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What is Hajj?

What is Hajj?

Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. Every year, countless Muslims from around the world enter Mecca to fulfill it by circling the Kaaba and completing the other rituals re-established by Prophet Muhammad almost 1500 years ago, but taught to humanity for the first time by Ibrahim عليه السلام hundreds of years before that. But just what are these rituals and what do they represent? We’re going to be answering these questions and more in today’s article.

Here is everything you need to know about Hajj.

The Ka’bah And Its Role In Pre-Islamic Arabia 

According to longstanding Islamic teaching, both the Hajj and the Ka’bah were first established by the Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام . Ibrahim عليه السلام was commanded by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to build the Ka’bah, a cube-like building of worship in Mecca. Despite Ibrahim’s عليه السلام belief in a single God, the Ka’bah quickly became a popular site among the pagan pilgrims of the region.

The Ka’bah was an important place of worship in pre-Islamic Arabia. It played a vital role in Meccan society, even as Prophet Muhammad was growing up. In fact, the Prophet himself is known to have spent much time in the years before his prophethood worshipping and studying at the Ka’bah.

Hajj, But Not Quite 

It was after the Prophet’s   migration to Medina that he received revelation instructing him that all Muslims should face Mecca while they pray. This was significant as up to this point they had been facing Jerusalem. It also firmly cemented Mecca as the center of Islam, meaning the Prophet Muhammad and his followers would one day work their way back there.

For a brief period, however, it looked as though the Muslims wouldn’t have to risk death to return to Mecca, if only for a quick visit. In March of 628 CE, the Prophet represented the pilgrims of Medina in a discussion with the Quraysh, the ruling tribe of Mecca. After years of bloodshed, a fragile peace was declared between the Muslims and the Meccans. On the promise of ten years of peace, the Prophet’s followers were permitted to return to Mecca to worship at the Ka’bah in 629 CE. Today, this first pilgrimage back to Mecca is known as the Umrah of Dhu’l-Qa’da. It is not, however, considered to be the first Hajj.

So Why Wasn’t It The First Hajj? 

While the Umrah of Dhu’l-Qa’da was undoubtedly a pivotal event in the development of Islam, it cannot be considered the first Hajj. This is because the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims made the pilgrimage during Dhu’l-Qa’da, which is the 11th month of the Islamic calendar. The Hajj can only be made during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the final month of the calendar. In most cases, the Hajj occurs from the 8th to the 12th of the month. Under certain circumstances, however, it may be extended to the 13th. Unlike the Hajj, ‘Umrah is a pilgrimage that can be made outside of Dhu al-Hijjah. ‘Umrah shows great devotion to God and certainly brings many unique rewards upon those who complete it. However, it simply cannot replicate the spiritual gifts of Hajj and certainly does not eradicate the requirement of Hajj from the five pillars of Islam.

The Conquest of Mecca

So if the ‘Umrah of Dhu’l-Qa’da wasn’t the first Hajj completed by the Prophet , what was? To answer that question, let’s revisit the strained relationship between the people of Medina and the people of Mecca in the early 600s. Although both sides managed to reach an agreement that was intended to create a ten-year truce, they struggled to remain cordial towards one another. Ultimately, their truce lasted just two years. It came to an end when the Banu Bakr, a tribe aligned with the Meccans, killed members of the Banu Khuza’a, a tribe aligned with the Muslims. This breach of the treaty was responded to by the Prophet by preparing for what has since become known as the Conquest of Mecca.

With more than 10,000 Muslims in tow, Prophet Muhammad marched to Mecca, where he reclaimed the city and the Ka’bah. Upon their arrival in Mecca, the Prophet and his followers quickly began destroying the pagan statues which the city’s residents had placed around the Ka’bah. Anything which symbolized the false Arab gods or any form of idolatry was destroyed, thus cleansing the Ka’bah and restoring it to its monotheistic roots.

The Conquest of Mecca proved a pivotal point in the development of the Hajj as we know it today. In 631 CE, one year after the event, the Prophet instructed Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه to lead 300 Muslims to Mecca, further cementing travel to Mecca – and more specifically the Ka’bah – as a crucial part of Muslim life. This pilgrimage was topped off by a sermon from Ali ibn Abi Talib رضي الله عنه, who took the opportunity to outline a set of rules to be followed by those journeying to the Ka’bah in the future. Among the first batch of Muslims to journey to the Ka’bah after this pilgrimage was the Prophet Muhammad himself.

The Farewell Pilgrimage 

In the years preceding the Conquest of Mecca, the Prophet focused on spreading the message of Islam throughout greater Arabia. This time was limited to ten years. In early 632, he   was in his sixth decade and beginning to feel the effects of his age. Recognizing that his health was failing – and perhaps even expecting his own demise – he elected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca one last time.

Almost everything the Prophet did during the Farewell Pilgrimage was documented and used to form the modern Hajj routine. Before arriving in Mecca, he stopped at one of the five miqaat he appointed during his lifetime. There, he explained to his followers the importance of Ihram ahead of Hajj. The Prophet then proceeded to Mecca, where he completed his circumambulation of the Ka’bah.

After praying behind the Station of Ibrahim, he drank from the Zamzam well and traveled to the hills of Safa and Marwah to complete sa’ee. This was followed by a journey to Mina, where he paused at Mount Arafah to join the pilgrims in the talbiyah (devotional prayer) and the takbir (glorification of Allah).

