WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30: Mecca is the destination for millions of Muslim pilgrims partaking in the annual pilgrimage: by every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe, adherents are arriving for Hajj 2017, the annual Islamic pilgrimage that is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world. Note: Dates can vary depending on moon sightings.
NEWS UPDATES: Pilgrims began pouring into Mecca in mid-August. Nigeria and Ghana sent some of the first pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, and while some hiccups are causing worry – such as the 2,201 pilgrims from Bauchi who have not yet been able to depart – publications also report the addressing of various issues, such as the conflict between Qatari and Saudi authorities over various Hajj aspects.
Pilgrims and their families and friends worldwide can access Hajj news, live broadcasts, lists of embassies and Hajj service providers via the Hajj App, which was released just days before the official start of Hajj 2017. Launched by Arab News and endorsed by the Muslim World League, the Hajj App is free for users and also will feature a “pilgrim tracker,” through which location can be shared and pilgrims’ family and friends can follow them in real time.
The Hajj is one of the “five pillars of Islam.” In fact, the 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 that word “duty,” Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca 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. (Learn more, and get news updates, from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.) 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).
THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & THE BLACK STONE
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: MUHAMMAD REDEDICATES THE KAABA
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.
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).
Eid al-Adha: Animal sacrifices are performed as Muslims the world over celebrate Eid al-Adha. Male pilgrims on Hajj customarily shave their heads, and all Hajj pilgrims return to Mecca cross Sara and Marwa, perform additional symbolic stonings and circulate the Kaaba one final time, to do a farewell tawaf.