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Hajj: A Step-By-Step Guide

Posted by Admin on November 12, 2008

Author: Sadaf Farooqi

Hajj is one the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory to perform Hajj at least once in a lifetime for a Muslim who can physically and financially afford the journey. For a Muslim woman, the journey of Hajj requires her to be accompanied by a male relative who is her “mahrum” (i.e. her husband, or a man she is forbidden to marry, such as her father, brother or uncle). This is not a discriminatory ruling – it is a stipulation that makes it easier for her to travel and carry heavy belongings from one place to another during the strenuous rituals of Hajj. If any Muslim has enough financial savings to allow them to easily go for Hajj, they have to hasten in fulfilling this pivotal obligation of Islam.

The meaning of the word “Hajj” is – ‘to set out to a sacred place out of devotion and seeking reward’. Every religion has always had the concept of “pilgrimage”, in which followers or believers undertake a journey to a sacred geographical location that has special relevance and significance to that particular religion. The Hajj as it is today was initiated by Prophet Ibrahim [علیہ السلام], when he built the sacred house in Makkah – known as “Ka’ba” – with his son, Ismail [علیہ السلام]. Followers of the monotheistic religion founded by Ibrahim [علیہ السلام] used to perform circumambulations of the Ka’ba and descended to Makkah once a year for the pilgrimage.

The following terminology will explain some of the common Islamic terms related to Hajj:

  • Ka’ba: the sacred house of Islam that is located at the centre of Masjid Al-Haraam in Makkah; It is empty, and kept covered with a black cloth. It specifies the direction of prayer for Muslims around the world, but it is NOT worshipped itself.
  • Mina: an open ground which is now known as the ‘tented city’ because it houses thousands of tents demarcated according to the countries of the world, where pilgrims stay. The modern tents of Mina today are airconditioned and carpeted. Makeshift bathrooms are also located near each group of tents.
  • Tawaaf: Seven circuits or circumambulations around the Ka’ba, starting from the Hajr Al-Aswad (black stone fixed on one of its corners) and ending with 2 units of prayer.
  • Sa’ee: Walking 7 times between the two mounts named Safa and Marwah that lie near the Ka’ba, within the precincts of the Masjid Al-Haram. The Sa’ee starts from Safa and ends at Marwah, where the pilgrim shaves their head (for men) or trims their hair (for women).
  • Umrah: Performing one tawaaf and one sa’ee.
  • Ihraam: A state in which the pilgrim may not wear certain things (face-veil for women, stitched clothes and booted shoes for men), or do certain actions (such as cutting hair or nails, putting on perfume in any form, having sexual relations with one’s spouse, fighting, wrangling, vain talk, lying, backbiting, or slander)
  • Dhul Hijjah: The sacred month in which Hajj is performed; this month also has significance for Muslims around the world who are not performing Hajj, in that it has the second `Eid festival that involves sacrifice of an animal for the sake of Allah, known as `Eid Al-Adha.
  • Wuqoof: Standing in deep, devoted and exclusive prayer and remembrance of Allah.
  • Meeqat: The place which signifies the entrance into the state of Ihraam for any pilgrim. There are several meeqat’s depending on the direction from which a pilgrim is arriving in Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah.
  • Talbiyah: A vocal prayer in Arabic by which a pilgrim responds to the call/invitation towards Hajj or Umrah by saying – “I am here, O Allah, I am here. I am here, there is no associate with You, I am here. Indeed all praise and blessing are for You, and the Kingship; there is no associate with You.”
  • Nahr: The act of worship associated with this month, in which Muslims sacrifice an animal such as a ram, sheep, camel or a cow for the pleasure of Allah, emulating the spirit of sacrifice of Ibrahim [علیہ السلام], who had succumbed to Allah’s command of sacrificing his own son for Allah.
  • Jamrah/Jamraat: Any of the the three stone pillars near Mina, where Shaytan/Satan tried to dissuade Ibrahim [علیہ السلام] from sacrificng his son for Allah’s sake, to which the latter resonded by pelting the former with pebbles to drive him away.
  • Ramee: Today, pilgrims repeat this action in emulation of the steadfastness of Ibrahim [علیہ السلام], by pelting the three jamraat with pebbles in the same manner – this is known as ‘Ramee’. Note: the pillars have no significance except just to mark the spots where Satan approached Ibrahim [علیہ السلام]. The pillars do not signify Satan himself.
  • Zamzam: a miraculous water that sprung from the ground when the Prophet Ismail [علیہ السلام] rubbed his feet on it in thirst. This water springs forth to this day in an unlimited supply that does not wane despite the millions who have been drinking from it since centuries.

