Pilgrimage: Muslim Pilgrimage

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The annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, in west-central Arabia, is known by the term ājj. As a religious duty that is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam, the ājj is an obligation for all Muslims to perform once in their adult lives, provided they be of sound mind and health and financially able at the time. In 1982, from an estimated world Islamic population of 750 million, approximately 3 million Muslims were reported to have made the journey. The nature and size of this annual ingathering of Muslims from countless ethnic, linguistic, and political backgrounds, combined with the common sacred status that ideally makes princes indistinguishable from paupers, render the ājj experience an important expression of social and religious unity in Islamic culture.

Ājj in the Context of Middle Eastern Worldviews

The duty of performing the ājj rests on the authority of scripture (Qurʾān) and the recorded practice of the prophet Muammad (sunnah ), as these are interpreted by the orthodox schools of Islamic law; Shīʿī Muslims rely in addition on the teachings of the early imām s, leaders descended from the family of the Prophet through the lineage of ʿAlī. The manāsik al-ājj, manuals that explain the rituals and prayers required at each of the ājj stations, are adduced from these authorities. More than the symbolism found in the other religious duties of Islam, however, ājj symbolism carries overtones of ancient Arab and Judeo-Christian cosmologies, which resonate in the appointed times and places of the ritual performances.

For Muslims, the shrine in Mecca comprehends several notions: for example, that creation began at Mecca; that the father of the prophets, Ibrāhīm (Abraham), constructed the first house of worship (Kaʿbah, Bayt Allāh) at Mecca; that the pagan practices of the Arabs at the Kaʿbah were displayed by God's final revelation through Muammad, his Messenger to the Arabs and to all of humankind. Indeed, the Kaʿbah determines the ritual direction, or qiblah, the focal point toward which canonical prayers (alāt ) and places of prayer (masjid, mosque) are physically oriented, the direction in which the deceased are faced in their graves, and the focus of other ritual gestures as well. The Kaʿbah is regarded as the navel of the universe, and it is the place from which the prayers of the faithful are believed to be most effective. For Muslims, Mecca has been the site of divine, angelic, prophetic, and auspicious human activity since the primordial moment of creation.

ājj manuals commonly begin with the following Qurʾanic epigraph: "Truly, the first House of Worship established for humankind is the one at Bakkah [Mecca], a blessing and guidance to all realms of being. In it are clear signs, such as the Place of Ibrāhīm, and whoever enters [the Meccan precincts] is safe. The ājj to the House is a duty humankind owes to God, that is, for those who are able to journey to it" (3:9697). The significance of the prophet Ibrāhīm to the sacred origins of the ājj sites is attested widely in Islamic literature. Ibrāhīm symbolizes the pure monotheism that the ancient communities subsequently perverted or forgot. In the Muslim view, the period of Arabian history that intervened between the prophets Ibrāhīm and Muammad was one of religious ignorance, Jahilīyaha period during which monotheism was abandoned and the pilgrim stations were made to serve pagan nature deities. Yet, the pre-Islamic ājj provided important precedents of ritual sites and gestures that continued to be auspicious in Islamic times.

By the sixth century ce, the bedouin tribes of central Arabia were undergoing political and social changes, reflected especially in the growing commercial importance of settled markets and caravansaries at Mecca. Muammad's tribe, the Quraysh, dominated caravan trading through the use of force and lucrative arrangements with other tribes. Such trading centers were also pilgrimage sites to which Arabs journeyed annually during sacred months constituting a moratorium of tribal feuding. Although the pilgrimage remained a dangerous undertaking in the face of banditry and unpacified tribal rivalry, the special months and territories provided sanctuary for many of the shared sacred and profane activities of Arab tribal culture. The auspicious times and places of pilgrimage, along with the annual fairs and markets held at nearby locales along the pilgrims' routes, appear to have played significant roles in stabilizing the segmented polity of Arab tribalism.

The term ājj itself, like its Hebrew cognate ag, seems to reflect an ancient Semitic notion of "going around" or "standing" in the presence of a deity at a sacred mountain or shrine, or the journey to it (see Ex. 23:14; also Ex. 23:17 and 24:22, Jgs. 21:19, and 1 Kgs. 8:2). The pilgrimage stations at Arafat, Muzdalifah, and Minā on the road east of Mecca appear to have been associated with solar and mountain deities prior to the rise of Islam; the "standing" at Arafat, the "hurry" to Muzdalifah, and the stoning of the pillars at Mināthe Islamic significance of which will be discussed belowwere all ancient rites among the Arabs.

