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Hajj and Umrah

Hajj is a sacred pilgrimage, performed annually by Muslims, to Masjid al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque erected by Prophet Abraham) in Mecca. It is the 5th pillar of Islam and is expected to be completed once in a Muslim’s lifetime.

The importance of Hajj is not limited to it being an opportunity to seek forgiveness for past sins but it allows believers to connect to Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through the rituals of Hajj. The Hajj pilgrimage also brings together the global Muslim community from all corners of the world, synchronized in a profound ritual before the One God as a single family despite their differences in race, ethnicity, and ages.

Hajj takes place in and around the holy city of Mecca, located in present day Saudi Arabia. Some of the Hajj rites take place at the Ka’bah (the epicenter of Ancient Mosque built by Prophet Abraham), others at the nearby hills of Safa and Marwa (where Hagar sought drinking water for her child), and others outside the mosque at Mina, Muzdalifa, and Mount Arafah.

Hajj occurs during the first 13 days of the month of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th or last month of the Islamic (lunar) Calendar with the rituals starting primarily on the 8th day of Dhul-Hijjah.  Some scholars hold that the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah are last the final 10 days of Prophet Moses’ 40 night repose with God at Mount Sinai, wherein Allah communicated with him directly and gave him the 10 commandments.

Hajj typically lasts 5-6 days, starting on the 8th or 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic (lunar) Calendar, and ending on the 12th or 13th day of Dhul-Hijjah.

Hajj is required by all physically and financially able Muslims. It is required to be performed once in a Muslim’s lifetime.

Hajj is comprised of 6 main rituals –  Ihram, Arafat, Jamarat, Udhiya, Sa’i, and Tawaf – and the following steps:

1) Go into a state of Ihram (the sacramental state of a Hajj-goer) and make your intention to perform Hajj.

2) Proceed to the city of Mina, where the day is spent in prayer and the remembrance of God.

3) From Mina, head to the city of Arafat, where the day is spent in prayer. Many Muslims who are not performing Hajj choose to fast on this day.

4) After sunset, proceed to Muzdalifa where many will collect pebbles for Jamarat.

5) Depart Muzdalifa before sunrise to Mina for Jamarat—the throwing of seven stones at three specific columns. This symbolizes one’s resistance to the devil.  

6) After Jamarat, pilgrims will perform the Udhiya, which is the humane slaughter of a sacrificial animal whose meat is mostly distributed to the poor.

7) Men will trim or shave their heads and women will trim a finger length of their hair.

8) Pilgrims will then proceed to the Ka’bah to perform Tawaf, circling around the Ka’bah seven times in devotion to God and/or pacing between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times.

9) When complete, the pilgrims will then return to Mina to repeat the Jamarat ritual and then return back to Mecca and perform the Farewell Tawaf.

While they share some of the same rituals, Hajj and Umrah are not the same. The importance and reward of Hajj is bigger than that of Umrah, but it can only be performed during a specific time of the year, and it involves  significantly more steps. Umrah can be performed anytime during the year, and only requires four of the rituals performed during Hajj—Ihram, Tawaf, Sa’i and Taqsir.

Umrah in Arabic means “to visit a populated place.” It is a shorter version of Hajj, and is also known as the “lesser pilgrimage.” Umrah can be performed anytime during the year. Many people perform Umrah multiple times, each with the intention of connecting with God and seeking forgiveness for past sins.

Umrah is performed at Masjid al-Haram in the holy city of Makkah (Mecca). 

Umrah consists of four main rituals: Ihram, Tawaf, Sa’i and Taqsir. These are the steps to follow when performing these rituals during Umrah.

1) Prepare for Ihram (the sacramental state) by bathing and donning the Ihram garments before entering the Miqat (the boundary at which pilgrims must be in the state of Ihram). 

2) Enter the state of Ihram by making an intention to perform Umrah and reciting the Talbiyah (a statement declaring the oneness of God and the intention to perform the pilgrimage in order to please God). 

3) Enter Masjid Al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque) and perform Tawaf by circling around the Ka’bah seven times in a counter-clockwise direction, starting from the Black Stone and ending at ​​Maqam al-Ibrahim (the Station of Abraham) with two cycles of prayer, followed by drinking one’s fill of water from the well of Zamzam. It’s recommended to drink a large amount to maximize the blessings from that sacred well.

4) Move towards Mount Safa to begin the Sa’i, then walk between the two hills of Mount Safa and Mount Marwa. Repeat this walk seven times.

5) Once Sa’i is complete, pilgrims complete their Umrah by shaving their heads (only men) or shortening their hair (men and women).

The Ka’bah (Kaaba) is the original house of worship on Earth, an ancient structure built by God’s command to serve as a symbol of monotheism throughout the ages. God says,

Surely the first House ˹of worship˺ established for humanity is the one at Bakkah (i.e., Makkah)—a blessed sanctuary and a guide for ˹all˺ people. 

[Qur’an, 3:96]

Today, along with serving as the epicenter of the Hajj rites, the Ka’bah is also the universal center for the global body of Muslims. It is the direction that every believer faces in their daily worship of God.

The Qur’an clearly establishes that Prophet Abraham (pbuh) erected the pillars of this Ancient House of worship, along with his son, Ishmael (pbuh). Allah says,

And ˹remember˺ when Abraham raised the foundation of the House with Ishmael, ˹both praying,˺ “Our Lord! Accept ˹this˺ from us. You are indeed the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

[Qur’an, 2:127]

Scholars debate, however, over whether this verse meant he was the first to establish the Ka’bah, or if “erected its pillars” meant restoring it following a command from God. The latter position then opens the door for the possibility of the angels first building the Ka’bah in preparation for the arrival of humanity, or Adam (as) doing so in preparation for the monotheists among his descendants.

The Ka’bah is located in the center of the Holy Mosque, Masjid Al-Haram, in the city of Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia.

The Ka’bah is important because it represents the ‘House of God’ on Earth (although it is not believed that God “lives” there). It is also the direction that Muslims around the world face when performing the five daily prayers, which represents the unity of Muslims in the worship of the One True God—the Lord of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all other prophets.

Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), or Abraham, was a prophet and messenger of God. He is an important figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In Islam, he is known for his refusal to worship idols at a time where people practised idolatry, instead choosing to worship the One God, the Creator of the heavens and earth. It was Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) who raised the pillars of the Ka’bah together with the help of his son, Prophet Ishmael (pbuh). He is known as the father of nations because of his prayer for his descendents to inherit the message of monotheism.

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