Hajj is a vital part of Islam and one of five main Pillars of Islam that all Muslims are expected to follow. (The Five Pillars of Islam include fasting during Ramadan, ritual prayer and charitable offerings, and the profession of Allah as the true God and Mohammed as his prophet). The Hajj begins each year between the eighth and twelfth days of the last month of the lunar Islamic calendar, called Dhu-al-Hijjah. Muslims believe this is a period when the spirit of God is closest to the Earth,
The Hajj pilgrimage is made to the holiest city known to Islam; Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It has been the spiritual heart of Islam for centuries. The city welcomes almost three million making the pilgrimage, all of whom pray at the famous Masjid al-Haram mosque at some point. The five day journey is made by all Muslims considered to be financially and physically fit to make the trip to Mecca. They also visit nearby sacred sites of Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah. Paying tribute to Allah, unification with other pilgrims, and absolving all sins is accomplished through a succession of rituals once there.
Hajj origins date back to before 2000 B.C. when the infant boy Ishmael of Ibrahim the prophet, and his mother Hager, were in a desert, stranded. The baby was dying of thirst so his mother journeyed between the hills of Marwa and Safa to find water until Jibril - also known as the angel Gabriel - came to earth and offered a fresh water spring for Ishmael. The spring is known as the Well of Zemzem. Later, Ibrahim constructed a square monument known as Kabaa, by order of God, at the spring.
Mohammed The Prophet took several Muslims to Kabba and dedicated the site to Allah, marking the very first Hajj known. Each year during Hajj, the cubed building is completely surrounded by worshippers who circle around it in the ultimate rite of passage during the Hajj. The route taken by Mohammed is part of the pilgrimage, retraced by all pilgrims. Other rites include slaughtering an animal to commemorate Ibrahim’s sacrifice to save Ishmael, stoning the wall of Satan believed to have tempted Ibrahim’s defiance of God, walking between Marwa and Safa as Ishmael’s mother did to seek out water, and the ascension of Mount Arafat from which the last sermon by Mohammed was made. In Islam, it is believed that if all these rituals are completed, the individual will be put into Heaven and offered the title Hajjii, literally meaning the “one who has completed the Hajj.”
[Please note that there are a number of ways to spell the name of The Prophet in the English language, and they vary from region to region. Muhammad, Mohammad, and Muhammed are the most prevalent.]