Islam did not destroy the pre-Islamic ājj rituals, but it infused them with new symbols and meanings. In its own conceptual terms, Islam asserted (or reasserted) monotheism over the polytheism of Jahilīyah. The Qurʾān also declared that the sacred months of pilgrimage should be calculated according to a lunar calendar that could not be adjusted every few yearsas it had been in pagan timesand the Qurʾanic injunction against intercalation resulted in a lunar year of twelve months approximately every 354 days, thus distinguishing the ājj and other Muslim festivals from the fixed seasonal celebrations characteristic of pagan astral and agricultural (fertility) religions. Following the Muslim calendar, the ājj and other ceremonials rotate throughout the seasons of the year.

According to Islamic tradition, the Abrahamic origins of ājj sites and rituals had been taught by the prophet Muammad to the nascent Islamic community during the pilgrimage he performed just before the end of his life (632 ce). The sermon he delivered on the Mount of Mercy, at Arafat, and his removal of all pagan idols from the Kaʿbah in Mecca are recollected annually during the ājj ceremonies. The imputed Abrahamic origins of the ājj ceremonies constitute a deeper, complementary layer of symbolism that serves to underpin Muammad's treatment of the ājj as a monotheistic ritual. Ibrāhīm's duty to sacrifice Ismāʿīl (Ishmael; not Isaac as in the biblical tradition), Satan's three attempts to dissuade Ibrāhīm from following God's command, and the divine substitution of a ram for the blood sacrifice are celebrated at Minā during the festival of the Greater Sacrifice and the ritual stoning of the three pillars (see below). Mecca itself is believed to have been the wilderness sanctuary to which the banished ājar (Hagar) and her infant son Ismāʿīl were escorted by Ibrāhīm. The Kaʿbah stands on the site of a primordial temple where Adam is said to have prayed after his expulsion from Paradise. Destroyed by the deluge, the Kaʿbah was rebuilt by Ibrāhīm and Ismāʿīl: during the deluge, the sacred Black Stone from the primordial Kaʿbah had been sealed in a niche in Mount Qubays (east of Mecca), then brought by the angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) to Ibrāhīm for the reconstruction of the present Kaʿbah, where it was set into the eastern corner. The sacred hillocks of al- afā and al-Marwah situated near the Kaʿbah symbolize the points between which ājar is said to have run in desperate search of water, and the gushing forth of water next to the Kaʿbah is a Muslim symbol of God's providential relief to ājar and Ismāʿīl.

The historic seventh-century shift at Mecca from a polytheistic to a monotheistic cosmologyof which the ājj is the supreme ritual expressionis significant for the comparative study of religions and civilizations. Urban geographer Paul Wheatley (The Pivot of the Four Corners, 1971) argues that archaeological and textual evidence on the rise of cities throughout the ancient world point to the importance of shrines and cults that stood at the center of urban complexes. Wheatley suggests that cities such as Mecca, by focusing sacredness on cult symbols of cosmic and moral order, were able to organize the previous tribal polities into larger, more efficient economic, social, and political systems. Urban-based great traditions evolved and were perpetuated by literati who canonized the technical requirements and meanings of ritual performance at the shrines. In this way, such traditions provided for the continuity of culture over time and geographic space; they ensured that the cosmic center (omphalos, axis mundi ) continued to be enshrined and celebrated within the sacred city. The seventh-century shift from local deities and tribal morality to a monotheistic cosmic and moral order in Islam coincided with a period of Arabian hegemony over larger neighboring civilizations. With the Islamization of the Arabian ājj during this process, therefore, the pilgrimage to Mecca came to symbolize for Muslim peoples and lands across Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa the sacred origins and center of their common confessional heritage.

Requirements and Preparations for the Ājj

Muslim authorities generally agree on the following requirements of eligibility for the ājj : (1) one must be a confessing Muslim who (2) has reached the age of puberty, (3) is of rational and sound mind, (4) is a freed man or woman, and (5) has the physical strength and health to undertake the rigors of the journey. Islamic law also provides that a pilgrim must be in possession of sufficient and honest funds not only for the expenses of the ājj but also for the care of dependents who remain at home.

