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What is the Hajj?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam for Sunni Muslims and is one of ten branches of religion as prescribed by Shiite Muslims. It requires that all able-bodied Muslims with the financial ability to do so, make, at least once in their lives, a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajj must be completed during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, called Dhu al-Hijjah. For the many Muslims who make the Hajj, it is an extremely spiritual time, since one walks in the footsteps of Muhammad and performs rituals that duplicate parts of Muhammad’s journey on earth.

Men may make the Hajj alone, or in the company of friends and family. Women who travel alone while making the Hajj often must have permission from a male family member for the journey. Women are further encouraged to travel with a family member, or may be permitted to make the Hajj with an exclusively female group.

All pilgrims who make the Hajj wear a simple white garment and sandals. Women may wear a simple white or black dress, but most men dress in an unhemmed wrapped garment called the Ihram. The Ihram, being worn by all signifies the equality of all people making the Hajj, and stands for one’s sins being wiped clean by the Hajj.

The first step after changing into the Ihram and saying a prayer praising Allah is to complete the Umrah. This begins in Mecca with all pilgrims circling the Ka’aba, a great black stone in the center of Mecca that was set there by Mohammed. Many people then walk between the hills of Safa and Mawah seven times.

Once the Umrah is completed, pilgrims making the Hajj spend a day in Arafat in prayer that lasts until sunset. Next, they progress to Muzdalifah where they will collect 21 pebbles for use in a ritual stoning at three places that represent Satan.

After spending the night in Muzdalifah, those making the Hajj go to Mina where they must spend two days. On the first day, an animal is sacrificed. Many people simply purchase a voucher for the sacrifice of an animal. Part of the animal must be given to the poor. The next day, pilgrims throw the pebbles at three defined stations to metaphorically reject and defeat Satan.

Once the two days in Mina are finished, pilgrims return to Mecca, where they remove the Ihram and dress in regular clothes. Most men shave their heads and women must cut off an inch of their hair. This completes the Hajj, although some may also make the trip to Medina to visit the tomb of the prophet Mohammad and the seat or locus point of Islam’s rise to power.

The Hajj can be challenging to make, and some people have occasionally been hurt in the process. In particular the walk between the hills and the ritual stonings have resulted in people being trampled or injured. Yet, this religious exercise is to most Muslims one of the greatest life works they will achieve. It offers spiritual renewal, jihad, and the fulfillment of a promise to Allah, who has made specific how Muslims must live their lives through the prophet Muhammad.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon290190 — On Sep 07, 2012

Is there an abbreviation for Hajj?

By anon251971 — On Mar 03, 2012

I am learning about the hajj in lessons at school. I wasn't that into it but I am now. I want to learn more.

By fify — On Mar 30, 2011

@ysmina--I haven't completed the hajj yet either, but I can help answer because I have some hajjis in my family, most recently my aunt.

When a Muslim completes the pilgrimage, he or she is given the title of "Hajji." This literally means someone who has completed the hajj pilgrimage. So that is why you are seeing that title in people's names.

Muslims don't have to follow any specific practices after becoming a Hajji, because all Muslims are already supposed to complete their duties and prayers, dress and act modestly and so forth. But you may see women who didn't used to cover their head before, covering after the Hajj, for example.

Mostly, a Hajji is usually less worried about material wealth and worldly affairs. They should be a good example for other Muslims who have not completed their Hajj. So they should not forget their prayers, fasting and proper behavior. Many Hajjis read and recite the Qur'an regularly and are leaders in their community and an example to other Muslims.

By ysmina — On Mar 28, 2011

I keep running into Arabic names that start out with "Haji" or "Hajji." Does this have anything to do with Hajj?

Also, I'm curious to know, do Muslims' life change after completing the Hajj? I mean, do they have to wear special clothes, or follow certain practices and so forth?

It really sounds like a life-changing experience so I would imagine that there would be some changes afterward, even if it was just a change in one's outlook to life, right? I would love to hear from people who have completed the hajj.

By bear78 — On Mar 25, 2011

Every Muslim hopes to complete the hajj one day. It's not always so easy because it costs a considerable amount of money and requires good health to complete it. Most people I know complete the hajj when they are older, both because people tend to have made enough money by that time. I think they also complete it when they are older because they feel more religious and spiritual when older. They might have passed the major events of life like marriage, career, children and might start thinking about death and the afterlife. This is my understanding of it anyway.

But being an elder might make the pilgrimage difficult for people with health problems. Many elders take a daughter, son, relative or neighbor with them in case they need assistance during the pilgrimage. That's why I hope that I can have enough money to complete the hajj before I am much older.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a CulturalWorld.org contributor, Tricia...
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