The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم], established rites and rituals of the Hajj by performing it himself. There are 3 types of Hajj:

1. Hajj Qiraan – this is reserved for the pilgrim who brings along his sacrificial animal with him on the Hajj journey. This Hajj is not performed by most pilgrims today.
2. Hajj Ifraad – this is performed mostly by those Muslims who reside in Saudi Arabia. No Umrah is performed in this Hajj.
3. Hajj Tamattu’ – this is the Hajj performed by majority of the Muslim pilgrims – in which they perform Umrah when they reach Makkah, then exit the state of Ihraam for the rest of their stay in or around Makkah until the 8th day of Dhul Hijjah, whence they enter ihraam again for the main five Hajj days. The Umrah at the start of the journey is a part of this type of Hajj.

  1. Make your intention solely the pleasure of Allah: The Hajj is only to be performed to please Allah and fulfill its obligation due upon a Muslim. It should not be done for the sake of establishing one’s piety or seeking to be known as a “Haji“. Hajj will not be valid unless the intention is completely pure.
  2. Join a group and get yourself vaccinated:After you have registered for Hajj with a certain group in your area (all pilgrims proceed in a group, under a leader known as a mu’allim), get yourself vaccinated and submit your documents to the Hajj-group leader. The Saudi government requires each to-be pilgrim to be vaccinated for protection from certain diseases. Note: consult others who have performed Hajj before you to authenticate the valdiity of the Hajj group beforehand. Many fake Hajj group-leaders disappear at Jeddah airport, leaving their group on its own to perform Hajj with little knowledge or support. Beware of such scams. 
  3. Gain knowledge: The to-be pilgrim should attend Hajj training classes, read books, meet people who have performed Hajj before, and read up material and advice on authentic websites on the Internet in order to be fully knowledgeable about the requirements of Hajj.
  4. Put on the clothes for ihraam just before leaving for the airport: Just before departing for Hajj from one’s house, one should put on the clothes for ihraam. However, the actual state of ihraam is entered with a renewal of intention when the airplane passes over the prescribed Meeqat, at which point the pligrim starts reciting the talbiyah as an announcement of his intention to perform Hajj from that point onwards. Most Hajj flights announce the passing over the Meeqat. Some pilgrims delay putting on their ihraam clothes until right at this point, because they are self-conscious of being seen wearing two pieces of cloth, especially if they are departing from non-Muslim countries’ airports. Waiting till nearing the Meeqat to put on the ihraam garments is risky, because the pilgrim might pass the Meeqat without being in ihraam, for which he will need to offer an expiation. Note: the clothing for women in ihraam is the same as usual – only wearing a stitched face-veil is forbidden. She may cover her face by the end of her headscarf if she so wishes. 
  5. Perform Umrah as soon as you reach Makkah: The pilgrim should hasten to perform Umrah when they arrive at Jeddah airport in Saudi Arabia. It is a drive of an hour or so from Jeddah to Makkah. 
  6. Exit the state of ihraam and live in or around Makkah until the Days of Hajj: After the Umrah is done, the pilgrim can change his clothes back to normal, stitched clothing, and live in Makkah or it’s wherabouts until the 8th of Dhul Hijjah. Most pilgrims spend this time in devotion and worship, offering salah in congregation in the Masjid Al-Haram, and performing supererogatory tawaaf daily. Tip: conserve physical energy for Hajj, do not fast or perform too many tawaaf’s of the Ka’ba. Performing any further Umrah’s before Hajj is also not part of the Prophet’s [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] sunnah.
  7. On 8th Dhul Hijjah, enter the state of ihraam, and leave Makkah for Mina: This morning signifies the official start of the Hajj. Groups depart for Mina after Fajr prayer, in buses or on foot, reciting the talbiyah all the way to their tent in Mina. Do not wander off outside your tent to explore Mina, as many pilgrims get hopelessly lost in the complicated maze of similar tents on this day when they make this mistake; some even miss their Hajj rites because they keep wandering in Mina day in and day out.Perform all four salah’s of the day inside your tent, in congregation. Abstain from idle talk, gossip, chatting or useless conversation. Spend the day holding Hajj talks in your tent, helping others, counselling or educating others, or remembering Allah. Food is usually provided by the group, but is also available in shops. Always proceed to the bathroom with your group-mates, because on the first day in Mina, there is a high chance of getting lost.
