Everything you need to know about hajj.

What does hajj mean?

Hajj, which is also spelled haj, is an Arabic word which literally means ‘to intend a journey’ and describes an annual journey or pilgrimage to Makkah (or Mecca), Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam – the fifth - and it is expected all Muslims will undertake hajj once or more during their lifetime.

The other pillars are:

  • Shahadah (or shadada) - the profession of faith
  • Salat - daily prayer
  • Zakat - the giving of alms
  • Sawm - fasting during Ramadan.
When must hajj take place?

The Islamic calendar is based upon the lunar year, which works differently from the Gregorian calendar in use in the UK. The last month in the Islamic calendar is called Dhu al Hijja, and the hajj must take place during this month. The rites associated with the hajj are performed from the 8th day to 12th day of Dhu al Hijja, and every year, these dates are between 10 and 11 days earlier than the previous year, because of the differences in the two calendars. For 2017, the performance of the rites is anticipated to be on or near 30th August.

Who goes on hajj?

All Muslim adults must go on hajj once or more during their lifetime, but there are certain conditions. The pilgrim intending to go on hajj must be mentally, physically and financially sound and able to travel, but for those who are able to complete the pilgrimage, they have the right to add ‘Hajji’ to their name.

How many pilgrims go on hajj?

Each year, around 2 to 3 million pilgrims from all over the world assemble in Makkah for hajj – the largest individual assembly of people anywhere in the world.

How did hajj begin?

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) established the rites that are performed today at hajj, and they were centred on the Qur’an. The basis of the rites is traceable back to the Prophet Ibrahim, (alayh al salam), who in English is also known as Abraham.

It is believed by Muslims that Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was commanded by Allah to leave behind Hajar (his wife) and Ismail (his son) in ancient Makkah’s desert. Hajar, in a desperate search for water, ran from Safa and Marwah (two hills in the desert) seven times without finding any. In despair, Hajar returned to Ismail, and she observed that her baby was scraping the desert ground with his leg, and then a fountain of water sprang out from the site.

The site is now known as the Well of Zamzam, and is located in the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. This well is visited by pilgrims who are performing hajj (or the umrah pilgrimage), and they drink the water from it.

What rites are performed in the hajj pilgrimage?

The main rituals are:

Ihram -On arrival in Makkah, the state of purity (or ihram) is entered by pilgrims. For men, this means wearing ihram clothing, consisting of two sheets, both white and seamless, which are wrapped around the wearer’s body. They also wear sandals. This way of dressing is not only representative of purity; as there are no visible distinctions of culture, status, or class, they also represent unity and equality. For women, the requirements are somewhat less stringent, as they are simply required to wear white, with only hands and face visible.

Pilgrims who are in a state of ihram must restrict certain activities – they are forbidden, for instance, to cut their nails or hair, to fight, to argue or to engage in any sexual activity.
Tawaf – This entails each pilgrim walking seven times, anti-clockwise, around the Kaaba, which is the cube-shaped building in Masjid Al-Haram. This building was constructed by Ibrahim (alayhi salam), is the location to which Muslims everywhere in the world direct their prayers, and is Islam’s most sacred site.

Al-Safa & Al-Marwah - Just as Hajar did when searching for water, hajj pilgrims run between the Al-Marwah and Al-Safa mountains, seven times.

Mount Arafat - The Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) gave his last sermon on the plains of Mount Arafat, and pilgrims today go there to stand in vigil.

Stoning the Devil - Following on from the Mount Arafat vigil, pilgrims move on to Muzdalfah, and from there to Mina to perform a ritual of symbolic stoning, flinging pebbles at the three walls which are known as jamarat. This act is symbolic of the way that when the devil attempted to deceive Ibrahim (alayhi salam) away from following Allah, the prophet threw stones at him three times, which drove him away.

Eid ul Adha - On the tenth day of Dhu al-Hijja, the three-day festival of Eid ul Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice) begins. Pilgrims carry out a ritual involving animal sacrifice (Qurbani), and then other rites are carried out in order to complete the hajj.

Qurbani - Known as Udiyah in Arabic, this ritual commemorates the sacrifice for Allah of his son Ismail (alayhi salam) that Ibrahim (alayhi salam) was willing to perform. Allah spared the son’s life by providing a ram to be sacrificed in his place.

Hajj and umrah – what’s the difference?

Pilgrims are able to visit Makkah and perform rituals at any time of the year. If the pilgrimage takes place on the fixed Islamic calendar dates, it is called hajj. If it is done at any other time of the year, it is called umrah. Hajj is obligatory for all Muslims, umrah is not.

How do I go about booking a hajj package?

It is essential to plan in advance, and to allocate sufficient time to choose the right tour operator.

When choosing a hajj package, our advice is to always find out how far the accommodation is from the mosque, how many people will be sharing a room, and what is the overall standard of the building (for example, facilities and hotel star rating).

Always read the conditions associated with booking, plus any general information, very carefully. It is essential that you are able to fully understand what you will be getting, and you should never place a booking with a tour operator who doesn’t give you everything that you have agreed in writing.

Up to 25,000 British Muslims travel for hajj every year, with as much as £125 million spent annually by pilgrims, which is a big draw for many fraudsters. The police have received reports of individual victims of fraud losing as much as £33,000. Only book your hajj package with a licensed tour operator.

ATOL or Air Travel Organisers Licence is your protection against you losing the money you have paid for your pilgrimage, or being stranded abroad if the travel company fails. Agents who sell hajj and umrah air travel packages must demonstrate to you that they have an ATOL by issuing a copy of a certificate which proves that the protection is in place.

Our advice is to always:

What documents are required for hajj?

Four photographs, passport-sized, with the traveller’s name written on the back of each one. Note - women should ensure that they have their hair covered.

A passport that will still be valid 6 months after the travel date. Note - non-British passport holders must be resident in the UK.

As with any other type of travel, it’s important to arrange for any necessary pre-travel vaccinations, and to ensure travel insurance is in place before embarking.

Always double-check which documents and vaccinations are required by asking your tour operator at the time of booking, as requirements can change from time to time, based on the introduction of new rules and regulations.

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