All of the above rituals were performed over the course of a couple of days. It was on the 9th of Dhu al-Hijjah that the Prophet delivered the Farewell Sermon, in which he discussed the social issues plaguing Muslims at the time and elaborated further on certain laws and ordinances of Islam. Although the Farewell Sermon is considered by many to be the Prophet’s final great sermon of his prophethood, it did not mark the end of his Hajj. After completing his sermon, he rode on to Ma’shar al-Haramm (the sacred points of pilgrimage), where he performed the prayers Maghrib and Isha. This was followed by a visit to Mina’s Jamrah of Aqaba and his sacrificing of 63 animals in gratitude for the 63 years he had spent on Earth. After shaving his head, the Prophet returned to Mecca and circumambulated the Ka’bah for the final time.

The Importance Of Ihram 

Ihram is the name given to the garment male Muslims are expected to wear for the duration of Hajj. It is also the word used to describe the state of spirituality in which believers should remain throughout the pilgrimage. To prepare oneself for Ihram, a Muslim should cut their nails, remove unwanted body hair, and take a full bath. Males should also trim their facial hair to ensure it is neat and tidy for the pilgrimage. Once in Ihram, a Muslim male must abide by the following rules:

  • Avoid wearing stitched clothing
  • Avoid cutting hair and nails until the appropriate point of Hajj
  • Avoid covering the head
  • Avoid wearing scented deodorant, perfumes or using scented soaps
  • Avoid killing animals
  • Abstain from sexual activity

Women are expected to follow the same guidelines, but their Ihraam clothing can be anything that breaks the form of their body and covers the skin. They must also go a little further and cover their heads. They are permitted to wear stitched clothing.

The Stages Of Hajj 

Hajj follows a series of time-sensitive rituals which must be completed in order for a person to fulfill the obligation. You’ll find the stages of Hajj, and what each entails, outlined below.


Tawaf is the Arabic word for the circumambulation of the Ka’bah. Muslims are expected to perform it upon their initial arrival in Mecca. They must circle the Ka’bah counterclockwise a total of seven times, all while praising God. Those who are capable of doing so are encouraged to make the first three circuits of the Ka’bah at a hurried pace. However, they are allowed to slow down and circle the Ka’bah at the pace needed to take in its sheer magnitude for their final four circuits. Upon completing their seven circuits, Muslims pray at the Station of Ibrahim and drink from the Well of Zamzam, just as Prophet Muhammad did.


Located within the Great Mosque of Mecca are the hills of Safa and Marwah. The second stage of Hajj requires Muslims to travel back and forth between these two hills a total of seven times (starting at the hill of Safa). The distance between the two hills is 450 meters. When traversed seven times, this is equal to 3.2 kilometers (2 miles).

Mount Arafah 

Muslims spend the first night of Hajj in Mina, which is a sprawling tent city situated about five kilometers east of Mecca. The following day, they journey to Mount Arafah, where they spend most of daylight in prayer and dhikr. Those who are particularly fortunate will manage to find a spot on Mount Arafat itself. Because crowds are so large, however, most people end up standing only in the vicinity of the mountain. Regardless of the spot one finds themselves in, this day is considered to be the most important part of Hajj. The Prophet said, “Hajj is Arafah!” (Tirmidhi). There is expiation for any other rite of Hajj that is missed or incompletely executed, except for standing on the day of Arafah at the plain. This also shows us that while the other rites are important, Arafah is the integral of Hajj. One must arrive, at the designated time and place, the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah between Fajr and Maghrib, at the plain of Arafah for without this, one’s Hajj is null and void. 

Ramy al-Jamarat

The second night of Hajj is spent at Muzdalifah. There, Muslims perform their Maghrib and Isha prayers. They also collect pebbles from the ground to use the following day as part of Ramy al-Jamarat. Ramy al-Jamarat is the action of pilgrims throwing pebbles at Mina’s three Jamarat pillars. These pillars represent the Devil, who made three attempts to dissuade Ibrhaim from sacrificing Ismail even after God commanded him to do so. By participating in Ramy al-Jamarat, Muslims reject Satan and reaffirm their devotion to God.

Eid al Adha 

Eid al Adha occurs on the third day of Hajj and celebrates the completion of the most vital stages of the pilgrimage. It is during Eid al Adha that an animal is slaughtered or commissioned to be slaughtered as an offering to God. Following this, all male pilgrims shave their heads to symbolize their spiritual rebirth. Women, meanwhile, cut off the tips of their hair. 

Tawaf Ziyarat

Some Muslims return to Mecca as soon as they shave their heads. Others take their time to return, but all begin their journey back to the Ka’bah within a couple of hours of Eid al Adha. After completing Tawaf once again, pilgrims spend another night in Mina. The next day, believers revisit the Jamarat pillars and once again cast pebbles in their direction. Enter your text here …

The Final Days Of Hajj

The final days of Hajj often pass as a blur for pilgrims. It is not uncommon to experience a sort of “Hajj fatigue” after the second visit to the Jamarat pillars. Some return to Mecca immediately after the second round of stoning, but those who do not manage to leave Mina before sunset must repeat the stoning ritual again the following day. Some particularly dedicated pilgrims willingly choose to do this in a remarkable feat of spiritual endurance. Whenever they arrive back in Mecca, pilgrims are expected to circle the Ka’bah seven more times counterclockwise, in one final display of their devotion to God. This is called Tawaf al-Wada’ah or the Farewell Tawaf.