Hajj: Million Muslims make their way to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage

Mecca pilgrimage Hajj

Muslim pilgrims performing the Hajj. Photo by Fadi El Binni, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET THURSDAY, JULY 7 through the evening of JULY 12:  Close to 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.

Hajj between hills

Muslim pilgrims travel the circuit of between the two hills of Hajj, through an area put in place for health and security reasons. Photo by Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Flickr

NEWS UPDATES: In 2019, Saudi Arabia allowed approximately 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims to participate in Hajj; during the past two years, only a few thousand were permitted. This year, approximately 1 million pilgrims will be permitted to perform the Hajj. With increasing numbers of pilgrims permitted, however, health restrictions will be in place: Hajj participation will only be allowed for those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus; can prove that they have tested negative for coronavirus; and who are under the age of 65. (Read more in the Aljazeera and from the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.)

Yet as Hajj 2022 draws close, many pilgrims from Western nations are experiencing additional obstacles, resulting in difficulties booking (or re-booking) the trip due to the sudden implementation of Motawif, a Saudi Arabian government-authorized online portal. Announced last month, the use of Motawif requires all Western pilgrims to book hotels, airfare and special visas solely through the portal, in efforts to gather more streamlined booking information and cut down on fraud. However, with system glitches and delays being experienced by many, news reports are covering the frustration and anxiety that pilgrims are speaking out about. (Read stories in the Washington Post, Middle East Eye, the BBC and the Guardian.)

Still, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdul Fattah Mashat reported that Hajj, as well as Umrah—a shorter pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year—are major components of the Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to boost the religious tourism sector and host 30 million Umrah pilgrims annually by 2030. (Read more in The National.) According to reports, Motawif—though it may have glitches in its initial run, this year—is an important component that will go toward making Vision 2030 a reality.

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).

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.

Mount Arafat, Hajj

Mount Arafat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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).

Eid al-Fitr: Muslims mark the end of Ramadan, usher in Shawwal with ‘Sweet Eid’

Eid al-Fitr prayers

Muslims in Iran celebrate Eid al-Fitr. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SUNDAY, MAY 1 or SUNSET MONDAY, MAY 2 (date may vary by country and moon sighting): The official date for the enormous celebration of the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, will not be announced until April 30 in many Muslim-majority countries and by the Saudi Arabian moon-sighting committee, but followers of the Islamic faith are expecting to usher in the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast at sunset on Monday, May 1 or Tuesday, May 2. In several countries, Eid al-Fitr is a multi-day festival, as the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to the month of Shawwal. (Note: Spellings vary, and you may see the holiday alternatively spelled Eid ul-Fitr, as well.)

Did you know? Eid Sa’id! is a common greeting, meaning, happy Eid!

EID AL-FITR: FROM SUNRISE TO SUNSET

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. A small breakfast—usually including dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque (or, in some cases, an open square or field). In the mosques, open squares and fields, Muslims pray in unison; following prayers, feasting commences.

Government buildings, schools and businesses close in Muslim countries as everyone visits family and friends, dines on sweet treats and joyfully greets passersby. In many regions, festivities will continue for three days; in some regions, festivities can last up to nine days.

Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and many adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE. 

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast and Bajram, to name just a few.

AROUND THE WORLD: FROM THE UK TO ASIA TO AFRICA

With nearly one-quarter of the world’s population observing the Islamic faith, countries around the world are preparing their banks, airlines, shops, business hours and public services for the major holiday.

Unlike most Muslim holidays, which may or may not be observed by all Muslims each year, the two Eid holidays—Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr—are commemorated universally.

In the UK, some of the largest festivals of the year will take place for the Eid holidays.

Did you know?
In Egypt, Eid ul-Fitr is an occasion for neighborhood carnivals; in Asia, a celebratory dish contains toasted sweet vermicelli noodles and dried fruit; in Saudi Arabia, wealthy families buy large quantities of rice and other staples and leave them anonymously on the doorsteps of those less fortunate.

Looking for Eid recipes?
Sweet and savory selections are available courtesy of the BBC. For sweet recipes, check out NPR.org.

Ramadan: Muslims worldwide prepare for holy month of fasting, almsgiving and reflection

Bowl of dates, hands reaching in

It is customary to break the daily Ramadan fast with three dates. Photo by RawPixel.com, courtesy of PxHere

SUNSET SATURDAY, APRIL 2: Peer into the sky for the sight of a crescent moon, as the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan. For Muslims, the period of Ramadan is not fixed: As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the sight of a crescent moon signals the official start of this very important month. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation. In the United States, this year, estimates are that Ramadan may begin at sundown on April 1.)

