The Hajj is
the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is done during the last month of the
lunar calendar, Zul-Hijjah.
The Hajj is an obligation that must be undertaken by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so, at least once
in their lifetime. It demonstrates the solidarity of the
Muslim people, and their submission to
God. The Hajj occurs from the 8th to the 12th day of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. At
present, this is approximately in November to January. This date cannot be aligned directly with Western calendars, but
in the current early 21st century In 2007, Dhul Hijjah begins on December 11, and the week of the Hajj begins on
December 18, 2007.
The Hajj ritual was considered ancient even in the time of Muhammad in the 7th century and it was part of ancient
pre-Muslim paganism. Pilgrims would join processions of tens of thousands of people, who would simultaneously converge
on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals, centered around the
Kaaba. Each person would walk
counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, kiss the Black Stone, run back and forth from the Zamzam Well near the
Kabah back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, then go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in
vigil, then proceed to Muzdalifah to gather pebbles, which they would throw at a rock in Mina to perform the ritual of
the Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims would then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice, and celebrate the
three day global festival of Eid ul-Adha.
About two million pilgrims participate in this annual pilgrimage. Crowd-control techniques have become critical.
Owing to the need to manage the large numbers of people, many of the rituals have become more stylized. It is not
necessary to kiss the Black Stone, but merely to point at it on each circuit around the Kaaba. Throwing pebbles was done
at large pillars, which for safety reasons were in 2004 changed to long walls with catchbasins below to catch the
stones. The slaughter of an animal can be done either personally, or by appointing someone else to do it, and so forth.
But even with the crowd control techniques, there are still many accidents during the Hajj, as pilgrims are trampled in
the crush, or ramps collapse under the weight of the many visitors, causing hundreds of deaths. The Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia's Ministry of Hajj has a website, with the message, "Be peaceful, orderly and kind. No crushing."
Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is called the "lesser
pilgrimage", or Umrah. However, even if they perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some
other point in their lifetime.
Synonyms and alternate spellings: