Observed in Saudi Arabia by Muslim pilgrims from all over the world
Observed on Sixth to 13th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar
Observed by Muslims

Introduction
The hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that every Muslim must make at least once in his or her life if it is physically and financially feasible.
The requirement to make it is set forth as the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are the most basic aspects of Sunni Islam. In Shia Islam the hajj is one of the Furu al-Din (“fundamentals of faith”).
Hajj activities take place for six days during Dhu al-Hijjah. The journey can be considered a form of worship involving the complete being-mind, body, and soul. The Saudi Arabian government provides special visas to people from other countries who want to make the pilgrimage. Only Muslims can enter Mecca itself; non-Muslims are forbidden entrance to the city. Muslim women, however, cannot make the hajj alone; they must be accompanied by a man-a husband, brother, or father.
There are two parts to the hajj: the greater hajj (Al Hajjul-Akbar) and the lesser hajj (Umrah). The lesser hajj can be accomplished at any time of the year, but the greater hajj must be completed during Dhu al-Hijjah. Most pilgrims perform both parts of the hajj at the same time because it is more economical.
The rituals of the Lesser Hajj are spiritual acts that symbolize both the acts of Muhammad and one’s sense of community with all Muslims.
After completing their journey the pilgrims participate in a week of rituals associated with the “greater hajj.” The first day they leave Mecca for the uninhabited town of Mina, where they spend the day meditating. On the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the second day of the hajj, the pilgrims leave Mina and go to the Plain of Arafat for wuquf, “the standing,” which is the central ritual of the greater hajj and is intended to remind them of the Day of Judgment.
Right after sunset the pilgrims leave for the Plain of Muzdalifah, which lies halfway between Mina and Arafat. After praying, they gather their pebbles for the stoning of the Devil.
Before dawn on the 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the third day, the pilgrims leave Muzdalifah and return to Mina where they cast their stones at three pillars that symbolize Satan’s endeavors to thwart Allah’s will.
The largest pillar symbolizes the Devil’s attempt to dissuade Ibrahim from killing his son; the second largest represents his attempt to enlist Hagar in his effort to keep Ibrahim from killing Ishmael; the smallest pillar stands for the Devil’s attempt to persuade Ishmael to beg for his life. Throwing the stones represents the Devil’s three failures. After stoning the Devil, many of the men shave their heads (women cut off a lock of their hair) as a symbol of rebirth, to show that their sins have been cleansed.
Having now completed a large part of the greater hajj, the pilgrims can take off their ihram (the pilgrimage outfit) and wear regular clothes until they take up the final elements of the greater hajj. At this stage, all restrictions of the hajj, which include bans on cutting one’s hair and nails, are put aside, with the exception of the ban on sexual intercourse.
Also on this day Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, begins and continues until the 13th of Dhu alHijjah.
The pilgrims sacrifice a sheep or a goat (or some other animal) to celebrate Ibrahim’s unquestioning devotion to God and his willingness to sacrifice Ishmael, his son. Most of the meat is given to the poor, but the celebrants can, if they wish, keep a small portion for themselves. They are joined in this celebration by Muslims around the world who perform their own sacrifices for Eid al-Adha.
The pilgrims then usually visit Medina and the mosque where Muhammad is buried. After one or more nights in Medina, they put on the ihram again and resume the hajj. There are three remaining acts that they must perform in order to complete the Greater Hajj successfully: spend an afternoon at the hill of Arafat, where Adam and Eve were forgiven by Allah for their disobedience; walk counterclockwise seven times (tawaf) around the Kaaba (the holiest place in Islam), reciting a prayer during each circuit; and finally perform the say (or “running”), walking seven times, forward and backward, between the rocky hills of Marwa and Safa, reenacting the frantic search of Abraham’s wife Hagar for water before Allah showed her the Zamzam Spring.
The spring is now enclosed in a marble chamber beneath the Kaaba and, though not a custom, most pilgrims drink water from the Zamzam well after completing the lesser hajj. The visit to the hill of Arafat does not require any specific rituals or prayers, so pilgrims usually spend the afternoon reflecting on the course of their lives.
Having fulfilled all of their spiritual obligations, the pilgrims are cleansed and can return to their daily lives. Female pilgrims who have completed the hajj are called hajjah; males are called hajji.

Origins and History
Four millennia ago Mecca was an arid and unoccupied place. Muslims believe that Abraham (Ibrahim) brought his wife Hagar (Hajira) and their child Ishmael to Mecca in order to protect them from Sarah, Ibrahim’s first wife. Allah instructed Ibrahim to let mother and son be on their own, which he duly did, leaving them with a reasonable supply of water and food. The supplies, however, ran out quickly and Ibrahim’s wife and son were left suffering from dehydration and hunger. Hajira sprinted up and down the hills of Marwa and Safa looking for help, before she collapsed beside Ishmael and prayed for deliverance.
Muslims believe that, when Ishmael struck the ground with his foot, a spring of water gushed from the earth, and he and his mother were saved. When Ibrahim returned from Palestine, he was astonished to see his wife and son running a profitable well.
As God commanded Ibrahim, he built a shrine dedicated to Allah at the spot. Ibrahim, and Ishmael also built a stone structure called the Kaaba, which was later the rallying point for those who wanted their belief in Allah to be strengthened. The Kaaba, which symbolizes God’s oneness, means that every life must have Allah at its center. With the passing of years, Ishmael came to be regarded as a prophet and preached to the desert nomads the importance of submitting to Allah.
Mecca subsequently became a flourishing city because of its dependable water resource, the Zamzam well. Slowly but surely, the people started adopting polytheistic notions and worshipping spirits and various gods. Ibrahim’s shrine became a storehouse for idols. Ultimately Allah instructed Muhammad to restore the Kaaba. In 628, Muhammad took a trip with 1,400 of his followers. This was Islam’s first recorded pilgrimage, and it resurrected Ibrahim’s sacred traditions.
With about 1.3 billion Islam adherents worldwide, pilgrimages of the recent past have crowded into the city of Mecca. During hajj, Mecca has been the destination of as many as four million pilgrims.
Such an influx of people has stretched the city’s resources, and it has had problems preventing overcrowding and providing accommodations for those who want to be present during Dhu al-Hijjah. This situation has caused a number of pilgrims’ deaths, due primarily to the crowded conditions. Organizations dedicated to managing the hajj, such as the Hajj Commission of Saudi Arabia, have reluctantly established a system of passports, travel visas, and registrations to control the influx of pilgrims. This system is purported to accommodate first-time visitors to the holy city, while establishing restrictions for pilgrims who have already been to Mecca numerous times.
The Hajj Commission has, however, openly admitted that they have yet to find a way to prevent tragedies and accidents. Moreover, those who can afford to undertake the pilgrimage several times have objected strenuously.
Notwithstanding the stress of the physical challenge, pilgrims who experience the hajj see it as one of the greatest spiritual experiences of their lives.