The last of the Five Pillars of Islam is the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca).

Muslims are encouraged to make at least one trip to Makkah during their life. This is usually done during the annual Hajj in the twelvth month of the lunar calender.

During the Hajj, several rites are performed such as circling the Ka'ba seven times and passing between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as Hagar did. During last rite of the pilgrimage all of the pilgrims stand together on the plain of Arafa and pray for god's forgiveness.

Around two million pilgrims travel to Makkah each year.

There should be a little more in this node about the significance of Hajj as the final of the Five Pillars.

Hajj is special in that it isn't a recurring activity, it is a one off, a wildcard, and bonus ticket, that means that you are able to go somewhere on Earth, and wipe your soul clean of all the sins it has accumulated since you were born. You are clean, free, with the wonderful knowledge that if you were to die now that you would enter paradise.

It is the most life affirming state of mind I can think of, as I felt a shade of it when I went for Umrah. The sheer presence of all those people, all earnestly praying for forgiveness, repenting all their past sins, all walking under the same sky in the same robes. You could be next to a king, or a shoe maker, there is no way to tell, the blind walk with the deaf and the hearing being led by their kind companions in most cases strangers, those who are unable to walk are carried by those who are, the old and the young, men and women, together in the face of God, judged not by race, or by wealth or by honour, but on their sincerity.

All this in a crowd of two million in the middle of the desert, an awe inspiring site, and an even more awe inspiring feeling. There is nothing to compare to in this world. Muslims go back changed, it is hard to imagine this but it is true. The hardship endured on the Hajj, the intensity of one's emotions, the over powering sense of presence of Allah, all through the day, and all through the night, it can never be taken away, and the feeling of being cleansed, of being freed stays with you like and echo of a promise of freedom that keeps you strong during the hard days of your life ahead, and the lonely times when you struggle, because you know that one day you will be finished with your life and you will return to your Creator, a free and whole human being. If you can understand this, then you begin to realize why Muslims are so passionate about their religion, it is all consuming, from spiritual birth, until death, and beyond. The Hajj is an acknowledgement of this, and even more, a immersive expression of this relationship between Man and His God.

The Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is the fifth pillar of Islam, and, if possible and affordable, is required of all Muslims. The Hajj takes place during five days. It is during the 8th to the 12th of Zul-Hijjah1 (or Dhul-Hijjah).

1st Day, 8th of Zul-Hijjah – Yaum-Ut-Tarwiyah
Before anything, the pilgrim must pronounce their intention to perform the pilgrimage. The pilgrim puts on the Ihram2, and leaves for Mina after Fajr prayers, or after sunrise. Mina is a place nearby Mecca.

2nd Day, 9th of Zul-Hijjah – Yaum-Ul Arafah
After leaving Mina during sunrise, the pilgrim heads toward Arafah. Arafah is a desert location located about nine miles from Mecca. The pilgrims must stay within the boundaries of Arafah which has in it, the Mountain of Rahmah (Mountain of Mercy). After sunset the pilgrim goes to an area called Muzdalifah. Muzdalifah is a desert location which is between Mina and Arafah. The pilgrim collects about 70 pea-size pebbles, and then spends the entire night there. The pebbles should not be too big—they should be anywhere between 1-1.5 cm.

3th Day, 10th of Zul-Hijjah – Yaum-Un-Nahr
The pilgrims go to Mina before sunrise. Before midday, the pilgrims stone the Jamrat al-Kubra or the Jamrat al-Aqabah. Stoning these pillars symbolizes stoning the devil. These pebbles must touch the inside of the Jamrat’s (pillars) fence. The pilgrim stones the the first Jamrah, then the middle, and finally the big one, hitting each with a total of 7 pebbles.

Then the pilgrim must sacrifice an animal. The choices include a sheep, 1/7th of a cow or a camel, which may be shared by other people. One third of the meat can be consumed, one third must be offered as a gift, and one third must be distributed to the poor and needy.. This sacrifice may take place any day between the 10th and 13th day.

Then, the pilgrim may shave or trim the hair, shower, remove the Ihram and change into everyday clothes.
Then comes the joyous day for Muslims worldwide—Eid-Al-Adha. It is celebrated during the 10th day of Zul-Hijjah. It commemorates the story of the Prophet Ibrahim (or Abraham) willing to sacrifice his son Ismael.

The pilgrim then returns to Mecca, and then later returns to Mina, where he/she stays until the 12th or 13th and throws more pebbles.

4th Day, 11th of Zul-Hijjah
The throwing of the pebbles continues.

5th Day, 12th of Zul-Hijjah
The same procedures as the 4th day take place. The pilgrim may decide to stay until the 13th day of Zul-Hijjah, which would require throwing the pebbles that day, as well.

The pilgrim then enters Mecca again, and performs a final Tawaf3 al-Wada (farewell Tawaf). The Hajj is completed at this point.

1. Zul-Hijjah is the 12th month in the Islamic calendar.

2. The Ihram is a white cloth which is worn and is the only covering of the body allowed when performing Hajj or Umrah. With the Ihram on, certain acts are prohibited, such as removing any hair, clipping nails, putting on any sort of perfume or fragrance, engaging in sexual intercourse, and more.

3. The Tawaf is a circumambulation where the pilgrim goes around the Ka’aba a total of seven times, while reciting some prayers.

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