AskDefine | Define hajj

Dictionary Definition

hajj n : the fifth pillar of Islam is a pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of Dhu al-Qadah; at least once in a lifetime a Muslim is expected to make a religious journey to Mecca and the Kaaba; "for a Muslim the hajj is the ultimate act of worship" [syn: haj, hadj] [also: hajjes (pl)]

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Alternative spellings


Arabic (ħajj, pilgrimage) < (ħajja, to overcome).


  1. The pilgrimage to Mecca made by pious Muslims; one of the five pillars


1855: The word Hajj is explained by Moslem divines to mean “Kasd,” or aspiration, and to express man’s sentiment that he is but a wayfarer on earth wending towards another and a nobler world. — Sir Richard Francis Burton, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah, 1855, Appendix I.

Derived terms


Extensive Definition

The Hajj (, ) is a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world. It is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Arabic: Allah). The pilgrimage occurs from the 10th to the 15th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the event cannot be exactly matched to the Gregorian calendar, whose (solar) year is eleven days longer. In 2007, the Hajj took place from December 17 to December 21. The next one will begin in the first week of December 2008.
The Hajj is associated with the life of Muhammad, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam, and is considered by Muslims to stretch back to the time of Abraham and Ishmael. Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals. As part of the Hajj, each person walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, the cubical building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer (qibla); runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah; drinks from the Zamzam Well; goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil; and throws stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice, and celebrate the four day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
As of 2007, an estimated two million pilgrims participated in this annual pilgrimage. Crowd-control techniques have become critical, and because of the large numbers of people, many of the rituals have become more stylized. It is not necessary to kiss the Black Stone, but merely to point at it on each circuit around the Kaaba. Throwing pebbles was done at large pillars, which for safety reasons were in 2004 changed to long walls with catch basins below to catch the stones. The slaughter of an animal can be done either personally, or by appointing someone else to do it, and so forth.
Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the "lesser pilgrimage", or Umrah. However, even if they perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetimes.


The Hajj was based on a pilgrimage that was ancient even in the time of Muhammad in the 7th Century. According to Hadith, elements of the Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham, around 2000 BC, and it is believed that Prophet Abraham was ordered by God (Allah) to leave his son Ismael and Hagar, his wife in the desert. While Hagar ran back and forth seven times searching for water for her son, baby Ishmael started to cry and hit the ground with his foot and water from the well of Zamzam started coming up from under his feet. (The well is honored in Saudi Arabia to this day.) Each year tribes from all around the Arabian peninsula would converge on Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans. Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad as al-Jahiliyah, the "Days of Ignorance", during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols representing totems of each of the tribes of the Arabian peninsula. The idols represented multiple faiths, from pagan gods like Hubal, al-Lat, Uzza and Manat, to symbols of Jesus and Mary.
Muhammad was known to regularly perform the Umrah, even before he began receiving revelations. Historically, Muslims would gather at various meeting points in other great cities, and then proceed en masse towards Mecca, in groups that could comprise tens of thousands of pilgrims. Two of the most famous meeting points were in Cairo and Damascus. In Cairo, the Sultan would stand atop a platform of the famous gate Bab Zuwayla, to officially watch the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.
In 632 AD, when Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, it was the first Hajj to be performed by Muslims alone, and the only Hajj ever performed by Muhammad. It was at this point that the Hajj became one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Kaaba had been cleansed of the previous idols, and Muhammad ordained it as the house of God.
The masculine noun is from a Semitic root , cognate to Hebrew "feast", which in the Hebrew Bible is used in the context of the pilgrimages connected to Pesah, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Incidents during the Hajj

There have been many incidents during the Hajj that have led to the loss of many hundreds of lives. The worst of these horrific incidents have usually occurred during the Stoning of the Devil ritual. During the 2006 Hajj on January 12, 362 pilgrims died. Tramplings have also occurred when pilgrims try to run but can only walk between two hills known as As-Safa and Al-Marwa. In 2006 there were some 600 casualties among pilgrims performing the Hajj.
The Saudi Government is often criticised for not being proactive in providing facilities and infrastructure for the annual pilgrimage, and many measures are put in place in response to annual catastrophes.


seealso Ihram Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups, as an expression of unity. Some airlines have special package holidays for Muslims going to Mecca. And now ships have also taken the job of taking the pilgrims to Mecca so they can perform Hajj.
During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab - normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face.


