One of the largest annual gatherings, the pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca, will be off-limits to most of the world’s Muslims this year due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
In normal years, some 2.5 million of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims travel to Mecca to perform the hajj. This year only around 1,000 people will attend Hajj, but those allowed to go are already residing in Saudi Arabia as the country’s borders remain closed due to Covid-19.
The hajj will start on July 28 and end on August 2. The five day pilgrimage to Mecca is mandatory for all Muslims, who are both financially and physically able, to complete the hajj once in their lifetime.
What is the hajj?
The hajj is a pillar of Islam, along with the declaration of faith, praying five times a day, giving charity, and fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
During hajj, millions go to the tent city of Mina, then travel to Mount Arafat, the Grand Mosque of Mecca, and other locations. Pilgrims wear special white garments called Ihram.
All pilgrims perform a series of rituals, which represent worship of God and unity amongst all other believers. On the completion of hajj, pilgrims as well as other Muslims from around the world celebrate Eid-ul-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice.
In calling Muslims to perform the hajj, the Qur’an says, ‘Then let them accomplish their needful acts of cleansing, and fulfill their vows, and go around the Ancient House” (22:30).
This Qur’anic verse tells Muslims to start the hajj by circumambulating the "Ancient House," the black, cube-shaped house of God, called the Kaaba. Muslims believe that this structure was first built by Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) and was rebuilt by Prophet Abraham (peace be on him) and his son Prophet Ishmael (peace be on him). God had instructed them to purify this house and circumambulate it. To this day Muslims follow this ritual by going around the Kaaba counterclockwise seven times at both the beginning and the end of the hajj.
The Importance of Hajj
The hajj is not a physical journey that a pilgrim embarks upon just to fulfill an obligation. To Muslims, behind every ritual there is a deep wisdom and philosophy. For instance, there is a ritual in hajj, where pilgrims throw small pebbles at three large pillars, called Jamarat. Although this ritual may seem silly from the outside, the three pillars represent the stages of human life: life in the material world, the stage after death, and the afterlife. Throwing pebbles at each pillar symbolises that the pilgrim is removing Satan in this life, will remain pure of Satan in the stage after death, and enter a stage in which he is completely free from Satan in the afterlife.
Throughout each ritual, the hajj is meant to be a means of reforming one’s soul and establishing a steadfast relationship with not only God, but mankind as well. Thus if a pilgrim only satisfies the outward display of hajj yet fails to fulfill the true objectives, he will have simply succeeded in achieving nothing more, but embarking upon a long, exhausting, and expensive journey. The underlying spirit and philosophy within the landmarks and actions carried out by a Muslim pilgrim are the true essence of the hajj.