Hajj, also spelt as Hadj, is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to the holiest city in Islam, Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage is a mandatory religious duty that must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by all Muslim adults with the financial and physical ability to do so.
Hajj is a pilgrimage taken to the Kaaba, and is one of the five pillars of Islam. This pilgrimage acts as a spiritual journey for Muslims to cleanse their souls of worldly sins.
During this time, Eid ul Adha also falls, which sees Muslims around the world come together and celebrate their faith. But when is Hajj in 2023, and what is the symbolism behind the pilgrimage? Here’s what you need to know.
When is Hajj 2023?
In the Islamic calendar, days begin at sunset, as the calendar is based on the lunar cycle. This also means that Islamic dates change every year, shifting 10-11 days up through the seasons of the Gregorian calendar.
This year, Hajj starts at dusk on Monday 26 June and ends on Saturday 1 July 2023. In the Islamic calendar, Hajj takes place over ten days, from to 10 of the twelfth month, Dhu al-Hijjah. This month also holds Eid al-Adha, the Festival of The Sacrifice. Hajj itself takes around five to six days to complete.
What are the five pillars in Islam?
Hajj is one of the five key acts, also known as the pillars, in Islam. These are mandatory expectations every Muslim is expected to do in their lifetime.
In addition to Hajj, the other pillars are:
- Shahadah - A declaration of faith
- Salat - Praying five times a day
- Zakat - Giving alms
- Sawm - fasting for a month during the month of Ramadan
Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam as Mecca, where Muslims travel to during Hajj, and is where the Islamic religion began. It is where the Islamic Prophet Muhammad was born and received the first revelations from God that went on to form the Islamic Holy Book, the Qu’ran.
Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca, as it is also home to the Kaaba, a holy site built by the Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael. When in Salat (prayer), Muslims pray in the direction of this holy site, which symbolises the oneness of God.
What happens during Hajj?
Muslims follow several rituals on this pilgrimage. Firstly, they must enter a state of Ihram, which is of holiness to mark the start of the ritual for each person. This is instigated at Miqat, the physical boundary where Hajj begins.
Those in Ihram are required to wear plain white. Men must wear two sheets of white cloth, worn in a specific way and women wear traditional clothing and must have their hair covered - but not their face.
The simpleness of these clothes symbolises the equality of all Muslims before God.Muslims should not cut their hair, clip their nails, wear perfume or have sex whilst on the pilgrimage.
After Ihram, Muslims then go to the mosque surrounding the Kaaba, the Masjid al-Haram, and follow the ritual of walking around the Kaaba seven times counterclockwise.
This is then followed by walking, or running, seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. The reason Muslims do this is because they believe the prophet Abraham’s wife, Hagar did this when she was in search of water for her infant son Ishmael.
Ishmael is believed to have struck his foot on the ground and this produced a spring of water known as Zamzam, now considered Holy Water. It is common for those on the pilgrimage to take water from Zamzam with them when they go home.
What is the route of the Hajj pilgrimage?
On the first day of Hajj – Pilgrims enter into a state of holiness by wearing the Ihram while inside Mecca and proceed to Mina, a town around 10km outside the city. Large groups tend to make this journey, and they camp when there. Mina, the city of tents, has over 100,000 air-conditioned tents that provide temporary accommodation to Hajj pilgrims. Once in Mina, the day is spent praying.
On the second day of Hajj – From Mina, pilgrims move 15km towards the deserts of Arafat before noon. As part of the journey, they spend an afternoon on the Plains, listening to prayers and sermons from the Mount of Mercy (Jabal al-Rahmah) where Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon.
This standing is known as wuquf, standing before God, and is a significant rite of Hajj. Then they pray until sunset, before going 10km on to Mizdilafah once the moon is out.
On this leg of the journey, people will pick up pebbles for the next day’s rituals, before camping out for the night.
The third day of Hajj - Eid al-Adha begins and pilgrims head towards Mina and along to Jamarat Bridge, where a symbolic stoning of the devil takes place. During this, people will throw seven pebbles at a wall that represents the devil, before sacrificing an animal.
The sacrifice won’t always be done in person, and people can instead buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca for it to be done via proxy. After this, the circling of the Kaaba and running between hills will be done in Mecca. From here on, normal clothing can be worn, and most choose to spend the night in Mina.
All male pilgrims shave their heads, in a ritual known as Halak.
The fourth day of Hajj — The following day, pilgrims again go to Jamarat Bridge and perform the stoning of the devil. Pilgrims once again stay in Mina overnight.
The fifth day of Hajj — Another devil stoning ceremony happens on this day, and by sunset, pilgrims move back to Mecca.
On the sixth day of Hajj — On the final day, pilgrims perform another ritual around the Kaaba, which ends the pilgrimage.