For Muslims it is a duty to go on pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) at least once in their lifetime, as long as they are physically able and can afford it.
The pilgrimage to Makkah is called Hajj and is the fifth Pillar of Islam. Muslims try to go to Makkah during Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.
Muslims must follow a number of important rituals whilst on Hajj:
Ihram relates to the state of purity and equality before God (Allah) which Muslims enter before going on Hajj. To symbolise this state, male pilgrims wear two lengths of white cloth whilst on Hajj; female pilgrims wear ordinary clothes, but must keep their faces uncovered. These clothes may be kept by the pilgrim and at their death used to wrap their body for burial.
On the first day of the Hajj, pilgrims walk around the Ka'bah seven times in an anti-clockwise direction while repeating prayers. This is called Tawaf. Thousands of people do this at the same time and only a few are able to touch or kiss the Black Stone, embedded in one corner of the Ka'bah. If a pilgrim isn't able to touch the Black Stone, they hold up their hand to it as they pass.
Walking around the Ka'bah with thousands of others represents the Muslim belief in the equality of all Muslims. Muslims are recommended to complete a second Tawaf at the end of their pilgrimage.
Muslims believe that Ismail struck his foot on the ground and this caused a spring of water to gush out of the ground. This spring is called Zamzam, and pilgrims today frequently take its water with them when they return home.
Pilgrims travel from Makkah to Mina to spend the first night of the Hajj. The next morning they travel on to the plain of Arafat, where they stand on or near the Mount of Mercy from noon until dusk, praising Allah. This is the climax of the Hajj, and Muslims believe that this rite represents what it will be like on the Day of Judgement when all of humanity will be judged by Allah according to their actions.
Pilgrims spend the second night at Muzdalifah, where they collect small stones to use on the third day when they return to Mina. They throw these stones at three pillars called Jamarat, which represent the Devil.
Muslims believe that the Devil tried three times to persuade Ibrahim to disobey Allah when he ordered Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail. Muslims also make promises to fight the devil themselves and to strive against temptation.
At the end of the pilgrimage, Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid ul-Adha. This festival reminds them of Ibrahim's obedience when he was told by Allah to sacrifice his son, Ismail. Muslims may sacrifice a sheep or a goat to symbolise the lamb provided by Allah for Ibrahim to sacrifice in place of Ismail.