From figures available on ājj participation in relation to total Muslim population, it is clear that only a small percentage of Muslims make the pilgrimage in any given year, and that many never undertake the journey at all. In addition to the above qualifications, one is not expected to risk life, limb, or possessions if war and hostility are known to exist along the pilgrim's path. Living at great distances from Mecca has tended to make fulfillment of the duty of ājj less likely for many Muslims for obvious reasons, although in modern times some Muslim countries such as Malaysia have instituted programs to assist Muslims in saving and preparing for the journey. Children, to whom the obligation of ājj does not apply, may nonetheless accompany their parents. The schools of law generally agree that women should be accompanied by their husbands or by two male relatives who are ineligible to marry them (first-cousin marriages are common in Islam). Although legal consensus and practical considerations discourage women from making the journey without appropriate male chaperons, the law does not allow males to prevent female Muslims from fulfilling the ājj if proper arrangements can be made. The Prophet is cited as having approved of Muslims' making the ājj on behalf of deceased relatives who intended, but were unable, to do so themselves. The feeble and desperately ill may send others to Mecca on their behalf.

Thus, although ājj is a duty one owes to God, the decision as to whether and when one should undertake the "journey to the House" belongs ultimately to each individual Muslim. The authorities insist that ājj is valid at any stage of adult life. The ājj, therefore, is not a rite of passage in the sense of the ritual celebrations of birth, circumcision, marriage, and death, which have their appointed times within the human life cycle, and this aspect of the ājj duty allows Muslims, including the very pious, to delay the decision to make the ājj, in many cases indefinitely. Islam recognizes that conditions may exist that will cause postponement of the journey and charges apostasy or heresy only to those who deny that ājj is a duty to God.

A pilgrim's separation from familiar social and cultural surroundings constitutes a moment of prayerful anxiety and joyful celebration for all concerned. On the eve of departure, it is traditional for family and friends to gather for prayers, Qurʾān recitation, food, and perhaps poetry and singing about the ājj. (So, too, when the ājj rites have been completed, the pilgrim's return home will be celebrated by family and friends; in some parts of the Islamic world the homes of returning pilgrims are decorated with symbols of the ājj, reflecting local popular art forms.) Many pilgrims follow the practice of setting out from home on the right foot, a symbol of good omen and fortune. Similarly, it is auspicious to enter mosques, including the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, on the right foot and depart on the left; the right/left symbolism is associated with several ritual gestures in Islam as well as in other traditions. As on so many occasions during the ājj, the actual moment of departure calls for the recitation of a particular verse from the Qurʾān, and departing pilgrims recite the words of Noah, uttered to those escaping the deluge: "Board [the Ark]; in God's name be its course and mooring. My Lord is forgiving, merciful" (11:41). Indeed, the symbolism of separation, salvation, and safe passage is found in the pilgrimage rituals of many religious traditions. Those who complete the ājj will be entitled to the epithet ājj or ājji (ajjah or ajjiyah if female). This honorific title indicates socially perceived status enhancement in the sense of recognition by one's peers that a sacred duty has been fulfilled, and this is a matter of universal value, if not universal achievement, in Islam.

Most pilgrims require assistance in arranging for travel, lodging, and proper guidance in the execution of rites and prayers within the Meccan precincts. During the Middle Ages, caravans of pilgrims assembled and traveled together from Egypt, South Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. Their common wayfaring experiences on the road have not produced an Islamic Canterbury Tales, although one Muslim writer has observed that material for such a literature abounds within the communities of pilgrims who journey each year to Mecca. During the Middle Ages hospices and hostels were established along the pilgrimage routes from religious endowments given by those in possession of both piety and wealth. In recent times, ājj travel organizations in Muslim countries have helped to arrange for chartered air, sea, and overland travel and for local accommodations in Mecca.

Of considerable importance throughout the centuries have been the ājj guides (known as muawwifs ). The responsibilities of these guides and their agents include leading groups of pilgrims through the proper performance of rituals and prayers at each pilgrimage station as well as seeing to food and lodging needs. Employing a trustworthy guide is a major concern for pilgrims, as attested in ājj manuals and in conventional wisdom about preparing for the ājj. Since the rise of Islam in the seventh century ce, the Muslims of Arabia, especially the Meccans, have served a growing "ājj industry" of services for pilgrims from around the world. Recognizing that opportunities invariably arise to take advantage of those who are far from home and in a state of intense piety, in modern times the government of Saudi Arabia has sought to regulate the offering of religious, material, and health services to the millions of visitors who enter its national boundaries each year to fulfill the sacred duty.

