The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam

One million vaccinated Muslims from around the world are allowed to take part this year



Haj camps, haj, Hajj, Saudi, holy sites, Eid Al Adha, Eid holidays
Haj camps, haj, Hajj, Saudi, holy sites, Eid Al Adha, Eid holidays

By AFP

Published: Mon 4 Jul 2022, 9:55 AM

Last updated: Thu 7 Jul 2022, 11:42 AM

The annual Haj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, will start on Thursday with one million vaccinated Muslims from around the world allowed to take part this year.

In 2019, some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world participated.

But then the coronavirus outbreak forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the Haj, and just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom took part in 2021 up from a few thousands in 2020.

All Muslims are expected to complete the Haj to Makkah at least once in their lives if they have the means to do so.

Believers converge on the holy city for several days of rituals in which they retrace the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) last pilgrimage.

Here is a rundown of the ceremonies at what would usually be one of the largest religious gatherings in the world.

Pilgrims must first enter a state of purity, called ihram, which requires special dress and behaviour.

Men wear a seamless shroud-like white garment that emphasises unity, regardless of social status or nationality.

Women must wear loose dresses, also white, exposing only their faces and hands.

Pilgrims are not allowed to argue or bicker and are prohibited from wearing perfume, cutting their nails, or trimming their hair or beards.

The first ritual requires walking seven times around the Ka'aba, at the centre of Makkah’s Grand Mosque.

Made from granite and draped in an heavily-embroidered cloth featuring verses of the Koran, the Ka'aba stands nearly 15 metres (50 feet) tall.

Muslims turn towards the Ka'aba to pray, no matter where they are in the world. The structure is said to have been first erected by Adam and then rebuilt by Abraham 4,000 years ago.

Pilgrims next walk seven times between two stone spots in the mosque.

They then move on to Mina, around five kilometres (three miles) away, ahead of the main rite of the pilgrimage at Mount Arafat.

The climax of the Haj is the gathering on Mount Arafat, about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Mina, where it is believed that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) delivered his final sermon.

Pilgrims assemble on the 70-metre-high (230-foot) hill and its surrounding plain for hours of prayers and Koran recitals, staying there until the evening.

After sunset they head to Muzdalifah, halfway between Arafat and Mina, where they gather several dozen pebbles so they can perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

The last major ritual of the Haj is back at Mina, where pilgrims throw seven stones at each of three huge concrete walls representing Satan.

The ritual is an emulation of Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade him from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

After the first stoning, the Eid Al Adha feast of sacrifice begins, marking the end of the Haj.

Sheep are slaughtered, in reference to the lamb that God provided for sacrifice instead of Ishmael, in a ceremony that is held at the same time around the world.

Men then shave their heads or trim their hair while women cut a fingertip-length off their locks.

The pilgrims can then change back into normal clothing, returning to circumambulate the Ka'aba and complete their stone-throwing rituals before heading home.

The Haj is the last pillar of Islam.

The other four are: profession of the faith, daily prayers, alms-giving and fasting from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan.


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