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What is Hajj and how is it celebrated around the world?


Hajj literally means ‘to set out for a place’. Hence the relation to this sacred pilgrimage to Mecca.


The Hajj is a pilgrimage that is incredibly important in Islam. Every adult Muslim must make this pilgrimage at least once in their life, if they are physically and financially able to do so and, only if their absence will not place hardships on their family. A person may also perform the hajj by proxy, whereby a relative or friend may be appointed to stand in for them on the pilgrimage.


The Hajj pilgrimage takes place annually in Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Mecca is a sacred place in Islam and only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca. It is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam.


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The Hajj is the 5th of the fundamental Muslim practices, known as the Five Pillars of Islam. The pilgrimage begins on the 7th day of Dhū al-Ḥijjah, which is the 12th and last month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the pilgrimage ends on the 12th day of this month.


During the Hajj, Muslims of every colour, ethnic group and social status come together in Mecca. Together they stand in front of the Kaaba, praising Allah. It’s imperative to understand the significance of this, which is to understand that all Muslims are equal in the eyes of Allah and any markers of social status, wealth or pride are eradicated. 


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The pilgrimage begins when the pilgrims reach around 6 miles (10 km) from Mecca. From this point, the pilgrim must enter the sacred and pure state of Ihram. Ihram must be entered into before both the Umrah or the Hajj pilgrimages can take place. To enter this state of purity, Muslims must perform purification rituals (ablution), make the intentions for the pilgrimage, reciting the Talbiyah, abstain from certain actions and wear the pure white shrouds, which is the simple clothing that is required to be worn during the pilgrimage. Having all pilgrims in the same dress also further emphasises that all are equal in the judgement of Allah. 


There are a few conditions that a pilgrim on the Hajj must follow, these include; not partaking in marital relations, shaving or cutting their nails, using cologne or scented oils, fighting or arguing, killing or hunting of animals. In addition to this Women must not cover their faces, even if they do so in their home country and men shouldn’t wear clothing with stitching.


When the pilgrims enter Mecca, they perform Tawaf which is walking counter-clockwise 7 times around the sacred shrine known as the Ka’bah, which is in the Great Mosque (Masjid al-Haram). Whilst performing the Tawaf the pilgrims recite the Talbiyah again, which is a scared prayer of conviction, followed by reciting any prayer they can remember by heart and asking Allah for forgiveness continuously. Pilgrims then attempt to kiss or touch the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad), however, this is not compulsory, a simple gesture from afar is sufficient and permissible. Once the Tawafs are completed, pilgrims pray twice in the direction of the Maqām Ibrāhīm and the Kaʿbah. This is followed by the ritual of running between the minor prominences of Mount Safa and Mount Marwah 7 times, re-enacting the frantic search of water by Hajar the mother of Is’mail, between these mounts. This is where the origins of the well of Zamzam was founded.


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At the 2nd stage of the pilgrimage, which takes place between the 8th and the 12th days of the month, the holy places outside Mecca, Jabal al-Raḥmah, Muzdalifah, and Minā, are visited and here an animal is sacrificed in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice. During this time the heads of male pilgrims are usually then shaved and female pilgrims cut a lock of their hair. The pilgrims then throw 7 stones at each of the 3 pillars at Minā on 3 consecutive days. These pillars are called the Jamarat’s these represent the devil. After this is completed the pilgrims return to Mecca and perform the farewell Tawāf, before leaving the city.


When the Hajj is completed, many people then go to the Prophet's Mosque (Masjid al-Nabi) in Medina, but this is optional.


A man that has completed the Hajj is called a Hajji and a woman is called a Hajjah.


After the completion of the Hajj, Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice. Eid al Adha commemorates the obedience of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) when he was ordered to sacrifice his son Is'mail. Ibrahim showed his devotion to Allah by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Allah rewarded Ibrahim’s loyalty by giving him a lamb or sheep to sacrifice instead.
On completion of this momentous milestone, the Haji and Hajjah are celebrated and appreciated as if they have been reborn, cleansed of all of their worldly sins. 


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