Travel accounts by pilgrims reveal other dimensions of the ājj, such as opportunities for adventure, business, education, and even marriage. The intention to engage in business with other pilgrims is lawful, especially if it is meant to help defray the costs of the journey. ājj manuals nonetheless caution wariness of unscrupulous sellers of goods and services, even those who may be found within the sacred precincts. Marriage among pilgrims is also permitted, and the ājj provides occasions for establishing friendships and personal relationships, although marriage and sexual contact are forbidden during the period of sacred observance at the Meccan precincts. In former times, when travel was considerably more difficult, many pilgrims followed an open itinerary and lingered at towns and cities along the way; those who thirsted for knowledge found opportunities to attend the lectures of famous teachers at mosque colleges. Biographical literature in Islam indicates that the ājj has been for many individuals an important moment or phase of life that has had numerous ramifications of lasting personal, if not social, significance.

IrĀm, the Condition of Consecration

The ājj sea-son lasts from the beginning of the tenth month of the Muslim calendar, Shawwal, until the tenth day of the twelfth month, Dhū al-ijjah. Although the actual ājj rites do not begin until the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the two-and-a-half-month period known as al-miqat al-zamanīyah is reserved for travel and ritual preparations for the ājj ceremonies. The rites of preparation and consecration are comprehended by the term irām. Pilgrims assume the condition of irām before they pass the territorial markers, al-mīqāt al-makānīyah, that are situated several miles outside of Mecca along the ancient routes for caravans from Syria, Medina, Iraq, and the Yemen. Within the territory bounded by these markers lie the sacred precincts of Mecca. For the vast majority of Muslims who in modern times disembark from air and sea travel at the west Arabian port of Jidda, the rites of irām are begun on board before arrival, or at Jidda itself. Muslims may enter Mecca and its vicinity at any time without assuming the condition of irām, but if their intention is to perform the rites of ājj or ʿumrah (see below), irām is required.

Assuming the condition of irām before passing the territorial markers has several aspects.


Irām requires a state of ritual purity, and pilgrims who enter it must perform ablutions much the same as they do for the daily canonical prayers, alāt. The special condition of irām also requires pilgrims to trim their fingernails and remove underarm and pubic hair, and men must shave off beards and mustaches. The further cutting of nails and hair is part of the rite of deconsecration, taallul, and is not permitted until the ājj and/or ʿumrah rites have been completed. A pilgrim in the state of irām is also forbidden to use perfumes or carry symbols of personal wealth, such as silk and gold jewelry.


Irām is initiated and sustained by prayers of several kinds. (a) The nīyah is the prayer by which each pilgrim declares his or her intention in the rites that follow. At any time of the year except during the three days of the ājj itself, Muslim visitors may enter the Meccan precincts with the intention of performing rites at the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, which enshrines the Kaʿbah. This is known as the ʿumrah, or "lesser pilgrimage." Pilgrims making the ājj, or "greater pilgrimage," will declare a nīyah also to visit Arafat, Muzdalifah, and Minā on the eighth through the tenth of Dhū al-ijjah. Their prayers must stipulate whether or not they intend to interrupt the state of irām during the interval that may lapse between the performances of ʿumrah and ājj. (b) A second form of prayer is the alāt, which includes the formal prostrations in the direction (qiblah ) of the Kaʿbah in Mecca. When pilgrims assume irām, they perform a alāt of two prostrations before entering the sacred territories. During the ājj, including the days of travel to and from Mecca, the five daily performances of alāt assume the following pattern: once at dawn, the noon and afternoon prayers together at midday, and the sunset and evening prayers at dusk. (c) A third form of prayer is called duʿāʾ, "supplication." Duʿāʾ is a less formalized, more individualized expression of communication with God. A supplication is normally offered after the alāt, especially the alāt of irām, and thereafter frequently at each of the pilgrimage sites. The texts of supplications recommended in the ājj manuals reveal something of the meanings these shrines and performances hold for Muslims. (d) The fourth type of prayer, the talbiyah, belongs to irām alone. The talbiyah is uttered in a loud voice as pilgrims pass the markers of the sacred territory and frequently during the days of consecration. The brief lines of talbiyah begin with a phrase that means roughly "Here I am, O Lord! What is Thy command?"


