The first 10 days of Zul-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic calendar are considered the most important days of the year. The tenth day of this month is celebrated as Eid-ul-Adha. These are the days when millions of Muslims around the world choose to embark on the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.
Among the many who are fortunate enough to embark on the pilgrimage, is Abdul Rashid from Central Kashmir’s Budgam district, who is on the Hajj pilgrimage for the first time.
“It is a mixed emotion in a sense that you would be away from your loved ones on Eid but at the same time, it is a privilege to be given an opportunity to perform rituals which allow you revisit primordial time and understand the sacrifices that Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his son in pleasing the Almighty,” he said.
Rashid said Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, is a journey of a lifetime. “It comes with its own challenges and for people of the colder regions, heat would be extremely challenging as at this time temperatures hover around 47-48 degrees in Makkah,” he said.
On the other side he said technological interventions in the form of apps like Eatmarna allow pilgrims to book slots for performing Ziyarah both in Medina and Mecca.
“Chip based identification cards allow authorities to locate pilgrims who might get lost in the world’s biggest religious event - Hajj,” he said.
To perform Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Anybody declaring to be a Muslim must fulfill this ritual act, or at least have the intention to do so once in their lifetime.
Syed Said-Ud-Din from Narbal, who went to the pilgrimage in 2019 along with her wife, said Hajj is a deeply profound experience and a spiritual journey.
“As we proceeded onto the plane, I realized that everyone on the flight was dressed just like we were men in uniform white clothing and women in theirs costume,” he said.
“When we took our seats, the Captain of our plane welcomed us with greetings and prayers. He told us how honored he felt flying a plane full of pilgrims ready to fulfill a commandment of God,” he said.
Muslims who return home after their Hajj feel a revival of faith and connection to Allah. People honor the returning Haji (a person who performs Hajj) and celebrate with parties and presents. “For me, it has been two years of my Hajj. But it feels as fresh as yesterday. Hajj is still alive in my heart like no time has passed at all,” he said.
He said Hajj is the testimony of almost all pilgrims when they come back to their homes, it lives within them forever.
“My advice to those who want to perform Hajj is to prepare your mind and soul for the pilgrimage. If you are young and able-bodied, perform Hajj before you get old because you will need both physical and mental strength to perform the Hajj,” he said.
Mohammad Shafi, who went on a holy pilgrimage two years ago, said for rest of the year, the city, roads and infrastructure built to accommodate pilgrims remain mostly empty.
“There is also an extensive security apparatus in place to monitor every aspect of the hajj to maintain order and safety, but also to ensure that proper Islamic protocol is followed by all in attendance. Each year, the Saudis deployed tens of thousands of security forces to control crowds and help keep pilgrims safe,” he said.
Shafi said it was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. The most memorable was a walk from Mina camp to Jamrahtul Aqabah (the stoning place).
“We walked 4km along with thousands of people from different places all over the world towards one direction and reciting all the praises to Allah. The experience and view were unforgettable,” he said.
The hajj (Arabic word for pilgrimage) is a five-day religious pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby holy sites in Saudi Arabia which Muslims, who are physically and financially able,are compulsorily ordered to perform once in their lives.
Hajj is performed between the eighth and 13th day of the last month of Islamic calender. It is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Over the five days of the hajj, pilgrims perform a series of rituals meant to symbolize their unity with other believers and to affirm oneness of God. On the last three days of the hajj, pilgrims as well as all other Muslims around the world celebrate Eid-al-Azha, or the festival of sacrifice.
Zamzam water is considered to be blessed water by Muslims. The source of this water is the Zamzam well which is situated within Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The history of Zamzam water is as interesting as its benefits, and both re-emphasize its religious importance.
It is one of the most enduring miracles of Islam, representing God’s mercy. The Well of Zamzam first sprang 5,000 years ago under the feet of the Prophet Ismael (AS) after his mother Hajirah(AS), the second wife of Prophet Ibrahim (AS), ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah looking for water to save her thirsty son.
Pilgrims are always keen to drink from the well and carry bottles filled with the water to their homelands since it is believed to be a natural source of healing for the sick.
Steps taken while performing Hajj
Enter ihram: The very first rite of Hajj is entering ihram – a pilgrim’s sacred state – when crossing the outer boundaries of Mecca, called Miqat. On the eighth of Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims enter ihram, which entails wearing plain garments – two unstitched cloths for men, or loose-fitting clothing for women – as well as following certain rules.
Head to Mina: The pilgrims then set out en masse from Mecca to the sprawling tent-city of Mina, whether by foot along pilgrim paths or by buses and cars. It is an 8 km journey. The pilgrims will spend the day in Mina, only setting out the next morning at dawn. Most of the time in Mina is spent in prayer and remembering Allah.
Spend the day at Arafat: The Day of Arafat is considered one of the most important days, not just of Hajj, but of the Islamic calendar. ’Mount of Mercy’ at Arafat was the scene of the Prophet Muhammad’s (Saw) final sermon. After making the 14.4 km journey from Mina, pilgrims spend the day here in reverent prayer. Elsewhere in the world, many Muslims choose to fast on this day.
Collect pebbles at Muzdalifah: After sunset, its time to move again, this time to Muzdalifah – a 9 km trip – where they spend the night under the stars. Many will also begin collecting pebbles here for next day’s rites, departing again just before sunrise.
Throw stones at the pillars: For those performing Hajj, the day is known as yawm-ul hajj al-akbar (The big hajj day) and is probably the longest day of the pilgrimage, and the most dangerous.
Pilgrims start the day in Muzdalifah and begin heading back to Mina before dawn. Once in Mina, they perform the first rami, throwing seven pebbles at the largest of three columns known as Jamarat.This act is a symbolic stoning of the devil, based on historical tradition.
Final days in Mina: On each day, they will again symbolically stone the devil – this time throwing seven pebbles at each of the three pillars. With the hardest part behind them, pilgrims will now spend the next two or three days in Mina.
Running between Safa and Marwah: After quenching thirst with Zamzam, crossing the courtyard of scared Kabah, kiss Hajr-i-Aswad or just gesticulate with your hands, move towards the hillock of Safa (which is today just a rock adjacent to Masjid-i-Haram.
Sacrifice: After completion of stoning you have to go for sacrifice. After the sacrifice of an animal (which can be accomplished by using a voucher), the Pilgrims then are required to either shave or trim their heads (if male) or trim the ends of their hair (if female). A celebration of the global festival of Eid-al-Adha proceeds afterwards.
Another important aspect of the pilgrimage is the journey to Madina where the pilgrims are expected to stay for 8 days and perform a total of 40 prayers (namaz). This can be done at the beginning of the journey before Hajj or after performing Hajj, at the end of the trip.
So before leaving Makkah, either for Madina or for home, the pilgrims are also supposed to perform the last Tawaf (circling the Makkah) called Tawaf al-Wadaa to bid goodbye to the holy place.
Saudi Arabia has dedicated two airports - King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina for catering to the pilgrims. Depending on the itinerary, the further conveyance is done through buses or on foot.
While in the city of Makkah, there are many places in Makkah and Madinah, that are worthy of a visit. These include Masjid-Al Haram, Jabal al-Nour, Mount Arafat, Jannat-al-Mu’alla, Masjid-e-Ayesha, Maktaba Makkah-al-Mukarramah, City of Mina, Masjid-e-Nabawi, Masjid-al-Quba, Mount Uhud, Dar Al-Madinah Museum, Masjid al-Qiblatayn.