One of the five pillars of Islam is the pilgrimage of Haj. Muslims are required to make this pilgrimage if they are financially and physically able to do so. The word Haj, literally means, “to set out for a higher destination”. Haj is a set of rituals that takes place in and around Mecca each year in this month of Zil-haj, the last and 12th month of the Islamic calendar.
A whole chapter of the Quran is devoted to Haj and it warns of the Day of Judgment where each soul will have to account for its deeds. Haj is a spiritual awakening where pilgrims renew their covenant with Allah. It is intended to make one move away from the involvement of this world to an engagement with the almighty.
The two unstitched pieces of white cloth that men wear during the Haj, strips them of clothes that could reveal worldly status. This ihram, that male pilgrims wear resembles the shroud are wrapped up in before being lowered into their graves, a reminder of death and the afterlife. It is almost like a rehearsal for the Day of Judgment, where pilgrims leave the comforts of their home, and a sea of humanity from different countries and backgrounds come together on a desert land.
Haj has always been looked upon as a kind of death, because the Quran repeatedly mentions death as the meeting with God, and the Kaaba in Mecca is the house of God.
According to Islamic traditions, the Kaaba, a black cube like structure in Mecca was built by Adam. It was then destroyed in the flood during the time of Noah and later rebuilt by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael. An important ritual of Haj is running seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa near the Kaaba. In this running, pilgrims are following the footsteps of Hajar, Abraham’s wife and mother of Ishmael, his first-born son.
The festival of Id al-Azha, the “celebration of sacrifice”, marks the culmination of the Haj pilgrimage, when millions of Muslims throughout the world join the pilgrims in their joy of completing the pilgrimage.