When they arrive at certain points outside Makkah, pilgrims must enter the sacred state known as ihram. They have to make a conscience effort to attain purity, as the pilgrims dedicate themselves to worship, prayer and denial of vanity.
Male pilgrims wear two sheets of unsewn white cloth, one wrapped around the waist, the other over the left shoulder. Women wear a plain undecorated ankle-length, long-sleeved garment, leaving only their hands and faces bare. Women can uncover their faces if they normally cover them because no man should look at them with lust at this time.
These clothes symbolise three things: 1) equality 2) single-mindedness 3) self-sacrifice.
Ihram also reminds Muslims of death, when all 'disguises' of rank, wealth, and appearance are left behind.
A prayer called the talbiyah is uttered repeatedly by the pilgrims as they enter Makkah - the answer to the devout call to come.
On arrival in Makkah, the pilgrims go to the Ka'bah and encircle it seven times at a fast pace, running if possible, to symbolise love for God. This is called the tawaf.
As they arrive, the pilgrims call out 'Labbaika, Allahumma, Labbaika!' which means 'At Your command, our Lord, at Your command!' - the call of response to the call and dedicate their lives to God.
If the pilgrims can get near the Black Stone they will kiss or touch it, but if it is impossible because of the vast numbers, they shout and rise their arms in salute each time they go past. Prayers are said as they go round.
The next event is the sa'y, the procession seven times between Safa and Marwah in memory of Hajar's search. It symbolises patience and perseverance and can be quite an ordeal in the summer heat. Special provisions are made for people in wheelchairs or on stretchers.
The Ka'bah is known as Baitullah, the House of Allah. It is a plain cube-shaped building made of blocks and is not very pretty or striking to look at. Yet Muslims claim it is on the site of the oldest shrine to God on earth, built originally by the Adam, the first man. Later it was abandoned and broken down, but Ibrahim and Isma'il were shown the foundations and rebuilt it.
When the Prophet captured Makkah he broke up the idols of the 360 other 'gods' that had been placed there.
Nowadays only very rare visitors are allowed inside the Ka'bah to stand at the very centre and pray in all four directions. Inside the Ka'bah is very simply a room decorated with texts from the Qu'ran.
The Ka'bah is covered by a huge jet-black cloth known as the kiswah. There is a different one every year, because at the end of the Hajj it is cut up into pieces and given to pilgrims as momentoes of the greatest moment of their lives. Specially chosen men in a factory just outside Makkah usually sew the rim of gold lettering round the cloth.
The Black Stone
This is an oval boulder about 18 cm in diameter, set in the south-east corner of the Ka'bah, that marks the start of the walk encircling the shrine. It is encased in a silver frame and the pilgrims try to touch or kiss it. Pre-Islamic traditions suggest:
Isma'il dug it out the earth at a place indicated by the angel Jibril.
Jibril brought it from paradise and gave it to Adam.
It was given to the descendants of Nuh after the flood.
It certainly existed long before the Prophet's time and was mentioned by the writer Maximus of Tyre in 2 CE.
It is probably a meteorite, and therefore a symbol of that which comes to earth from heaven.
Marwah and Safa
These are two small hills, now enclosed under domes and joined by a walkway - the two hills between which Hajar frantically dashed when she tried to find water. Her actions symbolise the soul's desperate search for that which gives true life.
The angel showed Hajar a spring of water right by the place where she had laid the dying Isma'il. Tradition suggests that the water came from the place where his feet scoured the sand as he suffered his fever. Hajar called the well Zamzam and it symbolises the truth that when all seems lost, God is still present, with healing and life for the soul.
The Zamzam well is in the courtyard of the great Mosque in Makkah and pilgrims collect water from it to drink and take home. Many dip their white clothes in it and keep them for use at their burial.
This is the plain where the pilgrims erect a vast campsite. During Hajj the plain is dotted with little white tents in rows and squares as far as the eye can see - about two million people camp here.
Mount Arafat is the Mount of Mercy where God was said to have reunited Adam and Eve. The Stand is the most important part of Hajj.
Pilgrims camp overnight at Muzdalifah on their journey between Arafat and Makkah. Here they pick up pebbles to hurl at the pillars of Mina.
Here are the pillars, or Jamaras, which represent the places where Ibrahim and his family resisted the temptations and stoned the devil. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Pilgrimage has recently built a huge walkway to Mina.
The Stand before God
On 8 Dhul-Hijjah the pilgrims set off for Mina, and camp there for the rest of that day and the night. On 9 Dhul-Hijjah they head for Mount Arafat - a day's journey on foot. Many pilgrims now take modern transport straight to Arafatand and miss out Mina, because of sheer numbers involved.
On the plain of Arafat, at the Mount of Mercy, the pilgrims make their stand before God, the Wuquf. They stand from noon to sunset in the blistering heat, meditating and praying, and concentrating on God alone. Latecomers rush to be in time because if the stand is missed, the Hajj is not valid.
A stony climb leads to the top of Arafat and from there the sermon is delivered to people. They then all spend the night in the open in prayer and thankfulness. After this Muslims may go home from the Hajj. Muslims return to Mina via Muzdalifah, where they hold the night prayer and collect pebbles to 'stone the Devil'. The night of 10 Dhul-Hijjah is spent at Muzdalifah and as dawn approaches there is another mass stand before God then the pilgrims depart for Mina just as dawn breaks.
The remainder of the pilgrimage is called the unfurling.
When the pilgrims arrive at Mina, they hurl pebbles at the pillars to symbolise their rejection of the Devil and all his works.
Next, on 10 Dhul-Hijjah, the Feast of Sacrifice begins and the pilgrims all camp at Mina for two to three days of the feast. Every pilgrim must sacrifice an animal.
The Saudi authorities now organise the freezing and disposal of the carcasses because with about two million pilgrims it is impossible for the meat to be eaten immediately even if it is shared amongst the poor.
After the sacrifice, the men have their heads shaved and women cut off at least 2.5cm of their hair. Ihram ends at this point.
The pilgrims then return to Makkah for another encircling of the Ka'bah. The final events are enjoyed in holiday spirits and many go back to Mina for a period of rest and recovery.
Pilgrims finally return to Makkah for the farewell. Some take water from Zamzam and dip their white clothes in it. They drink as much water as possible, believing it can cure diseases and they take as much as they can carry back home to heir families. Some are given pieces of the Black Cloth as souvenirs.
They are at last entitled to take the name Hajji or Hajjah.
After the Hajj, most Muslims go to visit Madinah, to pay their respects at the Prophet's tomb. Muslims may see the grave of the prophet himself, and his companions Abu Bakr and Umar, and according to some traditions, a place reserved for Jesus after his second coming.
Mount Nur can be visited where the Prophet first saw the angel and Mount Thawr where he sheltered from the Quarish. Other places are the battle sites, and the Masjid at-Taqwa that is the mosque built when the Prophet entered Madinah
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