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what is hajj and why is it important
Every year millions of Muslims from every corner of the globe gather in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. Nearly every one of them arrived as part of a mass pilgrimage to the holiest site in Islam, a journey known as “Hajj”.
This ritual is one of the largest temporary migration in the world, so we wanted to know:
what is the significance of the Hajj, and why do Muslims travel to Mecca? Well, the Hajj is a deeply religious event that occurs every year from the 8th to the 12th or 13th day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
This month is known as Dhu al-Hijjah, and since the western Gregorian calendar and the Islamic calendar do not follow the same time keeping standard – the Gregorian is solar – this date is different for Western cultures every year.
Although there is a Hajj every year, Muslims are only obligated to make the journey once in their lives.
In fact, one is only allowed to go if they’re an adult, physically able, and can make sure their family is provided for in their absence. And don’t forget to share it with your friends, relatives, and social media.
The location and journey itself hold deep religious significance.
Mecca is considered the birthplace of Islam’sprophet Muhammad, and the area of his first revelation; however, it is believed that the hajj has been practiced since the days of Ibrahim, some 2000 years earlier.
The journey and rituals are based on a number of rituals performed by Ibrahim after being commanded by God to leave his wife and child. Eventually, Ibrahim built the Kaaba, a sacred black structure, directing Muslims to travel to it, a journey first officially completed the prophet Muhammad around 628 AD.
Pilgrims who arrive in Mecca must perform a number of rituals to complete the Hajj.
They begin and end at the Kaaba, which today is an enormous black cube in the center of Mecca. Pilgrims must walk counter-clockwise seven times around it, after which they go back and forth between two significant hills, then drink from a particular well,
hold a vigil at Mount Arafat, sleep in the open air, where they collect 49 stones to later throw at three pillars to symbolize stoning the devil. These regions are several miles away from each other, and pilgrims are expected to travel among them by foot, although in recent years the monorail system has been put in place by the Saudi government.
Near the end of the journey, male pilgrims shave their heads and perform an animal sacrifice, and the Hajj finally culminates in an enormous,multi-day festival called the Festival of Sacrifice. Those who have completed the pilgrimage often add the title “Hajji” to their names, as a sort of social signifier. However, with literally millions of pilgrims, topping out at more than 3 million in 2012,
some of these rituals are approximated due to logistical issues. Pilgrims used to kiss the black stone of the Kaaba, now they must simply point at it if they cannot reach it. Instead of pillars, visitors now throw stones long walls. And the animal sacrifice is no longer performed by individuals, it is instead done by the Saudi Government on behalf of all the pilgrims.
The huge number of attendees is also somewhat dangerous. In 1990, a stampede in a tunnel killed more than 1,400 people, and a similar stampede in 2015 resulted in even more deaths, according to the Associated Press. As of 2016, the Saudi Government has even implemented GPS bracelets to keep track of pilgrims, and to notify them of the appropriate times to perform the rituals.
For many, the pilgrimage signifies a sort of “rebirth” of their faith. The yearly event holds deep and significant ties to Islamic history, and despite its slow evolution to accommodate the massive number of attendees, the Hajj effectively remains a requirement for all Muslims.
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