Hajj 2023: ‘Biggest’ Haj pilgrimage in history begins in Saudi Arabia

One of the ‘Five Pillars’ (5 Fundamentals) of Islam, ‘Hajj’ is the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims around the world to the holy city of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. According to a report, this week more than 2.5 million Muslims will participate in the Haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. ‘This year, we will see the biggest Hajj pilgrimage in history,’ an official from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah told Al Jazeera. This time the Haj will begin on June 26 and end on July 1.

Hajj, one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, is returning to full capacity after years of pandemic-induced restrictions. Every Muslim – who is physically and financially able – is required to perform Hajj at least once in his lifetime. It is believed that its purpose is to wash away sins and bring Hajis (pilgrims) closer to Khuda (God/Allah). Let’s understand, five things to know related to Hajj-

When does Hajj happen?

Hajj is performed every year between the 8th and 13th of Zu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Muslim calendar. Since it is a lunisolar calendar (based on moon dates) the year is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year (current calendar). This is the reason why the Gregorian date for Hajj varies from year to year. Every year Hajj comes about 10 or 11 days earlier than the previous year. Indeed, the Hajj season falls twice a Gregorian year, approximately once every 33 years. The last time this happened was in 2006.

What is the story behind Hajj?

The story of Hajj is related to Mecca, an important princely state of Islam. Hajj is a holy pilgrimage that is performed annually by the people of the Muslim community.

The literal meaning of Hajj is ‘to leave for some place’. According to the Holy Quran, this pilgrimage (Hajj) can be traced back to Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in Judeo-Christian scriptures) about 4000 years ago. When Allah ordered Ibrahim to build the House of God in Mecca (believed to be at the current location of the Kaaba), Ibrahim started the tradition of making Hajj (pilgrimage) to this House of God.

However, over the centuries, Ibrahim’s pure monotheism was gradually ‘weakened and discredited’, with pagan beliefs and idolatry making way for the Kaaba as well as the pilgrimage associated with it.

By the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth (around 570 AD), the “old religion” had been largely forgotten. Thus, in 630 AD, when Muhammad and his followers succeeded in conquering Mecca, they destroyed all the pagan idols and re-established the holy site.

In 632, the year of his death, the Prophet Muhammad completed his first and only pilgrimage to the Kaaba. Muhammad Sa. known as the ‘farewell pilgrimage’. It laid down the rules and rites for the Hajj as it is known and followed today.

It can be directly said that the current form of the Haj pilgrimage was started by Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), the originator of Islam.

What happens during the Haj pilgrimage?

The Hajj consists of a series of rituals (ritual rituals) performed in and around Mecca over five to six days. The Hajj begins in the city of Mecca, where Islam’s holiest mosque, the Kaaba Sharif, is located. The Kaaba Sharif is a curved stone building, which was established by Abraham (Ibrahim) and his son Ismail.

Upon approaching Mecca, the pilgrims enter a state of spiritual purity and put on a garment called Ihram. It marks the beginning of their pilgrimage by giving up material possessions, renouncing worldly pleasures and focusing on the inner self. Every Haj pilgrim wears Ihram (white clothing) and gives up cosmetics and perfumes i.e. any kind of make-up/scent etc.

The first day of the pilgrimage begins with the ritual of Tawaf in which the pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba in Mecca seven times anti clockwise while offering prayers. Then they perform said – repeating Hajra’s search for water for her son, Ismail, according to Islamic tradition. These two activities take place inside the Grand Mosque of Mecca (the largest in the world), which includes the Kaaba and the hills of Safa and Marwa.

The next day, pilgrims head to Mount Arafat, about 20 km east of Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his last sermon. Thousands of people climb the hill called Jabal al-Rahma or the Mountain of Mercy, where the sermon was delivered, and ask Khuda (God) for forgiveness for their worldly sins. It is considered the spiritual pinnacle of pilgrimage.

At sunset, the pilgrims head 9 km west to Muzdalifah. Here they spend the night and collect pebbles for the next day’s Jamrah. The ritual sees hajj pilgrims symbolically stoning Satan in the Valley of Mina, where Muslims believe Ibrahim was tempted to ignore Allah’s command to sacrifice his son.

