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Turning towards Mecca

The Hajj is the pilgrimage made to Mecca, Saudi Arabia by Muslims. In the most optimal conditions, it is done during the last lunar month of the year (Dhu-al-Hijjah),[note 1] currently falling in October, November or December of the Western year. This is a time when God's spirit is considered closest to earth.

The Pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and is required of any able-bodied male at least once in his life. Like the other 4 pillars, the pilgrimage is considered a way to unify all Muslims through common experiences. Although the poor are exempt, many still spend years of their savings on the long and expensive journey. Substandard housing may be the only kind available to the large influx of travelers.[1]

Ritual aspects[edit]

Once in Mecca, there are several religious stops each pilgrim tries to make. The single most significant is the Kaaba; however, they also visit Mount Arafat, the Zamzam (زمزم) well, and symbolically throw stones at the Devil at the jamarat of Mecca, walls whose current sole purpose is to have pebbles thrown at them.

Traditionally, only men were required to make this pilgrimage, though women were allowed to. But as women have become more active in their faith over the last centuries, most Muslim women consider it to be as important to them as to the men. Occasionally, the hajj will make the news, because Saudi crowd controls haven't been updated in a very long time, and stampedes are not uncommon.

Those who have completed the hajj often add the honorific title "Hajji" (or some variant) to their name.

Mythic origins[edit]

Traditionally, the hajj is said to have begun when Ishmael and Abraham's wife[note 2] found themselves stranded in the desert. They prayed to Allah for aid, and the angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared at the now holy site to offer them food and created a fresh spring called Zamzam.[note 3]

Abraham is said to have then built a monument to Allah, the Kaaba. Pre-Islamic Semitic religions had pilgrimages there, and are thought to have started many of the various rituals now found in the Hajj.

Muslims claim that the modern Hajj itself and the associated rites are said to have begun when Muhammad mandated a boost to the tourist trade to an off-the-beaten-path resort run by his relatives followed the long traditional journey to honor these sacred sites in or around 650 CE.

Each year for those five days, the population of Mecca now swells to over 2.5 million people as the pilgrims follow their religious duty. It is one of the few times that all branches of Islam, and all Muslims from around the world, stand side-by-side as equals.


In 1987, about 400 pilgrims were killed during an authorized political demonstration in front of the Grand Mosque, the majority Iranian Shi'a pilgrims, who traditionally make up the largest single contingent from any single country.[2]

A series of stampedesWikipedia since 1990 have left tens to hundreds of pilgrims dead, mostly in the vicinity of the Stoning of the Devil ceremony. Despite stoning the Devil, Saudi Hajj Minister Iyad Madani said regarding the deaths in 2004, "All precautions were taken to prevent such an incident, but this is God's will."[3] In 2015, a new record for Hajj fatalities was set when a stampede claimed an estimated 1,849 lives.[4]

A 2004 study of 500 hajj pilgrims found that 10.8% had positive throat viral cultures, including influenza and parainfluenza. From this study, the authors estimated that there are an estimated 24,000 cases of influenza per hajj season.[5]

In the early twentieth century, the Hajj was also connected to the slave trade. Slavers would take children from families under the pretense of taking them on the Hajj. They would disguise victims as relatives, servants, and fellow pilgrims partaking the Hajj, and once they reached their destination, they would sell their victims off as slaves. Likewise, they would also marry women and then embark on the Hajj, selling them once they reached the kingdom containing Mecca.[6]:88-90


  1. Islam uses a lunar calendar of 354 or 355 days, and pays no heed to the sun or the seasons; so the dates of the pilgrimage change from year to year, eventually cycling through the whole solar year.
  2. It is worth noting this critical difference between Judaism and Islam, almost 4000 years ago. In Judaism, Hagar is Sarah's maid; in Islam, she is his first wife.
  3. An onomatopoeia for how a brook or spring bubbles up.


  1. http://www.businesspundit.com/15-religious-swindles-that-shame-the-holy-name/
  2. US Saudi Arabia Diplomatic and Political Cooperation Handbook, USA International Business Publications, 2007, p. 178.
  3. 244 pilgrims killed in stampede during devil stoning ritual
  4. 2015 Hajj stampede deadliest ever as foreign governments put toll at 1,849
  5. Influenza a common viral infection among Hajj pilgrims: time for routine surveillance and vaccination
  6. Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem by Suzanne Miers (2003) Rowman Altamira