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14 October 2014
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Aerial view of Mecca lit up at night

Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. It is the pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. Hajj takes place in the twelth month of the Islamic calendar and every Muslim who is physically and financially able must perform this pilgimage at least once in their lifetime. It is a rigorous journey - a reminder of the purpose of life and man's ultimate end.

Before going on pilgrimage, Muslims are recommended to discharge all debts, seek the forgiveness of anyone they have upset and re-establish good relations with all. Muslims believe that if their pilgrimage is accepted, all of their sins are washed away.

Photo © Peter Sanders

Three men sitting down dressed in Ihram

Meeqat and Ihram
The Meeqat is an imaginary boundary outside Mecca. It is a place where intentions regarding pilgrimage are purified and pilgrims enter into a state of Ihram. Ihram is the changing of the mental state to that which is most sacred. Pilgrims prepare to communicate with God in what is believed to be the world's most sacred ground.

All men wear the same clothing: two sheets of plain white, unhemmed cotton. This dress is a mark of equality between all humans. It is also a reminder of the shroud Muslims wear in death. For the sake of modesty, women do not have to conform to this dress and may wear any modest clothing and may not cover their face.

Photo © Peter Sanders

People walking around the Kaaba

Pilgrims first travel to the Kaaba and perform what is called 'the lesser pilgrimage'. They walk around the Kaaba seven times, praising God. Pilgrims then drink from the Zam Zam well. This well is believed to be the one Ishmael and Hagar, son and wife of Prophet Abraham, drank from when they were left in the area.

Pilgrims then walk between two mountains called Safa and Marwa, which are a distance of around 500 yards apart, seven times. This is again in remembrance of Hagar, who searched between these mountains looking for water for Ishmael, before the Zam Zam water was found.

Photo © Faraz Mir

Large area of land covered with white topped marquee tents for miles

Before and after the main Hajj, pilgrims stay in hotels. After the lesser pilgrimage, pilgrims return to their hotels. On the 8th day of the month, they remake their intentions and repeat their Ihram for the main pilgrimage.

Pilgrims travel to Mina. This a large area of land a few kilometres away from the Kaaba and is completely tented. Mina is a preparation for the following day. Pilgrims stay in tents, each of which is big enough for about 100 people. The day of Mina is a feast day. Pilgrims meet Muslims from all around the world and spend their time making friends, as well as reciting the Qur'an and remembering God.

Photo © Peter Sanders

Mountain on the plain of Arafat where dozens of people  dressed in white sit in contemplation and prayer

At dawn, pilgrims then make their way to the plain of Arafat. Arafat is the most important part of the Hajj. It is a reminder of the Day of Judgement, where Muslims believe mankind will stand on a similar plain, in scorching heat, waiting for judgement. It is also a reminder of another scene on the Day of Judgement. All humans will be grouped together with those of similar belief, just as those in Hajj often group together according to country, city and language.

Muslims spend the entire day in Arafat, praying to God and thinking over the purpose of their lives. It is an extremely emotional time.

Photo © Peter Sanders

Plain of Muzdalifah at night

After the evening prayers, pilgrims make their way to Muzdalifah, another massive plain. Three million pilgrims spend the night here, under the stars, with no tents or other covering. People stay close to their groups and their guides so they do not become lost in the multitudes of people. Hajj is one of the best examples of how humans regardless of race, sex, language or status, can live without discrimination.

The process of the pilgrimage was carried out by the Prophet Muhammad in remembrance of Prophet Abraham. Muhammad performed Hajj only once in his lifetime, despite living in the city.

Photo © Faraz Mir

Pilgrims crowding around the Jamaraat throwing pebbles

The day after Arafat is Eid for the rest of the Muslim world. Pilgrims do not celebrate Eid in the normal way, however, as they have yet to complete the rites of Hajj.

After leaving Muzdalifah, pilgrims make their way over to the Jamaraat. The Jamaraat are three tall, stone pillars which represent Satan. The pillars remind pilgrims of the three temptations that were presented to Abraham as he was getting ready to sacrifice his son. Just as Abraham resisted the temptations, pilgrims symbolically reject Satan and all of life's temptations, by throwing pebbles at the pillars.

Photo © Peter Sanders

Crowd of people waiting for the Qurbani meat

On the day of Eid, Muslims must distribute what is known as Qurbani. This is the slaughter of an animal, which is then given to the poor of the community on Eid day. This is done all over the world.

Pilgrims traditionally oversaw the sacrifice of their animals themselves, but there are now too many people to do this efficiently. Therefore, Muslims buy vouchers which guarantee that an animal will be sacrificed for them. After the pilgrims have left the Jamaraat, the animal will already have been sacrificed on their behalf and the meat given to the poor.

A man with a shaved head shaving another man's head

Once the pilgrim has completed the Jamaraat rite, they cut or shave their hair and in doing so leave the state of Ihram physically. It is recommended that men shave their heads completely, but women need only cut a lock of hair. This is symbolic of being reborn and cleansing the body as well as soul. Pilgrims may now wear normal clothes and wear scent, which they were not allowed to do in the natural state of Ihram.

The next two or three nights will be spent at Mina, on each day of which pilgrims will return to the Jamaraat and throw pebbles at the pillars. The time is also spent in praying, reading the Qur'an and contemplating.

Photo © Peter Sanders

Pictorial map of the hajj route

Farewell Tawaaf
The final act of Hajj is the farewell Tawaaf. Tawaaf is the Arabic word for the circling of the Kaaba seven times. After this, the Hajj is complete. Many people then visit the city of Medina, which became Muhammad's home city.

The Hajj is an act of remembrance of the footsteps of the Prophet Abraham who is revered in Islam. Abraham is regarded as the Father of the Prophets, from whose lineage came Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Both Mecca and Medina are extremely sacred lands for Muslims, because of their association with Abraham and Muhammad. It is also a reminder of death, and therefore the purpose of life.

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