water quickly ran out; Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba, and today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

Jahiliyyah: During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.

PILGRIMAGE RITUALS:
THE GRAND MOSQUE, MOUNT ARAFAT AND THE ZAMZAM WELL

Before the start of Hajj, pilgrims bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent at the entry station. The first ritual of Hajj is performed inside the Grand Mosque complex: pilgrims circle the Kaaba structure seven times, counterclockwise, reciting prayers (tawaf). Following tawaf, many drink from the Zamzam well. Next, Muslim pilgrims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did (al-Sai). Another statement of intent is made, after which the faithful travel through Mina, and on to the plains of Mount Arafat.

Intense prayer for forgiveness is offered at Arafat, as Muhammad said, “Far more people are freed from the Hellfire on the Day of Arafat than on any other day.” This portion of the Hajj journey is one of the most important. Small stones are gathered, and the following day, pilgrims perform a symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina (rami).

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