MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) – Close to 1.4 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in Mecca for the annual Haj, which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to perform once in their life.
The rituals of the Haj are as follows:
Ihram: a state in which pilgrims wear special outfits, two-piece white seamless garments for men and any loose dress for women, who must completely cover themselves except for their hands and faces. Niqab (a face covering that only reveals the eyes) is prohibited.
Sex is forbidden during Ihram and pilgrims must refrain from quarrelling, covering the head (for men), cutting hair, clipping nails, wearing socks or shoes, except for sandals exposing the instep.
“I am answering your call, God,” every pilgrim chants.
Once in Mecca, pilgrims perform Tawaf, or circumambulation, seven times counter-clockwise around the Ka’bah, a black masonry cubic shape in the middle of the Masjidil Haram, or sacred site, in which direction Muslims pray wherever they are in the world. The Ka’bah was first built as a “sacred house” in Mecca by Prophet Adam (pbuh), the father of the human race, according to the Islamic faith. The Al-Quran says Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and his son Prophet Ishmael (pbuh) rebuilt the Kaaba.
Each circle starts and ends at the Black Stone, also known as the cornerstone, at the southern corner of the Ka’bah. Pilgrims should point their palms to the stone saying: “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest).
– Walking back and forth between the two stone spots of Safa and Marwah seven times, an act known as Sa’i. The distance between them is just under 400 metres (437 yards). Pilgrims are emulating Hagar, the second wife of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) according to Islam, who was desperately seeking water for her infant Prophet Ishmael (pbuh). The preceding rituals are considered the Umrah, or lesser pilgrimage, made ahead of the Haj’s main rites.
– The main rites of the Haj start on the 8th of Dhul Hijja and end on the 13th (this year October 2-7). Pilgrims head to Mina, around five kilometres (three miles) east of the holy mosque, on the first day of Haj known as Tarwiah (watering) Day. Pilgrims traditionally watered their animals and stocked water for their trip to Mount Arafat, about 10 kilometres southeast of Mina.
– Arafat Day, on the 9th of Dhul Hijja, (October 3) is the climax of the Haj season as all pilgrims gather on the hill known as Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain. Pilgrims stay at Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is believed to have delivered his final Haj sermon, until the evening. They spend the day reciting from the Al-Quran and praying.
– After sunset on the 9th of Dhul Hijja, pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they stay at least until midnight. They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.
– After dawn prayer on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, or the Eid al-Adha feast, pilgrims head back to Mina. The first of three stoning rites, known as Jamarat al-Aqabah, begins after sunrise. Traditionally, seven pebbles are thrown at a post representing the devil. Since 2004, it has been replaced by walls to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims. The ritual is an emulation of Prophet Abraham’s (pbuh) stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice Prophet Ishmael (pbuh).
– After the first stoning, pilgrims offer sacrifices by slaughtering a sheep and the meat is distributed to needy Muslims. This rite also emulates the actions of Prophet Abraham (pbuh). He prepared to sacrifice his son Prophet Ishmael (pbuh) on the order of God, who provided a lamb in the boy’s place at the last moment.Pilgrims no longer carry out this rite themselves. They instead pay agencies which distribute meat to needy Muslims around the world.
– Men then shave their heads or trim their hair while women cut a fingertip-length of their hair. After that they can end their Ihram and change back to their usual clothing.Sex remains prohibited.Pilgrims then return to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, perform Tawaf al-Efadha, circumambulating seven times around the Ka’bah, then perform Sa’i, moving seven times between Safa and Marwah.
With that, pilgrims end their Ihram.