The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage made by the Muslims to the holy city of Mecca. Mecca is considered to be the most holy city in Islam as it is the place where Muhammad was born and also the place where he made first revelation of the holy Quran.

It is a religious duty to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once for all the followers of Islam who are financially and physically capable of going on this journey and who can also provide for his family when he is away. Along with Salat, Shahadah, Swam and Zakat, it is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Hajj is the biggest annual gathering in the entire world and it is a demonstration of the Muslims of their submission to their God, Allah. The state of being financially and physically capable of undertaking the Hajj is called Istita’ah and Mustati is an individual who fulfils this condition. This pilgrimage takes place between the 8th and 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah which is the last month on Islamic calendar.

As Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the corresponding dates on the Georgian calendar vary from one year to another. Hajj is associated with the great Muslim prophet, Muhammad, around 7th century, however according to Islam the ritual of going on pilgrimage stretches back to the time of Abraham. During this, Muslims from all over the world join processions of thousands and thousands of people which finally come to a haul when the destination is reached which is none other than the city of Mecca.

During the week of Hajj, the Muslims gathered in Mecca and perform various rituals. Each of them walks counter-clockwise around Ka’aba seven times, drinks water from the Zamzam well, runs back and forth between Al-Marwah and Al-Safa hills, spends a night on the Muzdalifa plains, visits the plains of Arafat Mountain in order to stand in vigil and they also throw stones at three pillars which is supposed to be symbolic of stoning of devil.

After performing these rituals, the pilgrims shave their heads and carry out animal sacrifice to celebrate Eid al-Adha, which is a global Islamic festival. The Muslims can make a pilgrimage to Mecca at some other time of the year to perform all these rituals. This pilgrimage is called Umrah. However, even if an individual performs Umrah it is mandatory for him to perform Hajj at least once in his lifetime as Umrah is not a substitute of Hajj.

The Fiqh literature gives the details in which the rites of Hajj are to be carried out. The pilgrims usually take the help of expert guides and follow handbooks to perform the rituals successfully. While performing the rituals, the pilgrims not only follow the model set up by Muhammad but also remember events associated with Abraham.

The present day Hajj and its rituals were established by Muhammad; however Quran says that it dates back to the time of Abraham, which is around 2000BCE. According to Islam, God had ordered Abraham to leave his son, Ishmael, and his wife, Hagar, all alone in the desert of Mecca.

It is believed that Hagar desperately ran between the Marwah and Safa hills in search for water for seven times but couldn’t find any. As she returned to her kid in a state of despair, she found Ishmael scraping the surface of the ground with his foot and a water fountain spurted out from beneath his foot. Later on Abraham was instructed to construct the Kaaba and bid all the followers of Islam to perform pilgrimage at that place.

According to the holy Quran, the black stone was brought from heaven by Archangel Gabriel so that it could be attached to Kaaba. Back in the period of Jahiliyyah or the period of pre-Islamic Arabia, Kaaba was surrounded on all sides by Pagan dolls. However Muhammad escorted his followers in 630 CE, from Medina to Mecca, and destroyed all the Pagan dolls to cleanse Kaaba and then dedicate the building to Allah. Muhammad performed his last and the only pilgrimage in 632 CE with a large number of his followers and gave them instructions regarding the rites that are to be carried out during Hajj.

From that time, Hajj happened to be one of the five main pillars of Islam. In the middle ages, all the pilgrims from all over the world would gather in the cities of Egypt, Iraq and Syria, to travel to Mecca, in groups and caravans that consisted of around ten thousand pilgrims. Caravans with advent of Mamluk Sultanate and Ottoman Empire, which was its successor, were led by military forces and also had physicians as commanded by amir al-hajj.

It was done to guard the caravan against the Bedouin robbers and to make sure that the pilgrims received all the necessary provisions on their way to Mecca. Pilgrims like Ibn Battuta and Ibn Jubayr had written a detailed account of their experience of Hajj in the medieval period.

Hajj Timing-
The date of this holy pilgrimage depends upon the Islamic calendar which is called Hijri. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and it is shorter than the Georgian calendar by eleven days. Thus its date on the Georgian calendar varies from one year to another.

It spans over a 5 day period which starts on 8th and ends on 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth or the last month of Islamic calendar. Among the five days, the day of 9th Dhul-Hijjah is called Day of Arafah and it is known as the day of Hajj. As Islamic calendar is shorter than its Georgian counterpart by 11 days, the holy pilgrimage starts eleven days earlier than the previous year in the Georgian calendar. It often causes Hajj to fall twice in the Georgian year and it takes place after every 33 years. This phenomenon had occurred in the year of 2006.