The Haj pilgrimage ends with a final circumambulation of the Kaaba and the Jamrah in Mina. , Men often shave their heads and women cut a tuft of hair, a sign of renewal. The last day of the Hajj also coincides with Eid al-Adha (Eidujjuha), which commemorates the test of the Prophet Ibrahim’s faith.

The main purpose of Hajj is to give a sense of strength and unity to the people of the religion of Islam. All Muslims come together to organize the holy pilgrimage of Hajj and they get a chance to follow shared religious ideals and cultures.

What is the present form of Hajj?

The Haj pilgrimage, which has been going on for centuries, today sees the largest annual gathering of pilgrims around the world. This makes it a massive logistical operation. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in charge of organizing facilities for the pilgrimage. Over the years, Saudi authorities have spent billions of rupees to improve infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of Hajj pilgrims.

However, the number of Haj pilgrims is still controlled. Every year Saudi Arabia sets country-wise quotas which determine the total number of pilgrims that can travel from any country. While this is largely based on the size of the Muslim population in a country, it is also a matter of diplomatic importance.

The size of the allocation is often symbolic of the relationship shared between Saudi Arabia and the said country. This year, India has received a total allocation of 175,025 pilgrims, the largest in its history. Pilgrims often save for years to travel to Mecca and most travel with the help of travel agents who organize the entire trip including travel, accommodation and meals.

What is the importance of Hajj for Saudi Arabia?

For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, conducting the Haj pilgrimage is a source of both pride and legitimacy. Management of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, and thus control of the Hajj, gives the monarchy in Riyadh a legitimacy that is not found in any other country claiming to be the leader of the Islamic world, especially among Sunni Arabs.

In addition, Hajj is one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest money makers after oil exports. Given the huge number of Hajis who visit on an annual basis, it helps the country earn billions of dollars in revenue. According to some estimates, Hajj-related revenue in 2022 could exceed $150 billion.

Hajj has a special significance in Saudi Arabia because it is home to one of the holiest sites for Muslims, such as Mecca and Medina. Hajj holds religious, cultural, and economic significance for Saudi Arabia. Here are some important reasons why Hajj is considered important in Saudi Arabia –

The Sanctity of Mecca: Mecca is located in Saudi Arabia and is one of the holiest sites in Islam. Kaaba Sharif, which is worshipped by Muslim pilgrims during Hajj. This is the most important place of Islam. Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat Ismail established the Kaaba here as per the order of God. Therefore, for the people of Saudi Arabia, Hajj is directly related to the holiest site of Mecca.

Economic Importance: The Haj pilgrimage/event is economically important for Saudi Arabia. Millions of Muslim tourists visit Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season, which has a positive impact on the tourism industry and strategic activities. This provides a boost to hotels, restaurants, and clothing businesses, and this opportunity creates significant employment for local merchants.

Religious and Cultural Significance: Hajj holds religious and cultural significance for the Ummah-e-Muslima. Followers of the Islamic religion worship the Kaaba Sharif through Hajj, do Tawaf, and perform Wukuf in Arafat. It gives them a sense of self-realization, religious progress, and unity. Various economic, cultural, and religious activities are conducted during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, thereby becoming a symbol of cultural unity for the members of the Ummah-e-Muslimah.

For all these reasons, Hajj holds an important place in Saudi Arabia and holds economic, cultural and religious significance for the people here.

Five Pillars / Arkan of Islam (5 Fundamentals)

The foundation of Islam rests on five pillars.

  • Tawheed (Reciting Karma)
  • Performing Namaz
  • Fasting
  • Paying Zakat
  • Performing Hajj
(5 FundamentalsFastingFive Pillars / Arkan of IslamHajj 2023Hajj 2023: 'Biggest' Haj pilgrimage in history begins in Saudi ArabiaPaying ZakatPerforming HajjPerforming NamazSaudi ArabiaTawheed (Reciting Karma)What happens during the Haj pilgrimage?What is the importance of Hajj for Saudi Arabia?What is the present form of Hajj?What is the story behind Hajj?