Haj with KT: What really happens at Makkah
Haj starts on August 9 (Zul Hijjah 8).
As the world plans Eid Al Adha festivities, over two million Haj pilgrims are preparing themselves for a humbling experience that begins next week.
The otherwise uninhabited Mina in Saudi Arabia will come alive with the prayers of the pilgrims as the annual Haj begins on August 9. The six days after will see these pilgrims share a tent with several others, spend a whole day in contemplation and prayers out in the open, sleep under the stars, symbolically stone the devil, shave their heads and circumambulate the Holy Kaaba before returning home as Hajis (males) and Hajas (females). For the over 1.3 million pilgrims who have already made their way to Makkah, August 2 marked the last Friday they would spend in the holy city. Some of these men and women had come to the city weeks before the actual Haj dates. Mafeeda Kattil from the south Indian state of Kerala was one of them.
"This is my third Haj, Alhamdulillah. Each Haj has given me a new perspective in life. I have performed Umrah, too, but I simply can't seem to get enough of this beautiful place," said Mafeeda.
"This will possibly be the last time I visit Masjid Al Haram (the mosque that houses the Holy Kaabah). I can't really express how sad I feel knowing that this is the last Friday I will spend here."
Here is how the Haj week will unfold for the pilgrims
Day 1: Mina
Pilgrims from all corners of the world will first don the simplest form of clothing: Males in two white unstitched robes and females in long, loose dresses. They will be accommodated in over 100,000 standard-issue tents in Mina, with no distinction made between the poor, rich, healthy, illiterate, etc. At the 'Tent City', each AC-powered accommodation is separated into two sections for males and females.
According to Ashraf Abdul Qader, who is leading 125 pilgrims as part of Abu Dhabi-based Islamic Cultural Centre's Haj mission, each pilgrim will get 'mere centimetres' of space at the tents.
Day 2: Arafat
After spending a whole day and night in Mina, the pilgrims will head to Mount Arafah the next morning. It is from here that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) addressed thousands of his followers 14 centuries ago for the last time.
The arid land will sizzle with the tears of the faithful, as they brave the heat and fatigue to pray, contemplate and meditate. The only breaks they will take are for the obligatory prayers, food and listening to the sermons that are delivered from atop Mount Arafat. Non-Haji Muslims are encouraged to fast on the day to show solidarity with their Haji brothers and sisters.
As dusk descends, the pilgrims will travel southwards to Muzdalifa, where they will spend the night in the open "with the rocks as their beds and the skies as their blankets", as Ashraf put so eloquently.
Day 3: Stoning the devil, rebirth and Tawaf
As the world celebrates Eid Al Adha on days three, four and five (Zhul Hijjah 10, 11 and 12; August 11, 12 and 13), things get busy for the Haj pilgrims. First they will go to Jamrat Al Aqabah, where they will pelt stones at the 'devil' - a pillar - as a symbolic reference to when the Prophet Ibrahim is said to have done the same to actual devils thousands of years ago.
Male Muslims will then shave their heads and females will cut a part of their hair to be 'reborn' spiritually.
They will head to the Holy Kaaba and circumambulate the structure seven times in a process called 'Tawaf'. Then comes the 'Sa'ee' ritual that will see the pilgrims walk/run between two hills called Al Safa and Al Marwa to pay homage to the desperate dash for water by the Prophet Ibrahim's wife, Hajar, for her infant son Prophet Ismail. It is believed that after Hajar ran between the hills for seven times, the Zamzam well sprung forth.
Days 4, 5 and 6: Stoning three devils and farewell
On the last three days, pilgrims will head back to Mina to pelt stones at three 'devils' - pillars called Sohra, Vusta and Aqabah. After that, they will head to the Holy Kaaba for one last circumambulation. Fittingly, this is called the farewell Tawaf. Most of the pilgrims will then head to Madinah - the city of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) - where he is buried beneath the mosque he built and served as Islam's nerve centre: Masjid Al Nabawi.
It's believed that pilgrims who perform Haj in the way it has been prescribed go back home as a newborn - meaning, he/she gets a clean slate and the chance to start afresh. Here is wishing all the pilgrims a mabroor (perfect) and maqbool (accepted) Haj!