In addition to the ablutions and prayers, irām requires each pilgrim to exchange normal clothing for special garments. The irām garb is simple, a visual symbol of the ideal of universal Islamic brotherhood that the ājj and ʿumrah rites celebrate. For males the irām attire consists of two seamless white pieces of cloth, one attached around the waist and reaching to the knees, the other worn over the left shoulder and attached around the torso, leaving the right shoulder and arm free for ritual gesturing. Males may not wear any head covering, and their footwear is restricted to sandals that leave the backs of the heels exposed. Females wear plain dresses that extend from neckline to ankles and cover the arms. A head covering is required of females, but veiling the face is not permitted during the period of consecration. ājj manuals are less than sanguine about the comfort of the irām attire, especially in summer and winter seasons.

Irām, then, is a state of consecration that each pilgrim must assume before he or she may enter the sacred precincts. The state of consecration exemplifies the concept of egalitarian brotherhood, or communitas, that many religious traditions establish ritually during pilgrimages and other rites. The aram, or "sacred precincts," is a place in which those who enter expect to feel nearness to God, and irām is a special moment and condition of brotherhood for all pilgrims. Within the spatial and temporal boundaries of irām, it is forbidden to uproot plants, kill animals, or foment any social violence. Husbands and wives are enjoined to refrain from sexual intercourse, and women are counseled to conduct themselves modestly so as not to attract male attention. Familiar sociocultural identities and structures are reduced drastically, for pilgrims are now approaching the navel of creation, the primordial house where Adam and Ibrāhīm worshiped, a hallowed ground where Muammad recited God's final revelation to humankind.

ʿumrah, the Lesser Pilgrimage

All accounts of the experience of the final approach to Mecca indicate that it is a moment of high emotions attending the realization of a lifelong ambition. The practical matter of securing lodging and the care of a pilgrim guide is usually the first order of business; the most valued and anticipated task, however, is a visit to the Kaʿbah for the rites of ʿumrah.

From ancient times, the Kaʿbah and its environs have been symbols of refuge from violence and pursuit, a sacred space in which wayfaring pilgrims could find sanctuary with the divine. The Kaʿbah is now enclosed within the roofless courtyard of the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, al-Masjid al- āram. Arriving pilgrims approach the mosque through streets teeming with the traffic of other pilgrims, vendors, and merchants, whose shops and stalls compact the urban space that surrounds the ancient shrine.

Twenty-four gates lead into the mosque courtyard. The four corners of the outer walls of the Sacred Mosque as well as the four corners of the Kaʿbah in the center of its grounds are oriented approximately in the cardinal directions. The Kaʿbah is surrounded by a circle of stone flooring called the maāf, the place of circumambulations. Set within the eastern corner of the Kaʿbah is the sacred Black Stone, encased by a silver rim; another auspicious stone is encased in the southern corner. The four walls of the Kaʿbah are covered with a gigantic black curtain, called the kiswah, which is decorated in bands of Arabic calligraphy embroidered in gold. The Gate of Peace near the northern corner of the Sacred Mosque is the traditional entrance for the performance of ʿumrah. Again, emotions rise at the first glimpse of the haunting specter of the Kaʿbah.

Once they have entered the Gate of Peace, pilgrims move to a position east of the Kaʿbah and face the corner with the Black Stone. The rite of awāf, or circumambulation, begins from this point with a supplication followed by a kiss, touch, or gesture of touching the black stone. The pilgrim turns to the right and begins the seven circumambulations, moving counterclockwise around the Kaʿbah. Each circuit has a special significance with recommended prayers that the pilgrim may recite either from ājj manuals or by following the words of the ājj guide leading the group. When passing the stone in the southern corner and the sacred Black Stone in the eastern corner, it is traditional to touch or make a gesture of touching each stone with uplifted right arm and a verbal supplication. Male pilgrims are admonished to take the first three laps at a quickened pace and the remaining four more slowly.

