The Hajj (Arabic: حج Ḥaǧǧ) is a pilgrimage in Mecca. It is currently the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah in the Arabic language). The pilgrimage occurs from the 7th to 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian date of the Hajj changes from year to year. In 2007, the Hajj was from December 17–21; in 2008 from December 6–10, and in 2009 it was from November 25–29. Ihram is the name given to the special state in which Muslims live whilst on the pilgrimage,
The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham). Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Ka'bah, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, kisses the Black Stone in the corner of the Kaaba, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throws stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the four day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
The Hajj is based on a pilgrimage that was ancient even in the time of Muhammad in the 7th Century. According to Hadith, elements of the Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim), around 2000 BC. It is believed that the Prophet Ibrahim was ordered by God (Allah) to leave his wife Hajra and his infant son Ismael alone in the desert. While he was gone, the child became thirsty, and Hajra ran back and forth seven times searching for water for her son. The baby cried and hit the ground with his foot (some versions of the story say that an angel scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and water miraculously sprang forth. This source of water is today called the Well of Zamzam. Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian Muslim writer has said that elements of the Hajj, such as kissing the black stone had pre-Islamic, pagan roots. 
Prior to Muhammad's era, each year tribes from all around the Arabian peninsula would converge on Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans. Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad as al-Jahiliyah, the "Days of Ignorance", during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols – totems of each of the tribes of the Arabian peninsula, with idols of pagan gods such as Hubal, al-Lat, Uzza and Manat, and also some representing Jesus, and Mary.
Muhammad was known to regularly perform the Umrah, even before he began receiving revelations. Historically, Muslims would gather at various meeting points in other great cities, and then proceed en masse towards Mecca, in groups that could comprise tens of thousands of pilgrims. Two of the most famous meeting points were in Cairo and Damascus. In Cairo, the Sultan would stand atop a platform of the famous gate Bab Zuwayla, to officially watch the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.
In 632 AD, when Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, it was the first Hajj to be performed by Muslims alone, and the only Hajj ever performed by Muhammad. He cleansed the Kaaba, removed all the idols, and re-ordained the building as the house of God. It was from this point that the Hajj became one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups, as an expression of unity. Some airlines have special packages for Muslims going to Mecca. Ships also take pilgrims to Mecca so they can perform Hajj.
During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in the ihram, a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab - normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face.
The Ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of God: that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper. Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat.
While wearing the Ihram, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, have sexual relations, uproot or damage plants, cover the head [for men] or the face and hands [for women], marry, wear shoes over the ankles, perform any dishonest acts or carry weapons.
Upon arrival in Mecca the pilgrim, now known as a Hajji, performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his wife Hajar (Hagar). The acts also symbolize the solidarity of Muslims worldwide.
The greater Hajj (al-hajj al-akbar) begins on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah. If they are not already wearing it upon their arrival, pilgrims put on ihram clothing and then leave Mecca for the nearby town of Mina where they spend the rest of the day. The Saudi government has put up thousands of large white tents at Mina to provide accommodations for all the pilgrims.
On the first day of the Hajj (the 7th day of the 12th month in other words, Dhu al-Hijjah), the pilgrims perform their first Tawaf, which involves all of the pilgrims entering The Sacred Mosque (Masjid Al Haram) and walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Ka'ba, kissing the Black Stone (Hajr Al Aswad) on each circuit. If kissing the stone is not possible because of the crowds, they may simply point towards the Stone on each circuit with their right hand. In each complete circuit a pilgrim says "In the name of God, God is Great, God is Great, God is Great and praise be to God" (Bism Allah Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa lil Lahi Alhamd) with 7 circuits constituting a complete tawaf. The place where pilgrims walk is known as "Mutaaf". Only the first three Shouts are compulsory, but almost all perform it seven times.
The tawaf is normally performed all at once. Eating is not permitted but the drinking of water is allowed because of the risk of dehydration. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.
After the completion of Tawaf, all the pilgrims have to offer two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqaam Ibrahim), a site inside the mosque that is near the Kaaba. However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the groundlevel, Tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowd.
After Tawaf on the same day , the pilgrims perform sa`i, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of the frantic search for water for her son Ismael by Abraham's wife Hagar. As she searched, the Zamzam Well was revealed to her by an angel, who hit the ground with his heel (or brushed the ground with the tip of his wing), upon which the water of the Zamzam started gushing from the ground. The back and forth circuit of the pilgrims used to be in the open air, but is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels. Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they are allowed to run. There is also an internal "express lane" for the disabled. The safety procedures are in place because previous incidents in this ritual have resulted in stampedes which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.