  8. On 9th Dhul Hijjah, leave for Arafat. After Fajr prayer the next day, depart for the plain of Arafat. At Arafat, you should preferrably stay inside your tent, offer Dhuhr and Asr salah in joint form behind the imam or on your own (if you miss the congregation for a valid reason, such as arriving late due to crowding on the roads), have lunch, and then do sincere Wuqoof until sunset, abstaining from conversation or other useless activities. Note: This day is the MOST important day of Hajj. If the pilgrim asks Allah for forgiveness on this day till sunset, all his previous sins are completely wiped out. The most important act of worship of 9th Dhul Hijjah is the Wuqoof of Arafat – exclusive prayer, remembrance and repentance towards Allah during the time from Dhuhr to Maghrib (sunset). It is sad how pilgrims waste their time in Arafat in idle talk, gossip, listening to music, smoking or wandering around doing nothing. They should be reminded of the importance of repentance during the last few hours before sunset in Arafat. Moreover, they should not hasten to leave, pushing and shoving others out of their way. The Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] urged pilgrims to depart with calmness.If a pilgrim does not make it to Arafat before sunset on 9th Dhul Hijjah, for whatever reason, their Hajj stands null and void, and they’ll have to repeat it in order to fulfill its obligation.
  9. After sunset, proceed calmly towards the plain of Muzdalifah to spend the night:Board your buses or proceed on foot to Muzdalifah to spend the night. Take along your sleeping bags and a bottle of water to do Wudu/ablution for salah, as there is hardly any water available in Muzdalifah.After arriving in Muzdalifah, pray Maghrib and Isha salah shortened and combined, then pick a few dozen pebbles in a bag for the Ramee to be done in Mina later. Try to sleep a bit until Fajr. Engaging in worship during this night is not the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم]. Pray Fajr prayer, then depart for Mina before sunrise.Important note: Make sure you are within the boundaries of Arafat and Muzdalifah within their required time period! There are high boards indicating the limits of both these grounds, so make sure you have entered the ground within the prescribed time. Some pilgrims stay in the valley of Namirah, which is adjacent to Arafat, unknowingly, and have their Hajj thus invalidated.
  10. The morning of 10th Dhul Hijjah: Go back to Mina, perform Ramee of the largest jamrah, Jamrah Al-`Aqabah, with the pebbles collected in Muzdalifah:After praying Fajr in Muzdalifah, go back to Mina in your bus or on foot. Take special care of the sick, weak and elderly, as by now they are extremely tired, especially if they have been on foot, with sleeping bags, food and other belongings in tow. Many pilgrims lose their way or their group-leader on their way back to Mina. Help others, be kind, and always, always abstain from shouting, pushing, shoving, fighting and wrangling, as these actions are forbidden (“haraam“) in the state of ihraam.After arriving in Mina, deposit your belongings in your tent, have something to eat, rest a bit if needed (most pilgrims do need it by now), then proceed on foot towards the largest jamrah to perform Ramee. Say “Allahu Akbar” before throwing each of the seven pebbles (collected in Muzdalifah) at the pillar. Do not throw anything else at the pillar. Remove yourself from the crowd as soon as you are done. The weak, women and elderly may have someone else do their Ramee on their behalf if they are too tired to perform it themselves.
  11. Slaughter your sacrificial animal (Nahr), shave your head (Halaq – recommended for men only) or trim it short (Qasr), and exit the state of ihraam. In the past, when the number of pilgrims was not so high, the slaughter was done manually. Nowadays, the slaughter is pre-arranged by the group leader, and it is not done by the pilgrims themselves. Rather, it is done on their behalf by others, and the meat is distributed to the poor. Pilgrims nowadays do not get to eat their own slaughtered animal’s meat, which is a sunnah of Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم].After Ramee, when the pilgrims are notified via phone that their animal has been slaughtered, they shave their heads, change their clothes (exiting the state of ihraam; now, all restrictions are lifted except that of intercourse with spouse), and set off to Makkah for Tawaaf Ifaadah, the next major milestone of Hajj after the Wuqoof of Arafat.