Following the awāf, pilgrims visit shrines adjacent to the Kaʿbah. An area along the northeastern wall of the Kaʿbah between its sole door and the Black Stone is the multazim or "place of pressing." With uplifted arms, resting if possible on the multazim wall, pilgrims offer a supplication. Another place of visitation is the Maqām Ibrāhīm, which symbolizes the place from which Abraham is said to have prayed toward the Kaʿbah. From within or near the covered shrine of Ibrāhīm, pilgrims perform a prayer of two prostrations. Near Maqām Ibrāhīm to the east of the Kaʿbah is the well of Zamzam. A drink of its water, said to have a brackish taste, is sought by every pilgrim. On the northwestern side of the Kaʿbah, a low semicircular wall encloses a space. The enclosure is known as al-ijr, and it is thought to be the site of the graves of ājar and Ismāʿīl. Al-ijr is also said to be the spot beside the Kaʿbah where Muammad slept on the night of his miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.

After the circumambulations and visitations, pilgrims leave the Sacred Mosque (leading with the left foot) through the Gate of Purity on the southeast side. A few yards outside the Gate of Purity is the small hillock of al-afā. From al- afā begins the saʿy, the rite of trotting seven laps to and from the hillock of al-Marwah, which is located some four hundred and fifty yards to the northeast of the Sacred Mosque. The saʿy commemorates ājar's desperate search for water in the Meccan wilderness and ends the rites of ʿumrah. Year-round visitors to Mecca who intend to perform ʿumrah only, or pilgrims who arrive early for the ajj, deconsecrate themselves at this time by a ritual of haircutting and by doffing the irām garb (see below).

Ājj, the Greater Pilgrimage

The ājj proper begins on the eighth of Dhū al-ijjah, the day of setting out for Arafat, which is located some thirteen miles east of Mecca. Many pilgrims spend the first night at Minā, as the prophet Muammad himself is said to have done, while others push on to Arafat. The goal of all pilgrims is to reach Jabal al-Ramah, the Mount of Mercy, located on the eastern plain of Arafat, by noon on the ninth of Dhū al-ijjah.


Muslim authorities agree that "there is no ājj without Arafat," that is, the rite of wūquf or "standing" at the Mount of Mercy. According to legend, Adam and Eve first met and "knew" (ʿarafū ) one another at Arafat after the long separation that followed their expulsion from Paradise. Tradition also teaches that Ibrāhīm went out to Arafat and performed wūquf. The prophet Muammad addressed a multitude of followers performing wuquf during his farewell pilgrimage, and the following words are attributed to him on that occasion: "O people, hear what I have to say, for I know not whether I shall again be with you here after this day. Truly, all Muslims are brothers and your Lord is one." Tradition also accords to this occasion the revelation of the final verse of the Qurʾān recited by Muammad: "This day I have perfected your religion for you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion" (5:3). On the Day of Standing at Arafat, pilgrims perform an ablution and canonical prayer at a mosque located near the western entrance to the plain. When the sun passes the noon meridian, the Mount of Mercy is covered with pilgrims. The themes of brotherhood and repentance dominate the afternoon sermons and supplications.


At sundown the somber scene of prayer changes abruptly as pilgrims scramble to break camp and begin the "hurrying" to Muzdalifah. This rite is called the ifaāh ("pouring forth") or nafrah ("stampede") and is described in pilgrim diaries as a moment of urgent confusion. Like the preceding period of respectful standing, however, the hurry to Muzdalifah is a rite of ancient significance; it is not simply undisciplined mass behavior. At Muzdalifah, a few miles on the road back toward Mecca, pilgrims halt for a combined observance of the sunset and evening alāt prayers. The sunnah of the Prophet established the tradition of staying overnight at Muzdalifah, although it is permissible after the halt in Muzdalifah to push on closer to Minā. The Qurʾān admonishes: "When you hurry from Arafat, remember God at the Sacred Grove (al-mashʿar al-aram )," that is, at Muzdalifah (2:198). Today a mosque marks the place in Muzdalifah where pilgrims gather to perform the special alāt. Also during the halt at Muzdalifah, pilgrims gather small stones for the ritual lapidations at Mina the next day.


The tenth of Dhū al-ijjah is the final official day of the ājj season. Most of the ritual activities of this day take place in Minā and include (1) the casting of seven small stones at the pillar of Aqaba, (2) the feast of the major sacrifice (ʿId al-Aā), (3) the rite of deconsecration from the condition of irām, and (4) the visit to Mecca for the awāf, called al-ifāah.

