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About Islam:

The Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca

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One of a Muslim's duties, as described in the Five Pillars of Islam, is to go on Hajj at least once during their lifetime. Followers of Islam who cannot attend Hajj because of ill health, disability, or lack of money are excused from this obligation.

The Hajj involves a pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia. It is the largest yearly gathering of people in the world. Approximately two million Muslims attend yearly, of which about half are from Saudi Arabia. 1

The Council on American-Islamic Relations estimated in 2006 that "some 10,000 American Muslims go on Hajj each year." 7 The number of American pilgrims is increasing yearly.

If one assumes that Muslims go on Hajj a maximum of once during their lifetime, and that the number of Muslims in the U.S. is about 3.45 million, 8 that the typical age span for pilgrims is 80 years, that few Muslims take part in the Hajj more than once during their lifetime, and that the Council estimate is correct, then only about 25% of American Muslims take part in the pilgrimage during their lifetime.

Doing the same calculation for the world's population of 1.8 billion Muslims, assuming an average life span of 71 years, and a Hajj attendance of 2 million annually, about 8% of Muslims worldwide take part in the pilgrimage at some time during their lifetime.

The Council on Islamic Education states:

"The Hajj consists of several ceremonies, meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of prophet Abraham and his family. ... Prophet Muhammad had said that a person who performs Hajj properly 'will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].' The pilgrimage also enables Muslims from all around the world, of different colors, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together." 2

Many Islamic terms have multiple spellings when translated into English. We indicate alternative spellings below within (brackets).

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Preparation for the Hajj

Each pilgrim first enters into ihram. This is a spiritual state of purity during which the person must not quarrel, commit any act of violence or engage in sexual activity. Men signify the state of ihram by bathing, and wearing two pieces of unsewn white cloth: "one covers the body from waist to ankle and the other is thrown over the shoulder." 4 Women usually wear a simple white dress and "a head covering, but not a veil." 4 "The white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God, since all the pilgrims are dressed similarly." 2

The pilgrim will then repeat the Talbiyah (Talbeeyah) prayer. One English translation is:

 "Here I am, O God, at Thy Command! Here I am at Thy Command! Thou art without associate; Here I am at Thy Command! Thine are praise and grace and dominion! Thou art without associate."

The final sentence appears to emphasize a main difference between Islam and Christianity. Most Christians believe that God consists of three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Muslims believe that God is a unity.

The pilgrim enters the Holy Mosque at Mecca, right foot first, and recites the prayer:

"In the name of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah. Oh Allah, forgive me my sins and open to me the doors of Your mercy. I seek refuge in Allah the Almighty and in His Eminent Face and in His Eternal Dominion from the accursed Satan.

The pilgrims perform the tawaf. This is a counter-clockwise procession, in which they circle:

"the Ka'aba, the [cube-shaped] stone building Muslims believe was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael... It is a symbol of unity for Muslims because all prayers by Muslims, wherever they are performed around the world, are oriented in the direction of the Ka'aba." 4,6 

The pilgrim then performs the sa'i. He hurries seven times between two small hills near the Ka'aba, called Safa and Marwah. This commemorates the desperate search for water and food by Hagar, one of Abraham's wives.

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The Hajj:

The Hajj is observed yearly and formally begins on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah (Zul-Hijjah) -- the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar.

During 2018, the Hajj began on August-19. It falls on a date about 11 days earlier each year. Thus, approximately every 33 years, the full year has been covered.

Dr. Monzur Ahmed writes:

"Islamic months begin at sunset on the day of visual sighting of the lunar crescent [following the new moon]... Although it is possible to calculate the position of the moon in the sky with high precision, it is often difficult to predict if a crescent will be visible from a particular location... Usually the moon has to be at least 15 hours old before it can be seen from somewhere on earth." 3

On this first day of the Hajj, the pilgrims walk a few miles to Mina and camp there overnight.

The pilgrims spend the "Day of Arafah" (ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah) in Arafah, an empty plain. They commit the entire day to supplication and devotion. In the evening, they move to Muzdalifa. They camp there overnight and offer various prayers.

On the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, they return to Mina and throw seven pebbles at a pillar that symbolizes Satan's temptation of Abraham. (The Qur'an describes how Satan tried to persuade Abraham to not ritually murder his son Ishmael, as commanded by God). The pilgrims then sacrifice a sheep, recalling how Abraham sacrificed a sheep that God had provided in place of his son. The meat is distributed to friends, relatives, and the poor. Afterwards, they return to Mecca and perform a final tawaf and sa'i. They symbolize the completion of the Hajj by cutting their hair.

Muslims worldwide gather for communal prayers on the first day of Id al-Adha (Eid-ul-Adha) -- the Feast of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice. The first day of this celebration is held on the 10th day of Duhl-Hijja, the last month of the Muslim year. For 2018, this was scheduled for the evening of AUG-21, contingent on the sighting of the moon. This is the second of the two major Muslim annual holidays. In most areas, this event is celebrated over several days.

Oma Akour wrote an article titled "Saudi Arabia prepares for the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage" for which described the 2018 Hajj pilgrimage.

During the year 2020, the Hajj pilgrimage started on JUL-28. However, the coronavirus pandemic was widespread across the world at the time. Thus Saudi Arabia scaled down the Hajj. Normally, over two million Muslims from around the world attend. This year it is restricted to only about 1,000 pilgrims -- all between 20 and 50 years-of-age and without any chronic illnesses. International travellers are banned. However, some press reports said that 10,000 may take part. About 30% will be from Saudi Arabia; 70% will citizens of other countries who reside there. Yahoo stated that:

"The ritual will be restricted to medical professionals and security personnel who have recovered from the virus, the Hajj ministry said." 9

The Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said:

"Due to the exceptional global health circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, strict precautionary measures have been applied to ensure a healthy Hajj for all pilgrims." 10

The Muslim World League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have supported Saudi Arabia's restrictions.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "American Muslims to begin pilgrimage season," media advisory, Council on American-Islamic Relations, issued 2000-FEB-22. 
  2. "The Hajj: Information for teachers," Council on Islamic Education, at:
  3. Dr. Monzur Ahmed, "Islamic calendar based on predicted lunar visibility." at: 
  4. "Hajj: The journey of a lifetime," IslamiCity, at:
  5. "Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha," at: This website has many links to web sites with Hajj information. It also includes a map of the area involved in the Hajj.
  6. A very beautiful three dimensional view of the Ka'aba can be seen at:
  7. "More U.S. Muslims expected to take part in Hajj. CAIR reminds pilgrims of their rights, offers 'hotline' for bias reports," CAIR, 3006-DEC-12 news release.
  8. "Islam in the United States," Wikipedia, as on 2018-AUG-16, at:
  9. "Scaled-down hajj pilgrimage to start July 29: Saudi officials," Yahoo, 2020-JUL-20, at:
  10. Jomana Karadsheh and Tamara Qiblawi, " 'Unprecedented' Hajj begins -- with 1,000 pilgrims, rather than the usual 2 million," CNN, 2020-JUL-28, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-FEB-22
Latest update: 2020-JUL-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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