On the first day of the Hajj, the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijjah , the pilgrims perform their first Tawaf, which involves all of the pilgrims entering The Sacred Mosque (Masjid Al Haram), and walking seven times in a counter-clockwise direction around the Kaaba, kissing the Black Stone (Hajr Al Aswad) on each circuit. If that is not possible due to the crowds, they may simply align themselves with it and point to the stone. Each complete circuit constitutes a "Shout" with 7 circuits constituting a complete tawaf. The place where pilgrims walk is known as "Mutaaf". Only the first three Shouts are compulsory and the rest optional, but invariably almost all perform it seven times.
Eating is not allowed and the tawaf is normally performed all at once, the only exception being the drinking of water. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.
After the completion of Tawaf, all the pilgrims have to offer two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqaam E Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba. However, again due to large crowds during the days of Hajj, they can instead pray anywhere in the whole mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the groundlevel, Tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque.
After Tawaf on the same day, the pilgrims perform sa`i, running or walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Abraham's slave and concubine, Hagar,and her frantic search for water for her son, before the Zamzam Well was revealed to her by her son Ismael who started to cry for water and hit the ground with his feet and the water of the Zamzam started coming up from under his feet . The circuit used to be in the open air, but is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels. Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they are allowed to run, along with an 'express lane' for the disabled. The safety procedures are in place because previous incidents in this ritual have resulted in stampedes which ended in the deaths of hundreds of people.
As part of this ritual, the pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam Well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque. The pilgrims then return to their tents.


The next morning, on the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims leave Mina for Mount Arafat. This is considered the highlight of the Hajj, as they stand in contemplative vigil, near a hill from which Muhammad gave his last sermon. Pilgrims must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset. No specific rituals or prayers are required during the stay at Arafat, although many pilgrims spend time praying, talking to God, and thinking about the course of their lives. If a pilgrim does not spend the afternoon on Arafat then their pilgrimage is considered invalid. Specifically, the report states that the Hajj "increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment." Moreover, the study finds that "Hajjis (those who have performed the Hajj) show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions."



  • Atlas of Holy Places & Sacred Sites

Further reading

  • Trojanow,Ilija 'Mumbai to Mecca', Haus Publishing, 2007, London, ISBN 978-1-904950295
hajj in Arabic: حج
hajj in Bengali: হজ্জ
hajj in Bashkir: Хаж
hajj in Bosnian: Hadždž
hajj in Czech: Hadždž
hajj in Welsh: Hajj
hajj in Danish: Hadj
hajj in German: Haddsch
hajj in Dhivehi: ޙައްޖު
hajj in Estonian: Hadž
hajj in Spanish: Hajj
hajj in Esperanto: Haĝo
hajj in Persian: حج
hajj in French: Hajj
hajj in Croatian: Hadždž
hajj in Indonesian: Haji
hajj in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Hadj
hajj in Icelandic: Hadsjí
hajj in Italian: Hajj
hajj in Hebrew: חג'
hajj in Javanese: Kaji
hajj in Lithuanian: Hadžas
hajj in Malayalam: ഹജ്ജ്
hajj in Malay (macrolanguage): Haji
hajj in Dutch: Hadj
hajj in Japanese: ハッジ
hajj in Chechen: Хьаьж
hajj in Norwegian: Hajj
hajj in Norwegian Nynorsk: Hadj
hajj in Uzbek: Haj
hajj in Polish: Pielgrzymki w islamie
hajj in Portuguese: Hajj
hajj in Russian: Хадж
hajj in Simple English: Hajj
hajj in Slovenian: Hadž
hajj in Serbian: Hadžiluk
hajj in Finnish: Hadž
hajj in Swedish: Hajj
hajj in Thai: ฮัจญ์
hajj in Turkish: Hac
hajj in Urdu: حج
hajj in Chinese: 朝覲
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