Hajj ( حجtranslit: Ḥajj), (Turkish:Hac), (Malay:Haji)
literally means 'to set out for a place'. Islamically however it
refers to the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to
Makkah with the intention of performing certain religious
rites in accordance with the method prescribed by the
Prophet Muhammad . It is the fifth of the Five Pillars in
Sunni Islam and one of the ten Branches of Religion in Shi'a
Islam. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is
obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his
or her lifetime.the Mecca is so important because it was the
place where the Islamic prophet Muhammed was said to
have lived and gained his prophet status.
The government of Saudi Arabia issues special visas to
foreigners for the purpose of the pilgrimage, which takes
place during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah. Entrance to
Mecca itself is forbidden to non-Muslims, and the entire city
is considered a holy site to Islam.
Pilgrims perform cleansing rituals at designated stations outside Mecca. Men and women
exchange their street clothes for hajj garments - stripping themselves of social distinctions and
embracing their dedication to God.
Among other rites, pilgrims circle the Kaaba, a shrine at the center of the Grand Mosque built by Abraham and his son - seven times counterclockwise in a procession called the Tawaf.
It symbolizes placing God's House at the center of their lives.
On the first official day of the hajj, pigrims take a three-mile journey into Mina, where they
spend the night in a massive tent city.
In the morning, pilgrims continue east to the Plain of Arafat, where Muslims believe Adam
and Eve were reunited after leaving Eden. A daylong group vigil, in which pilgrims stand in the
presence of God, marks the zenith of the hajj.
At sundown, the hajj loops back toward Mecca, halting at a patch of hills called the
Muzdalifah, where pilgrims stop for the night, participate in a nightlong vigil, and collect stones
for the next day.
At dawn, pilgrims cast pebbles at the Jamraat, three stone pillars that symbolize temptation places where Satan tried to tempt Abraham from the path of God. They first throw seven stones
at the largest pillar, and then stone the other two over the course of two or three days.
Back in Mecca, pilgrims can perform the seven turns around the Kaaba one last time before
heading home. The end of the hajj is celebrated with a three-day feast.
SOURCES: ISLAM ONLINE, PBS, CNN, ASSOCIATED PRESS