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Great pilgrimage of the Muslims to Mecca

At least once in a lifetime every Muslim who is able to do the “Hajj” (great pilgrimage) has to undertake the “Hajj” (great pilgrimage) to Mecca “(Koran, sura 3, 97). As the fifth of the "five pillars of Islam", the Hajj is one of the central religious obligations. The other five pillars of Islam are the "Shahada" (creed), "Salat" (prayer), "Zakat" (alms) and fasting in Ramadan (fasting)

The Hajj, in which around 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world take part every year, always takes place in the pilgrimage month of Dhu l-Hijah, the last month in the Islamic calendar. At the end of the Hajj there is the four-day festival of sacrifice ("Id al-Adha").

APA / Rainer Waxmann

Overview of the course of the Hajj

A number of rituals apply to the Hajj, which must be strictly observed, otherwise the pilgrimage becomes invalid in the sense of the duty of faith. Most pilgrims therefore travel in groups and are guided and accompanied by knowledgeable pilgrim guides. Because Mecca is overcrowded every year during the Hajj, the Saudi Arabian government issues visas very restrictively: only one visa is issued for every 1,000 inhabitants of a country.

After Mecca in the state of consecration "Ihram"

The pilgrimage begins with entering the consecration area about 20 kilometers around Mecca, which is taboo for non-Muslims. The pilgrims put themselves in the state of consecration ("Ihram"): The pilgrims shower ("Ghusl"), put on their pilgrim garb and express their inner intention ("Nija") to do the Hajj. Men carry two unlined, white towels. This uniform, simple clothing is intended to symbolize the equality of all believers before God and the Last Judgment - regardless of class and origin. Women cover their bodies and hair, leaving only their hands and face free.

Reuters / Ali Jarekji

Pilgrims are only allowed to enter the holy district in pilgrim clothing

Then the pilgrims pray two prayer units (“Raka” - more on this in Salat). Today the transition to the consecration district is usually carried out in the plane, the time is announced on board. During the entire Hajj, it is forbidden to shave, cut hair and fingernails, and use perfume. During the consecrated state until the end of the Hajj, Muslims are not allowed to marry or have sexual intercourse. Confrontations, provocations and the killing of animals, for example when hunting, are also prohibited.

Seven times around the Kaaba, water from the Zamzam

The first way in Mecca leads the pilgrims to the "al-Masjid al-haram", the great mosque with the Kaaba in the inner courtyard. There the pilgrims spiral around the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction until they reach the black stone that is set into its east side. This run is called "Tawaf".

After a personal prayer, the pilgrims drink water from the Zamzam fountain. This fountain is said to stand at the point from which, according to Islamic tradition, God let water gush to save Hagar and her son Ishmael from dying of thirst after Abraham (Arabic: "Ibrahim") left them in Mecca. Hagar's desperate search for water is also remembered during the next pilgrimage ritual: like Hagar, the pilgrims walk back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwa seven times, accompanied by prayers. This ritual is called "Sa’i".

Spiritual highlight at Mount Arafat

After these preparations, the actual communal pilgrimage begins on the 8th Dhu l-Hijah with the “run to Mina”, a place east of Mecca, where the “run” is mostly done in buses today. The pilgrims spend a whole day there, from the midday prayer (“Zuhr”) to the morning prayer (“Fajr”) on the following day.

Reuters / Ammar Awad

The prayers on Mount Arafat are the spiritual climax of the Hajj

On the 9th Dhu l-Hijah, it goes at dawn to the nearby Mount Arafat, where the pilgrims stay until sunset. It is the time for personal prayers in the mother tongue, for asking for forgiveness of sins and for complete surrender to Allah. Spiritually, the stay on and around Mount Arafat, an approximately 70 meter high granite formation, is the highlight of the Hajj. It is on this mountain that God is said to have reunited Adam and Eve after being driven out of paradise and separated for 200 years.

Stoning of the devil before the great festival

The pilgrims spend the night in the open air in the neighboring town of Muzdalifa. Before sunrise, after the morning prayer (“Fajr”), the pilgrims set off again towards Mina. By now everyone should have collected at least seven stones for the "stoning of the devil". This ritual is performed today on the Jamarat Bridge, where the pilgrims symbolically stone the devil by throwing seven stones - or a multiple of them: 49 or 70 - against a wall that represents Satan. In earlier times there were three pillars instead of the wall, the "Dschamarat al-Aqaba" (pillars of Aqaba).

Reuters / Mohammed Salem

In Mina, the pilgrims are housed in gigantic tent cities

On the 10th Dhu l-Hajj the pilgrims in Mina offer an animal sacrifice. This is also the prelude to the “Id al-Adha” (Festival of Sacrifice), which all Muslims worldwide celebrate at the same time. The animal sacrifice commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael for God. The pilgrims eat some of the meat themselves, and some donate it to those in need.

End of the Hajj

After the ritual slaughter, the pilgrims step out of their state of consecration ("Ihram"). The men have their hair shaved off, the women cut their hair. Showering, shaving and normal street clothes are allowed again. All prohibitions that apply during Ihram are lifted, except for abstinence. Back in Mecca, the pilgrims perform a “Tawaf”, the seven-time circling of the Kaaba, and a “Sa’i”, the seven-time running back and forth between the Safa and Marwa hills, if they did not get around before the Hajj.

From the 11th to the 13th Dhu l-Hijah, the pilgrims return to Mina and repeat the “stoning of the devil” on the three “Jamarat al-Aqaba”, the pillars of Aqaba. The conclusion is the return to Mecca and a farewell tawaf. After the pilgrimage, many pilgrims visit Medina, where the Prophet Mohammed is buried.

Honorary title "Hajji"

Those who return from the Hajj are usually received in a festive manner. In many areas the house is painted with pilgrimage motifs. Men who have completed the Hajj receive the honorary title "Hajji", women "Hajja".

"Umra", the little pilgrimage

The little pilgrimage, the umra, can be made at any time. It only lasts a few hours and consists of a "Tawaf" and a "Sa’i", the run between the Safa and Marwa hills. Even with the umra, the pilgrim must be in the state of consecration and have expressed his intention ("nija"). However, it is not considered to be the fulfillment of the religious duty to pilgrimage.

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