The story of Ibrāhīm's duty to sacrifice Ismāʿīl provides the symbolic significance of the rites of lapidation and blood sacrifice. It is said that on his return from Arafat, Ibrāhīm was given the divine command to sacrifice that which was most dear to him, his son Ismāʿīl. Along the way to Mina, Satan whispered to him three times (or to Ibrāhīm, Ismāʿīl, and ajār), tempting him (or them) not to obey the heavy command. The legendary response was a hurling of stones to repulse the Tempter. Three brick and mortar pillars stand in the center of Minā as symbols of Satan's temptations, and the pillar called Aqaba is the site where pilgrims gather early on the morning of the tenth of Dhū al-ijjah to cast seven stones. Following the lapidations, those pilgrims who can afford it offer a blood sacrifice of a lamb or goat (sometimes a camel) to commemorate the divine substitution of a ram for Ibrāhīm's sacrifice. ājj manuals recommend supplications that express the pilgrim's willingness to sacrifice for the sake of God that which is dear. The meat is consumed by family and friends, with unused portions given to the poor. The festival of the major sacrifice is also celebrated on this day by Muslims around the world in gatherings of family and friends.

awāf al-ifāah and taallul

After the sacrifice and feast, the process of taallul, or deconsecration, is begun with the rite of clipping the hair. Many men follow the tradition of having the head shaved, although for women, and for men if they prefer, the cutting of three hairs meets the ritual requirement. This is followed by a visit to Mecca for another rite of circumambulation known as awāf al-ifāah. Pilgrims who have not yet performed the complete rites of ʿumrah may do so at this time.

The Kaʿbah itself undergoes purification and ritual renewal during the three days of ājj. Shortly before the ājj begins, the black kiswah weathered and worn by a year of exposure to the open airis replaced by a white one, suggestive of the irām garb worn by pilgrims. After pilgrims go out to Arafat, Meccan authorities open the door of the Kaʿbah for the purpose of washing its interior, an act symbolic of the Prophet's cleansing of idols from the sacred house. Pilgrims returning for awāf al-ifāah on the tenth of Dhū al-ijjah are greeted by the sight of a lustrous new black kiswah. In the early Islamic period, the new kiswah and other presents for the shrines of Mecca and Medina were sent annually by the caliphs; these offerings were borne by camel caravan in an ornate box called a mamal. From the thirteenth century until 1927, the Egyptian mamal. brought the new kiswah each year. Since 1927 the kiswah has been made at a factory in Mecca.

When the awāf al-ifāah has been completed, the dissolution of the condition of consecration is made final by doffing the pilgrim garb and wearing normal clothing. All the prohibitions of irām are now lifted, and most pilgrims return to Minā for days of social gathering on the eleventh to the thirteenth of Dhū al-ijjah. On each of these days it is sunnah to cast seven stones at each of the three pillars in Minā. This vast amalgam of pilgrims, dwelling in a river of tents pitched along the narrow valley of Minā, eases into a more relaxed atmosphere of friendly exchanges of religious greetings and visiting with Muslims from around the world. By sundown on the thirteenth, the plain of Minā must be vacated. Though many will choose to spend additional time in Mecca, all pilgrims make a last visit to the Kaʿbah for the final circumambulation, awāf al-qūdum, which is permissible without the condition and attire of irām. The ajj is thus complete, and each pilgrim leaves the sacred precincts with the honorific title of ajjī.

The ZiyĀrah, or Visitation to Holy Places

The Sacred Mosque in Mecca, the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, and the mosque of al-Aqā in Jerusalem are the three most sacred shrines in Islamic belief, and the three cities are especially holy to Muslims. Thus an additional pilgrimage to the Prophet's mosque and tomb in Medina is made by many Muslim visitors to Arabia each year, usually preceding or following the ājj. Although such visitations do not have the weight of religious duty in Islamic law and are not a formal part of the ājj, ziyārah, or visitation to holy places, is nonetheless an essential aspect of traditional Muslim piety. There are many monuments in both Mecca and Medina that mark the homes, graves, and events associated with the Prophet, his family, and his closest companions. Guides for ziyārah conduct pilgrims to these sites, where prayers and meditation are offered.

