The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam

With the final month of the Islamic calendar, Dhul Hijjah, on its way, some Muslims will prepare to make their way to Saudi Arabia to perform an obligatory spiritual journey called Hajj, or pilgrimage.

The month of Dhul Hijjah is anticipated to begin on the night of June 6, with the sighting of the crescent moon.

So, what is Hajj? When does it start? Here is what to know.

When is Hajj?
With the period of Hajj to begin on the eighth day of Dhul Hijjah and end on the twelfth day, it is predicted to start on June 14 and end on June 19, lasting five to six days.

What is Hajj?
Hajj, or pilgrimage, is one of the basic foundations of Muslim beliefs and is one of the five pillars of Islam, according to Islamic Relief. It takes place at Holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The five pillars of Islam include:

Profession of faith (Shahadah)
Prayer (Salah)
Charity (Zakat)
Fasting (Sawm)
Pilgrimage (Hajj)
Hajj is required to be done once in a lifetime, but Muslims have the option to go more than once if they have the means.

The history of Hajj traces back thousands of years ago to the Prophet Abraham who built the Kaa’ba. Later, Prophet Muhammad began the pilgrimage in 628 CE during Dhul Hijjah.

What is that Kaa’ba?
The Kaa’ba, known as the ‘Baitullah’ or the House of God, is ultimately a mosque — Muslims do not worship it.

It was built by Prophet Abraham and his son Prophet Ishmael. It was later used by polytheistic Pagan Arabs until Islam came and Prophet Muhammad made it a holy site, initiating the Islamic duty of pilgrimage.

Today, as Muslims observe their five daily obligatory prayers, they specifically pray in the direction of the Kaa’ba in any part of the world.

Who goes to Hajj?
Hajj is obligatory, but it is only required for adult Muslims with the financial capacity to travel and who are healthy to perform it, both physically and emotionally.

Approximately 2-3 million Muslims participate in Hajj every year. Anyone performing Hajj is called a pilgrim.

Where is Hajj done?
Hajj takes place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

How do Muslims prepare for Hajj? What happens at Hajj?
Hajj is a special, spiritual time for pilgrims, as some of them have spent their lives waiting for this time to come. Many Muslims may have spent years saving money to finally attend Hajj or waiting for a permit from Saudi authorities, according to AP.

To perform Hajj correctly, pilgrims must follow step-by-step rules to fulfill this journey, according to Islamic Relief. This includes maintaining a state of intention — to please God and fulfill the religious duty — and entering a state of Ihram, or spiritual state, to perform Hajj.

To maintain a state of Ihram, pilgrims must refrain from wrongdoings, and be mindful of their words and actions. Pilgrims must refrain from smoking, engaging in sexual relations, swearing, shaving hair, and cutting nails.

Ihram includes wearing the proper clothing for Hajj.

Men wear a two-piece white cloth wrapped around the waist and over the shoulder, and women observe the rules of hijab, which requires the head covering and loose clothing covering the body from head to toe. Footwear must be in the form of sandals. Because Hajj brings unity to the Muslim community, rich and poor, all pilgrims must dress simply without any stitching on the garments.

Though Ihram is simple, it must be followed and adhered to.

Next, pilgrims enter Mecca to begin their pilgrimage.

This begins with Tawaf, which is walking around the Kaa’ba counterclockwise seven times. Then, pilgrims will perform S’ai, which is walking or running between the hills of Safa and Marwah, which reenacts the struggle of Prophet Abraham’s wife, Hagar, searching for water for her son, Ishmael. Both of these actions take place in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, known as Masjid al-Haram.

Permitted to leave a state of Ihram, men will shave their heads while women cut a fingertip’s length lock of hair, then maintain a state of Ihram again. Pilgrims will camp in an area called Mina and later head to Mount Arafat, 12 miles outside central Mecca, on the ninth day of Dhul Hijjah (known as Yawm al-Arafah), where they will stand in supplication and ask God for forgiveness.

Then, pilgrims will travel to Muzdalifa, where they will pick up pebbles to stone the devil in the Valley of Mina, where it is believed that Ibrahim was tempted to neglect God’s command to sacrifice his son.

When is Eid al-Adha?
Eid al-Adha, the second major holiday for Muslims, translates to ‘Festival of Sacrifice’, as this day commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, for God. But God stopped him and sent him a ram to sacrifice instead.

Eid al-Adha will take place during Hajj. It is expected to begin on the night of June 15 and will be celebrated worldwide on June 16.

On this day, Muslims will attend a community prayer in the morning, often in a mosque or Islamic center, donate to those in need, and will spend the day with friends and family, eating and enjoying each other’s company.

Pilgrims attending Hajj will offer Qurbani, which is the sacrifice of a permitted animal, to reflect Ibrahim sacrificing a ram sent to him by God after his willingness to sacrifice his son. Goat, cow, lamb and camel are some of the animals permitted to be sacrificed. It is mandatory for a portion of the meat to be donated to the needy.

Hajj concludes with repeated steps of Tawaf, the stoning of the devil in Mina, and shaving and cutting of the hair once more, which signifies a Muslim’s renewal.

A more detailed description of these steps can be found on Islamic Relief’s website, which is verified by Islamic scholars.

What purpose does Hajj serve?
Not only does performing Hajj fulfill one of five religious duties, but it also demonstrates the struggles Prophet Abraham and his family went through in Mecca and serves as a reminder to Muslims of Prophet Abraham’s devotion to God.

The completion of Hajj wipes a Muslim’s sins, builds spirituality, demonstrates submission to God, and brings unity to those in attendance.

Is pilgrimage allowed only during Hajj?
Hajj, the major pilgrimage, can only be done between the 8th and 12th day during Dhul Hijjah and is to be completed in five to six days. However, there is a minor pilgrimage called Umrah, which in most cases can be completed in a day.

Umrah is not obligatory but is highly encouraged for those who have the financial capacity and are in good health. It has fewer steps than Hajj and can be done at any time of the year.

Source Mariyam Muhammad, Columbus Dispatch. This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: When is Hajj 2024? More about the spiritual journey for Muslims