The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage made by observant practicing Muslims to commemorate and follow the journey Mohammed made with his followers in 630 CE from Medina to Mecca. This was the only Hajj ever performed by the prophet Mohammed. As one of the five pillars of Islam, it is a mandatory requirement that any able Muslim, male or female, must carry out at least once in their lifetime. From the 8th to 12th of Dhu al-hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims journey from all corners of the earth to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the series of religious rituals that make up the Hajj.
In the Hajj, every person is to walk counter clockwise around the Ka’aba 7 times while reciting prayers in a rite called the Tawaf. The Tawaf rite and the walk between Safa and al Marwa occur several times and the pilgrim performing the Hajj must be very vigorous. The Ka’aba building, large, granite and marble, cuboid in shape, and draped in black and gold is thought to be originally constructed by Abraham with Ishmael’s help. It is Islam’s holiest site and marks the direction of prayer for Muslims all over the world. No matter where you are, Muslims will always pray towards the direction of Mecca and the Ka’aba. After the initial Tawaf, pilgrims must run back and forth between the hills of al Safah and al Marwa, drink from the Zam Zam well, visit the plains of mount Arafat and praise God, and perform the symbolic stoning of the devil ceremony at Mina.
Though the Hajj holds particular significance for Muslims as it mirrors the walk of Mohammed in the 7th century CE, its history is traced back even much further in time as an important site to the prophet Abraham. Since Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was unable to conceive a child, he took a second wife by the name of Hagar who bore him a child named Ishmael. Out of jealousy, Sarah had the two of them, Hagar and Ishmael, left in the desert alone to fend for themselves. After running between the hills of al Marwa and al Safah for quite some time, by a miracle, they finally came across the Zam Zam well.
Even before Islam’s rise with Mohammed in the 7th century CE, people of all faiths would congregate at Mecca, Christians and idol worshipers alike. It has always been thought of as a place of transcendence.
Around this time of year, airports are filled with men traveling in simple white cloths called Ihram. In 2012, over 3 million went on Hajj, over 1.5 million of them from outside of Saudi Arabia. People travel from all over Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. In this simple white tunic, the men are all equal under the eyes of God. At the end of Hajj, the people partake in Eid al-Adha festivities around Saudi Arabia before returning home. During this time of year the TVs are always turned on to live broadcasting from the events. It holds great significance to Muslims everywhere. Everyone in my host family has their own stories to offer up about their time at Hajj, and I think this really goes to show just how important it is for them.