A highlight of Muslim unity and the biggest religious ritual across the world, the annual pilgrimage of Hajj began on Sunday.
Expecting over 2.5 million participants this year, Saudi authorities arranged for more than 30,000 health workers and have thousands of ambulances on standby in preparation for the scorching heat. Temperatures are expected to reach at least 45 degrees Celsius.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to have one of the biggest turnouts because it is the first year since COVID that all restrictions will be lifted.
All Muslims who are physically and financially able must perform Hajj at least once in their lives. The spiritual experience can be physically and emotionally grueling for many, however, it is an opportunity for Muslims to wipe out all prior sins and start anew.
The journey is unfamiliar to many of those outside the faith. Here are a few frequently asked questions:
What is Hajj?
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and an obligatory part of the Muslim experience for those who are able to participate. Muslims from all over the world come to Mecca to retrace the footsteps of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Only Muslims are allowed to enter the holy city. Believers of other faiths are restricted from entering Mecca.
The journey takes place during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, Dhul Hijjah, and begins on the 8th day. Lasting approximately five to six days depending on the moon sighting, each day of the pilgrimage takes place at Islamically significant locations such as Mina and Mount Arafat.
How do Muslims prepare for their pilgrimage?
It is important for those performing Hajj to be prepared for the physicality of the journey. Participants walk anywhere between 8 to 15 kilometers a day, walking from one spiritual location to another.
Visas are distributed by Saudi Arabia through various travel agencies and to each country based on a set quota. Travel agents offer packages for every income level.
Prior to beginning the journey, men and women are expected to enter ihram. Ihram is a state of spiritual purity where white robes are worn, makeup and perfume are foregone, and the intention to perform the pilgrimage is made.
Visitors are forbidden from cutting their hair or nails, performing sexual activities, and any form of fighting. The rules of Hajj are simple but very strict.
Many Muslims also visit Medina, the city where Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) is buried, before coming to Mecca.
What is the difference between Hajj and Umrah?
Much like Hajj, Umrah is the act of visiting the holy city to cleanse the soul of previous sins. However, unlike Hajj, Umrah does not take place during a specific time and can be done whenever. Umrah is not a compulsory act but many Muslims who are able to perform it before conducting the main pilgrimage.
During Umrah, Muslims are required to perform two main rituals, Tawaf and Sa’i.
Hajj consists of the same two rituals and seven other additional ones. The other rituals include Ihram, Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah, Rami, Halq and Taqsir.
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