Thousands of Muslims in early July began arriving in Saudi Arabia via the Mecca Road Initiativefor the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which begins on August 9, and around three million more – the annual average – are set to follow in the coming weeks.
Hajj begins in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, and resumes at different sites in its vicinity, with several rituals performed along the way. It usually takes between four and six days to complete.
The fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. Adult Muslims are required to perform Hajj at least once in a lifetime if they have the physical and financial ability to do so.
A basic how-to guide for performing Hajj
Entering into a state of ihram is the first step in performing Hajj. In order to do this, pilgrims have to recite their intention to perform Hajj, called the talbiyah, which prepares the soul, mind, and body for the pilgrimage journey. Pilgrims must enter ihram before proceeding beyond any of the five designated points just outside Mecca known as meeqat.
As part of ihram, men and women must adhere to a specific modest dress code. Men wear unstitched white garments, while women wear regular clothes and a headscarf. Women are forbidden from wearing the burqa or niqab.
The word ihram is derived from the Arabic term tahreem, which means prohibited. Because the state is believed to be characterized by spiritual purity, there are certain acts that pilgrims are not allowed to commit. Among them are using perfume, cutting hair or nails, and slaughtering animals.
Upon arrival in Mecca, pilgrims must perform a ritual called tawaf, or circumambulation of the Kaaba. An integral part of the pilgrimage, tawaf refers to the seven times that pilgrims must circle counter-clockwise around the Kaaba, at the beginning, during, and at the end of Hajj.
The Kaaba is a cube-shaped building that Muslims believe was originally built by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail. The building is at the center of al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque. Muslims face the qibla or direction of the Kaaba, which is considered the “house of God,” when performing prayer anywhere in the world.