The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

NEWS 2022: As pandemic restrictions continue to ease and lift around the world, many Muslims prepare to gather in-person during Ramadan, this year. (Check out this article by CBC News, on the Ramadan 2022 plans of several Muslims.) For those hoping to host guests this year, The National reported on home decor trends appropriate for this year’s observance of Ramadan.

Looking for recipes? Bon Appetit and Epicurious have released menu plan ideas and more for Ramadan 2022.

Ramadan mosque

An Islamic mosque, in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Pxfuel

FASTING & DATES

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset—with the iftar. Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, prior to the iftar.

 

 

BEYOND FASTING …

 

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

 

ZAKAT GIVING & ‘NIGHT OF POWER’

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice.

Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power) and Eid ul-Fitr: Muslims mark ending of Ramadan

Mosque Eid al-Fitr

Photo by suhailsuri, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 8 and SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 12: The holiest night of the Islamic year arrives for Muslims worldwide, with the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr); though Muhammad did not reveal precisely when the Night of Power occurred, the 27th day of Ramadan is a traditionally held date (May 8, this year). Known by many names—Night of Value, Night of Destiny, Night of Measure—Muslims note the anniversary of the night the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel.

It is believed that on this sacred night, verses of the Quran were relayed to Muhammad in the year 610 CE, and angels descended to earth for the event. If a devoted Muslim prays in earnest for forgiveness of sins on Laylat al-Qadr and reads the Quran, it’s believed that the night is “better than 1,000 months.”

Did you know? The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE. 

RAMADAN & EID UL-FITR IN A CONTINUING PANDEMIC

Tunisia sweets Eid

Tunisian sweets for Eid. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following Ramadan, Muslims celebrate with a joyous festival known as Eid ul-Fitr. For Eid, worship is performed in congregation; visits are paid to family and friends; sweets are partaken in and shared; and carnivals, vacations and gatherings are common. Although more Eid events will take place this year than did last year, pandemic restrictions are still being enforced at most public events worldwide.

Did you know? In Egypt, Eid ul-Fitr is typically an occasion for neighborhood carnivals; in Asia, a celebratory dish contains toasted sweet vermicelli noodles and dried fruit; in Saudi Arabia, wealthy families buy large quantities of rice and other staples and leave them anonymously on the doorsteps of those less fortunate.

Looking for Eid recipes? Sweet and savory selections are available courtesy of the BBC. For sweet recipes, check out NPR.org. For even more, try the New York Times.

‘EID SA’ID!’
(HAPPY EID!)

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast and Bajram, to name just a few. While adherents typically would spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends and attending carnivals and fireworks displays, social distancing measures may restrict some of these types of activities in 2021.

EID: A UNIVERSAL CELEBRATION

With nearly one-quarter of the world’s population observing the Islamic faith, it is significant to note that, unlike most Muslim holidays—which may or may not be observed by all Muslims each year—the two Eid holidays (Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr) are always commemorated universally.

Eid al-Adha: Muslims worldwide prepare with caution for a quieter festival

A Muslim man learns and prays in a mosque in India. Photo by Riccardo Maria Mantero, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET THURSDAY, JULY 30: Muslims worldwide express joyful appreciation for Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. (Note: Dates and spellings vary.) On the morning of Eid, crowds typically spill out of mosques, into open fields and in parks, as Muslims celebrate both Ibrahim’s devotion and the miracle that took place on the sacrificial altar; this year, coronavirus measures will change how Muslims are gathering. Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca.

NEWS 2020: Saudi Arabia recently announced that for Eid al-Adha, prayers will only take place at certain mosques and the government’s preventative measures will be carried out (read more in this article, from Arab News). In Morocco, government officials are warning citizens to limit travel and avoid crowds for Eid al-Adha; in Indonesia, fewer animals will be sacrificed this year due to a lower demand. In Iraq, the nationwide nighttime curfew will be lifted after Eid al-Adha, and malls, airports and restaurants reopened; in multiple countries worldwide, online purchases will be the most popular (and only, in some regions) route for animal sacrifice for Eid al-Adha in 2020.

IBRAHIM, ISHMAEL AND THE MIRACLE

Two joyous religious holidays are observed by all Muslims each year: Eid al-Fitr, ending the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha.

According to Muslim tradition, when Ibrahim lowered his arm to slaughter his son, the Archangel Gabriel placed a ram on the altar in place of Ishmael. In commemoration, Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, keeping one-third of the share; giving one-third to relatives and neighbors; and donating the remaining one-third to the poor.

As often happens near this Eid, or holiday, special programs adapted to these Muslim customs help to provide a holiday meal to all observant families. One example: Here’s a news story this week from the Toledo, Ohio, area.