The most auspicious visitation is the one to the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. Under the guidance of a shaykh, visitors enter the mosque through a passage called the Gate of Peace, uttering a supplication. Inside the mosque as it stands today is a brass railing that marks out the smaller boundaries of the original home and mosque of the Prophet, and within this brass railing pilgrims perform a alāt of two prostrations followed by supplications. Nearby is the green-domed mausoleum of the Prophet, where pilgrims offer supplications and praises for the Prophet. The Prophet's mausoleum also enshrines the graves of the first two caliphs of Islam, Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, for whom prayers may also be said.

The Ājj Interpreted

The meaning of the pilgrimage to Mecca, in general and in its many particulars, has been the subject of numerous books by Muslims throughout the centuries and by non-Muslim scholars in modern times. Although ājj is a duty that is carefully delimited by Islamic law, the great diversity of Muslims with differing degrees and kinds of piety are accommodated remarkably well within the structures of traditional interpretations. For example, the various schools of law differ in the degree of stringency each suggests for the length of time one must perform the rite of standing at Arafat. The more pious pilgrims seek to emulate what the Prophet recommended and practiced at each station within the sacred precincts, while others may choose to follow the minimal requirements of the more lenient interpretations of the schools of law. For virtually every rite, such as the blood sacrifice at Minā, physical or economic inability to meet the literal requirement can be compensated by the substitution of prayer and fasting.

The continual process of interpreting ājj meanings and requirements within the framework of Islamic symbols can be witnessed in the writings of contemporary Muslims. One problem under increasing discussion is the size of the pilgrim gathering in relation to available physical space for performance of the rites. The press of more than two million pilgrims to cast stones at the pillars of Minā, for example, has prompted Saudi ājj authorities to devise ways of organizing and regulating the social space within which the rite is performed. The mass slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of animals at Minā within a limited space and time creates a considerable health problem, particularly when the ājj occurs during the hot summer months. Some authorities have speculated on alternative ways for pilgrims to accomplish the root meaning of the sacrifice, namely, giving up that which is dear. Others, on the basis of statements drawn from the sunnah and the schools of law, have proposed that greater latitude should be given to the time permitted for the completion of such rites as the lapidations and the blood sacrifice.

The problem of interpretation and meaning must also be seen in relation to the political and technological changes that have affected the Islamic world. For example, the rise of nationalism has added a new dimension to the quest for ritual unity with the sacred precincts. Mass transportation has made travel to Mecca available to vastly larger numbers of pilgrims. The traditional experiences of adventure and hospitality along the ājj routes are being exchanged for the benefits of faster and safer passage by a growing majority of contemporary pilgrims. The ability to have media coverage of the ājj at home affords the Muslim community at large an audio and visual experience of the pilgrimage rites. Thus the ājj is becoming an ever more visible event to the world of Islam in modern times.

See Also



A readable modern Muslim ajj manual is Ahmad Kamal's The Sacred Journey (New York, 1961). A pictorial essay with color photographs and accompanying text has been expertly prepared by Mohamed Amin, Pilgrimage to Mecca (Nairobi, 1978). Both the old and new editions of The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 19131938 and 1960) are valuable sources of information about the ajj ; see especially the articles "adjdj" and "Kaʿba."

Among the works that attempt to analyze and interpret the ajj from a history-of-religions and social-science perspective, the most substantial is Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes's Le pèlerinage à la Mekke (Paris, 1923). On the ajj in relation to the study of ritual in the history of religions, see the articles by Frederick M. Denny and William R. Roff in Islam and the History of Religions, edited by Richard C. Martin (Berkeley, Calif., 1983). David Edwin Long's The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage (Albany, N.Y., 1979) analyzes various social and health problems and modern attempts by the Saudi Arabian government to resolve them; it includes a useful bibliography.

Numerous accounts of the ajj by travelers and adventurers provide useful historical information about the pilgrimage at specific times in the past. The best known of this genre is Richard F. Burton's Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Madinah and Meccah, 2 vols. (London, 1893). Eldon Rutter's The Holy Cities of Arabia, 2 vols. (London and New York, 1928), is a work written about the 1925 ājj the period of Ibn Saud's incursion into western Arabiaand contains considerable geographical information and descriptions of the major ajj sites as well as the numerous points of visitation in and near Mecca. The role of Mecca and the Meccans in relation to the ajj was studied in Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje's Mekka in the Latter Part of the Nineteenth Century (Leiden, 1931).

Richard C. Martin (1987)

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