The first 10 days of Zul-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, are considered the most important days of the year. The tenth day of this month is celebrated as Eid-ul-Adha. These are the days when millions of Muslims around the world choose to embark on the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Among the many lucky enough to embark on the pilgrimage is Abdul Rashid from Budgam district in central Kashmir, who is taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage for the first time.
“It’s a mixed emotion in the sense that you would be away from your loved ones on the day of Eid, but at the same time it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to perform rituals that allow you to revisit primordial time and to understand the sacrifices that Prophet Ibrahim (as) and his son made to please the Almighty,” he said.
Rashid said Hajj, the annual pilgrimage, is the trip of a lifetime. “It comes with its own challenges and for people in the colder regions, the heat would be extremely difficult because right now temperatures are hovering around 47-48 degrees in Makkah,” he said.
On the other hand, he said technological interventions in the form of apps like Eatmarna allow pilgrims to book time slots to perform Ziyarah in both Medina and Makkah.
“Smart ID cards allow authorities to locate pilgrims who might get lost during the world’s greatest religious event – the Hajj,” he said.
Performing Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Anyone who declares himself to be a Muslim must perform this ritual act, or at least intend to do so once in his life.
Narbal’s Syed Said-Ud-Din, who went on the pilgrimage in 2019 with his wife, said Hajj is a deeply profound experience and a spiritual journey.
“As we boarded the plane, I realized everyone was dressed as if we were men in white uniforms and women in suits,” he said.
“When we boarded, the captain of our plane greeted us with greetings and prayers. He told us how honored he felt to fly a plane full of pilgrims ready to fulfill a commandment from God,” he said.
Muslims who return home after their Hajj feel a renewed faith and connection to Allah. People honor the return of the Haji (a person who performs Hajj) and celebrate with parties and gifts. “For me, it has been two years of my Hajj. But it’s as fresh as yesterday. Hajj is still alive in my heart as if no time has passed,” he said.
He said Hajj is the witness of almost all pilgrims when they return home, it lives in them forever.
“My advice to those who want to perform Hajj is to prepare your mind and soul for Hajj. If you are young and able-bodied, perform Hajj before you get old because you will need physical and mental strength to perform Hajj,” did he declare.
Mohammad Shafi, who made a holy pilgrimage two years ago, said that for the rest of the year the city, roads and infrastructure built to accommodate pilgrims remain mostly empty.
“There is also extensive security in place to monitor every aspect of the hajj to maintain order and security, but also to ensure that proper Islamic protocol is followed by all participants. Every year the Saudis have deployed tens of thousands of security forces to control crowds and help ensure the safety of pilgrims,” he said.
Shafi said it was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. The most memorable was a march from Mina’s camp to Jamrahtul Aqabah (the place of stoning).
“We walked 4 km with thousands of people from different places all over the world in one direction and reciting all praises to Allah. The experience and the view were unforgettable,” he said.
The hajj (Arabic word for pilgrimage) is a five-day religious pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby holy sites in Saudi Arabia that physically and financially capable Muslims are obligated to perform once in their lifetime.
Hajj is performed between the eighth and 13th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the five pillars of Islam.
During the five days of the hajj, pilgrims perform a series of rituals intended to symbolize their unity with other believers and to affirm the unity of God. On the last three days of the hajj, pilgrims along with all other Muslims around the world celebrate Eid-al-Azha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.
Zamzam water is considered holy water by Muslims. The source of this water is the Zamzam well which is located in Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The history of Zamzam water is as interesting as its benefits, and both again emphasize its religious significance.
It is one of the most enduring miracles in Islam, representing God’s mercy. The well of Zamzam first sprang up 5,000 years ago under the feet of Prophet Ishmael (AS) after his mother Hajirah (AS), the second wife of Prophet Ibrahim (AS), ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah in search of water to save her thirsty son.
Pilgrims are always keen to drink from the well and carry bottles filled with water back to their home country, as it is believed to be a natural source of healing for the sick.
Measures taken while performing Hajj
Enter ihram: The very first rite of Hajj is to enter ihram – the sacred state of a pilgrim – when crossing the outer limits of Makkah, called Miqat. On 8 Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims enter ihram, which involves wearing simple clothes – two unsewn cloths for men or loose clothing for women – as well as following certain rules.
Head to Mina: Pilgrims then head out in droves from Mecca to the sprawling tent city of Mina, either on foot along the pilgrimage paths or by bus and car. It is an 8 km journey. Pilgrims will spend the day in Mina, not leaving until dawn the following morning. Most of the time in Mina is spent in prayer and remembrance of Allah.
Spend the Day on Arafat: Arafat Day is considered one of the most important days, not only of Hajj, but of the Islamic calendar. The “Mount of Mercy” in Arafat was the scene of the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). After traveling 14.4 km from Mina, pilgrims spend the day here in respectful prayer. Elsewhere in the world, many Muslims choose to fast on this day.
Pick up pebbles at Muzdalifah: After the sun sets, it’s time to move on again, this time to Muzdalifah – a 9km journey – where they spend the night under the stars. Many will also begin picking up pebbles here for the next day’s rites, leaving just before sunrise.
Throw stones at the pillars: For those performing the Hajj, the day is known as yawm-ul hajj al-akbar (The great day of the hajj) and is probably the longest day of the pilgrimage, and the most dangerous.
Pilgrims start the day at Muzdalifah and start returning to Mina before dawn. Once in Mina, they perform the first rummy, throwing seven pebbles at the tallest of the three columns known as the Jamarat. This act is a symbolic stoning of the devil, based on historical tradition.
Last days in Mina: Each day they will again symbolically stone the devil – this time by throwing seven pebbles at each of the three pillars. With the hardest part behind them, the pilgrims will now spend the next two or three days in Mina.
Run between Safa and Marwah: After quenching the thirst with Zamzam, crossing the court of Kabah in fear, kiss Hajr-i-Aswad or simply gesture with your hands, move towards the hillock of Safa (which today is only a rock adjacent to Masjid-i -Haram.
Sacrifice: After completing the stoning, you must sacrifice yourself. After sacrificing an animal (which can be accomplished using a voucher), pilgrims must then shave or cut off their heads (if male) or cut off the ends of their hair (if female). A celebration of the world festival of Eid-al-Adha takes place next.
Another important aspect of the pilgrimage is the journey to Medina where pilgrims must stay for 8 days and perform a total of 40 prayers (namaz). It can be done at the beginning of the journey before the Hajj or after performing the Hajj, at the end of the journey.
So, before leaving Makkah, either for Madinah or returning home, pilgrims are also supposed to perform the last Tawaf (circling Makkah) called Tawaf al-Wadaa to say goodbye to the holy place.
Saudi Arabia has dedicated two airports – King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina for the catering of pilgrims. Depending on the route, further transport is by bus or on foot.
While in the city of Makkah, there are many places in Makkah and Madinah worth visiting. These include Masjid-Al Haram, Jabal al-Nour, Mount Arafat, Jannat-al-Mu’alla, Masjid-e-Ayesha, Maktaba Makkah-al-Mukarramah, City of Mina, Masjid-e-Nabawi, Masjid- al-Quba, Mount Uhud, Dar Al-Madinah Museum, Masjid al-Qiblatayn.