As part of this ritual the pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam Well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque. After the visit to the mosque on this day of the Hajj, the pilgrims then return to their tents.
The next morning, on the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the night in prayer.
On the ninth day, they leave Mina for Arafat where they stand in contemplative vigil and pray and recite the Qur'an, near a hill from which Muhammad gave his last sermon, this hill is called Jabal Al Rahmah (The Hill of Forgivness, Mount Arafat). This is known as wuquf, considered the highlight of the Hajj. Pilgrims must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset. No specific rituals or prayers are required during the stay at Arafat, although many pilgrims spend time praying, and thinking about the course of their lives. A pilgrim's Hajj is considered invalid if they do not spend the afternoon on Arafat.
As soon as the sun sets, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, an area between Arafat and Mina, where they gather pebbles for the next day's ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan). Many pilgrims spend the night sleeping on the ground or back in their tents at Muzdalifah before returning to Mina.
At Mina the pilgrims perform Ramy al-Jamarat, throwing stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. This symbolizes the trials experienced by Abraham while he decided whether to sacrifice his son as demanded by Allah. The Devil challenged him three times, and three times Abraham refused. Each pillar marks the location of one of these refusals. On the first occasion when Ramy al-Jamarat is performed, pilgrims stone the largest pillar known as Jamrat'al'Aqabah. Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-levelled Jamarat Bridge, from which they can throw their pebbles at the jamarat. On the second occasion, the other pillars are stoned. The stoning consists of throwing seven pebbles.  Because of the crowds, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.
After the Stoning of the Devil, the pilgrims perform animal sacrifices, to symbolize God having mercy on Ibraham and replacing his son with a ram, which Abraham then sacrificed. Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Centralized butcher houses sacrifice a single sheep for each pilgrim, or a cow can represent the sacrifice of seven people. The meat is then packaged and given to charity and shipped to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a four day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
On this or the following day the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca for another tawaf, to walk around the Kaaba. This is called the Tawaf az-Ziyarah or Tawaf al-Ifadah, which symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
On the afternoon of the 11th and again the following day the pilgrims must again throw seven pebbles at each of the three jamarat in Mina.
Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th. If they are unable to leave Mina before sunset, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Journey to Medina
Though it is not required as part of the Hajj, many pilgrims also travel to the city of Medina and the Mosque of the Prophet, which contains Muhammad's tomb and Riaz ul Jannah and also pay visit to Grave of Prophet's Companion, Umhat ul Mominen and Ahle Bait in Jannat ul Baqi. 
Social effect of Hajj
There have been many incidents during the Hajj that have led to the loss of many hundreds of lives. The worst of these incidents have usually occurred during the Stoning of the Devil ritual. During the 2006 Hajj on January 12, 362 pilgrims died. Tramplings have also occurred when pilgrims try to run between the two hills known as As-Safa and Al-Marwa. In 2006 there were some 600 casualties among pilgrims performing the Hajj. After these events, the Saudi government made improvements for pilgrims such as providing separate pathways for travelling to and from Al-Safa and Al-Marwa.
A 2008 study on the longer-term effect of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslims' communities become more open after the Hajj experience. Entitled ‘Estimating the Impact of the Haj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering’, a study conducted in conjunction with Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government found that the Hajj experience promotes peaceful coexistence, equality, and harmony. Specifically, the report states that the Hajj "increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic community and that "Hajjis (those who have performed the Hajj) show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions"
Number of foreign pilgrims by year
According to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, the following number of foreign pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia each year, to perform the Hajj:
- 1996 - 1,080,465 
- 1997 - 1,168,591 
- 1998 - 1,132,344 
- 2001 - 1,363,992 
- 2005 - 1,534,759 
- 2006 - 1,654,407 
- 2007 - 1,707,814 
- 2008 - 1,729,841 
- 2009 - 1,613,000 
|Look up hajj in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Haj subsidy
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- ↑ No compromise - BBC
- ↑ Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, p. 221. "Each year the tribes would assemble from all over the peninsula to take part in the arduous and intricate rites of the hajj pilgrimage, Christian Arabs alongside the pagans. By Muhammad's time, the Ka'bah was dedicated to the Nabatean deity Hubal and surrounded by effigies of the Arabian pantheon, but it may well originally have been the shrine of Allah, the high god."
- ↑ Freeman-Grenville, Islam: An Illustrated History, p. 28
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- ↑ "More than 1.7 million pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. 2007-12-17. http://www.saudiembassy.net/archive/2007/news/page15.aspx. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
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