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All you need to know about Hajj: Steps, rituals and significance

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

The Hajj ritual can be traced back to the time of the Prophet Abraham by Muslims. It is a religious obligation for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it at least once in their lifetime.

Hajj is observed for five days in the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Male pilgrims wear two white seamless cloths called the Ihram, which is meant to show equality before Allah.

One of the cloths is wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee while the other is draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side.

A Muslim pilgrim adjusts his ihram clothing on the top of Mount Al-Noor ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (Reuters)
A Muslim pilgrim adjusts his ihram clothing on the top of Mount Al-Noor ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (Reuters)

Female pilgrims are allowed to wear any white, modest dresses when they reach the Miqat (a destination where the intent to perform Hajj is declared).

The pilgrims perform ablution at the Miqat, declare their intention for Hajj and then refrain from all prohibited activities, including sexual relations, using perfumes, cutting nails, shaving and slaughtering animals during the duration of the Hajj.

Day 1:

On the first day of Hajj, pilgrims will walk seven times around the Kaaba for the welcoming tawaf (also called the circumambulation of the Kaaba) and kiss the black stone.

Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, on September 14, 2016. (AFP)
Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, on September 14, 2016. (AFP)

This is followed by prayers inside the mosque near the Kaaba and then drinking water from the Zamzam well which is believed to have gushed out when Abraham’s crying son Ishmael was placed when his mother went out looking for water for him.

Muslim pilgrims walk at Al-Safa and Al-Marwah (Safa and Marwah) where Muslims walk back and forth seven times during the ritual pilgrimages of Haj and Umrah at the Grand Mosque, during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca October 17, 2012. (Reuters)
Muslim pilgrims walk at Al-Safa and Al-Marwah (Safa and Marwah) where Muslims walk back and forth seven times during the ritual pilgrimages of Haj and Umrah at the Grand Mosque, during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca October 17, 2012. (Reuters)

The pilgrims then move to the Safa and Marwah hills near the Kaaba where they either run or walk seven times between the hills, to symbolically emulate the run Ishmael’s mother Hajjar did in search of water for her son.

Day 2:

After the morning prayer, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the whole day in prayer.

Day 3:

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

All pilgrims then move to Arafat the next day and stand in vigil from noon to sunset to offer supplications, seek repentance and listen to sermons from where it is believed Islam’s Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon ever. The ritual at Arafat is the ultimate day of Hajj and is considered compulsory if the pilgrimage is to be considered successful.

hajj muzdalifah pilgrims shutterstock
hajj muzdalifah pilgrims shutterstock

After sunset prayers, all pilgrims will leave the hills of Arafat for Muzdalifah where they will combine two prayers and spend the night in the open fields and gather small pebbles and stones for the next day’s ritual.

Day 4, 5 and 6:

All pilgrims will move to Mina to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing seven pebbles or stones at the largest of three pillars.

Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolising the stoning of the devil, in the last rite of the annual Haj, in Mina near the Saudi holy city of Mecca. (AFP)
Muslim pilgrims cast stones at a pillar, symbolising the stoning of the devil, in the last rite of the annual Haj, in Mina near the Saudi holy city of Mecca. (AFP)

On this day, animals like sheep or goats are slaughtered after the ‘stoning of the devil’ to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice to God when he obeyed the command to sacrifice his son. This day is also the day Muslims worldwide will celebrate the Eid al-Adha festival.

Male pilgrims will completely shave their hairs after the sacrifice and females will clip pieces of their hair. They then head to the holy mosque at Mecca for another circumambulation of the Kaaba.

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha
Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha

Pilgrims will do another round of ‘stoning the devil’ at each of the three pillars. The same ritual will be done on the fifth day and the sixth if the pilgrim is not able to return to Mecca.

Before leaving Mecca, the pilgrims perform another circumambulation of the Kaaba called the ‘farewell tawaf’ for seven times.

After this tawaf, the Hajj pilgrimage is finally completed.

Follow our Hajj correspondent on Twitter: @ismaeelrn