The largest pilgrimage in the world
One of the five pillars of Islam requires every Muslim who is able to do so to perform the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. The Holy Quran requires pilgrims to make Tawaf, the circumambulation seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction. During the Hajj millions of pilgrims from all over the world gather to circle the building within a 5-day period.
And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass / That they may witness benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. So eat of them and feed the miserable and poor. / Then let them end their untidiness and fulfill their vows and perform Tawaf around the ancient House
The 'Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, which is not obligatory but is recommended by the Holy Quran, can be undertaken at any time of the year.
The Hajj, the "greater" pilgrimage is performed annually in Makkah and nearby sites from the 8th to 12th of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. During the Hajj, several million people from all around the world worship in unison around the Ka'aba. Every adult, healthy Muslim who has the financial and physical capacity to travel to Mecca and can make arrangements for the care of his/her dependents during the trip, must perform the Hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Performing the Hajj
When they reach the boundary of Makkah (about six miles from the Ka'aba), pilgrims enter the state of ihram (purity) in which they will remain throughout the Hajj. Males entering this pure state don the ihram garments - two white, seamless sheets wrapped around the body - and sandals, while female usually dress in white with only faces and hands uncovered. Then the pilgrimage consists in several steps well defined whose main ones are:
- 8th of Dhu Al-Hijjah: in Mina the pilgrims pray the whole day
- 9th Dhu Al-Hijjah: At Arafat pilgrims offer supplications, repent for their past sins, and seek mercy of Allah. Then they perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly at Muzdalifa
- 10th Dhu Al-Hijjah: back at Mina the pilgrims perform symbolic stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat). After sacrificing an animal, pilgrim shave their heads or trim hair (rite known as Halak).
- On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Makkah for another Tawaf (circumambulation) which symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj
- 11th Dhu Al-Hijjah: pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina
- 12th Dhu Al-Hijjah: the same process of stoning of the pillars as of 11 Dhu al-Hijjah takes place
- 13th Dhu Al-Hijjah: if unable to leave on the 12th before sunset or opt to stay at free will, pilgrims must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Makkah. Before leaving Makkah, pilgrims perform the Tawaf al-Wadaa, the "farewell". The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the Ka'aba.
Today the sacrifice of an animal is done by professionals on behalf of pilgrims who buy a sacrifice voucher in Makkah before the greater Hajj begins, then modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat, which is then sent as charity to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Makkah, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid Al-Adha.
Application to Hajj and Omra
Each year millions of Muslims around the world request for a Hajj permit so in order to satisfy all demands Saudi authorities have decided that each believer can perform the Hajj every five years. The eligibility check can be done on the website Abshir of the Ministry of Interior, along with many other administrative applications and requests for information. The applicant has to create a profile in order to submit and follow-up his Hajj permit application.
The application form is available from all Saudi Consulates. But it is advisable to appoint a licensed travel agent, who will arrange a visa, as well as your travel and accommodation and anything else you may need to perform the Hajj. The travel agent will send your application form to the Saudi Consulate. Some list of approved travel agents are available online for some countries like United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and France. Hajj visas are issued from Mid-Shawwal until 25th Dhual-Qa'dah of each year.
It is key to go through all steps of the applications (whether directly to the Saudi Consulate or through and agency) but as a preliminary information here are the main requirements for Hajj visa:
- The applicant must have a passport valid for at least six more months and acceptable both for entry to Saudi Arabia and entry to the next destination
- A non-refundable roundtrip ticket with confirmed reservations is also required
- Adults over 15 have to submit a proof of vaccination for meningitis and ACYW135 and for infants and children up to 15 years of age, a vaccination report is required for polio as well as meningitis
Some specific requirements have also to be taken into account:
- It is important to note that women are required to travel for Hajj with a Mahram. Proof of kinship must be submitted with the application form
- Applicants who are not nationals of the country they are applying from should submit documented proof of legal residence status
- If the applicant has converted to Islam, an Islamic certificate must be presented which must be notarized by an Islamic Center
- No applicant under the legal age of eighteen will be granted a Hajj visa if not accompanied by his family
The Umrah and Hajj visas are free but pilgrims should submit two certified checks or cashier checks payable to '"Agents Office" in Jeddah for pilgrimage services covering guides, Zamzam water agents, tent accommodation in Mina and Arafat and transportation. Children between the ages of seven and fifteen should only pay half of the amount. Children under the age of seven do not need to pay.
Ministry of Hajj
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has created a ministry fully dedicated to the pilgrimage, the Ministry of Hajj which carries out its duties in coordination with the government and local authorities to facilitate observance of pilgrimage, control and regulate services through the development of systems, use of technology, increasing the effectiveness of staff to serve pilgrims, and performance of infrastructure works with a core focus on offering religious hospitality in compliance with the international standards.
More information about Hajj
The largest pilgrimage in the world (author: Florent Egal)