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims dress in their finest clothing and offer prayers (in most years, in congregation). Following prayers, adherents exchange festive greetings and give gifts (Eidi) to children. Even non-Muslims are invited to take part in the joyous feasts and festivities.

THE ‘GREATER EID’                

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy.

The events of Eid al-Adha often last between one and four days, although in some regions, various festivities carry on much longer.

Ramadan: Muslims fast, observe traditions amid social distancing

Woman in hijab on prayer rug, head down

Photo by Staff Sgt. Enjoli Saunders, courtesy of U.S. Air Force

SUNSET THURSDAY, APRIL 23: The world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan, as a crescent moon appears and is spotted around the globe. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation.)

As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

RAMADAN AND THE 2020 PANDEMIC

Empty mosque Ramadan

Many mosques are expected to remain empty (or near-empty) of worshipers through Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As the three Abrahamic faiths—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—observe major holiday periods during April in 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic is forcing billions to reconsider how they celebrate. With social distancing mandatory across most of the world, the feasts and large gatherings typically associated with these holiday periods are taking place virtually, instead: videoconferencing tools are helping to connect many faith adherents.

This year, many of the traditions typically associated with Ramadan are being cancelled: Iran’s supreme leader recently suggested that mass gatherings be barred during Ramadan (read more from AP News), and Saudi Arabia suspended travel to its holiest sites in late February. While many Muslims complete umrah, an optional pilgrimage to Mecca, in the months prior to and during Ramadan, that will not be possible this year—and the sites at Mecca and Medina are nearly empty for the first time in centuries. In many communities across the Middle East, a pre-dawn awakening via drumming harkens Muslims to the suhoor, or pre-dawn meal. This year, the tradition will be halted in most communities. (Read more here.)

As fasting is mandatory during Ramadan (with exceptions for children, some women and those ill or traveling), this primary observation can still be conducted, at home. The iftar, or meal breaking the fast each evening, will this year be held in individual households and not shared among many.

To connect with Muslim adherents, many mosques and organizations have set up online webinars, video conferences, live streaming and more. In some parts of the Middle East, the athaan—call to prayer—that is amplified from mosques will, this year, be altered to include the phrase “pray in your homes” instead of “come to pray.”

FASTING & DATES

Dates in hand, Ramadan

It is tradition to break the Ramadan fast with dates. Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset—with the iftar. Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, prior to the iftar.

 

 

BEYOND FASTING …

 

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

 

ZAKAT GIVING & ‘NIGHT OF POWER’

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice. This year, experts are anticipating that a majority of zakat will take place online.

Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Eid al-Adha: Worldwide celebrations begin for ‘Greater Eid’

Muslims Eid al-Adha, Korea

Eid al-Adha in Korea, 2017. Photo by Republic of Korea, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, AUGUST 10: Muslims worldwide express joyful appreciation for Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.

Note: Dates and spellings vary. The Saudi Supreme Court recently announced that Eid al-Adha 2019 will fall on Sunday, August 11, with moon sightings varying by country. It’s estimated that, this year, Eid al-Adha will fall on August 10 in the United States; in the United Arab Emirates, Eid al-Adha will be August 11; in the United Kingdom, it will be celebrated August 12. Around the world, Eid celebrations last several days. 

On the morning of Eid, crowds spill out of mosques, into open fields and in parks around the world, as Muslims celebrate both Ibrahim’s devotion and the miracle that took place on the sacrificial altar. Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca; Muslims across the globe gather with family and friends and offer prayers in congregation.

Cupcakes decorated fancy for Eid

Cupcakes for Eid. Photo by The Baking Tray, courtesy of Flickr

IBRAHIM, ISHMAEL AND THE MIRACLE AT THE ALTAR

Two joyous religious holidays are observed by all Muslims each year: Eid al-Fitr, ending the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha.

On the morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims dress in their finest clothing and offer prayers in congregation. Following prayers, adherents exchange joyous greetings and give gifts (Eidi) to children. Visits are made, and even non-Muslims are invited to take part in the feasts and festivities.

According to Muslim tradition, when Ibrahim lowered his arm to slaughter his son, the Archangel Gabriel placed a ram on the altar in place of Ishmael. In commemoration, Muslims sacrifice an animal on Eid al-Adha, keeping one-third of the share; giving one-third to relatives and neighbors; and donating the remaining one-third to the poor.

THE ‘GREATER EID’                

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy.

It is Islamic custom to exchange joyful greetings, present gifts to children and visit with family and friends during this joyous time. The events of Eid al-Adha last between one and four days, although in some regions, festivities carry on much longer.