  12. Go to Makkah from Mina to perform Tawaaf Ifaadah, followed by Sa’ee; then return to Mina to spend the night. This tawaaf and Sa’ee constitute one of the most important rites of Hajj; it can not be substituted or compensated for if it is missed by a pilgrim. In the past few years, it has become exceedingly difficult for pilgrims to perform this tawaaf on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, because of the sheer magnitude of the total number of pilgrims performing Hajj every year. Arafat, Mina, and Muzdalifah are open grounds where there is ample space to harbor the entire pilgrim population at one time, but the Masjid Al-Haraam is not large enough to allow all the pilgrims to perform this tawaaf on the same day. Therefore, if you can not perform this tawaaf on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, you may perform it on the 11th or the 12th. 
  13. 11th Dhul Hijjah: spend the day in Mina, and do Ramee of the three jamraat during the time between Dhuhr prayer and sunset. Spend the day in Mina, going to perform Ramee of all the three Jamraat any time between Dhuhr and sunset. Tawaaf Ifadaah can also be performed on the 11th, if someone was unable to perform it on the 10th, which is a common occurence nowadays, due to the high number of pilgrims and the ensuing problems of transport and crowding.
  14. 12th Dhul Hijjah: If you want to leave Mina to go to Makkah, do so before sunset; otherwise stay in Mina for another night. Majority of the pilgrims try to leave Mina as soon as they can on this day, after doing Ramee at the sun’s decline at midday. This has been the cause of several deaths due to the pushing and shoving involved in the hurry to be done with Ramee, as most pilgrims bring all their belongings near the Jamraat before midday, intending to leave Mina with them as soon as possible. As a result, when millions rush to perform Ramee like this at the same time, a stampede can occur, with people getting trampled and killed as a result (this happened in Hajj 2004). Pilgrims should therefore, not show haste, and willingly stay in Mina another night.Perform Ramee of the three jamraat any time between Dhuhr and sunset. Do not show haste in doing Ramee as soon as its time starts. Delegate your Ramee to a young man in your family if the crowds are too strong; this can be done by women, or by those who are sick, weak or old. Because of the high incidence of stampedes and fatalities during Ramee in the past few years, some scholars have allowed pilgrims to perform Ramee even after sunset on the 11th and 12th of Dhul Hijjah. The 12th of Dhul Hijjah is also the last day that a pilgrim can fulfill the obligation of Tawaaf Ifaadah, before sunset. Spend the night in Mina, and relish this as your last time there, until and unless you perform Hajj again.
  15. 13th Dhul Hijjah: perform Ramee, then leave Mina to go back to Makkah:Hajj rites are officially over once you perform Ramee of the three jamraat on the 13th. Depart to Makkah, from where you can leave to go back to your own country, after performing Tawaaf Wada (the farewell tawaaf) before leaving Makkah for the last time.

The spirit of Hajj
Many people wonder why Hajj involves so many unusual rites and restrictions, or what could be the wisdom behind doing all this physically challenging travelling. Any one who has performed Hajj will testify to the fact that the foremost lesson taught by it, is patience in the obedience of Allah, because only someone who is doing the Hajj solely for Allah’s pleasure can persevere in performing one strenuous rite after another, without complaining or questioning its wisdom.

Secondly, when so many Muslims from diverse cultural and financial backgrounds throng the same places, sleeping on roads and dusty grounds under the sky with no more than two pieces of cloth on their bodies, eating cheap food, sharing the same bottle of water for ablution, helping each other out in answering the calls of nature (you’ll be surprised how many times this happens during Hajj!), and sharing their medicines with other pilgrims who fall sick on the journey, the Muslims are taught selfless compassion and mercy for others, making this journey the most memorable one of their lifetime. You might never see or meet that considerate pilgrim again, who helped you reach your tent, or who safely got you through the crowds, but you will always appreciate their kindness and pray for them for the rest of your life. That is the true essence and wisdom behind the Hajj – the human bonding and selflessness that knows no prejudice or cultural boundaries!

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