Timing of Hajj
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca in Islam. It is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so, at least once in their lifetime. It is the demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah.
The Hajj occurs from the 8th to the 12th day of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. This date cannot be aligned directly with Western calendars, but in the early 21st century, it occurs roughly in the November-January timeframe. In 2007, the next month of Dhul Hijjah begins on December 11, with the week of the Hajj beginning on December 18, 2007.
Rites in hajj
Hajj is performed because Muhammad performed Hajj, but the ritual was considered ancient even in the time of Muhammad in the 7th century, and many believe that it goes back to the time of Abraham in 2000 BC. Pilgrims would join processions of tens of thousands of people, who would simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals. Each person would walk counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, kiss the Black Stone, run back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drink from the Zamzam Well, go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, then proceed to Muzdalifah to gather pebbles, which they would throw at a rock in Mina to perform the ritual of the Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims would then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid ul-Adha.
Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the "lesser pilgrimage", or Umrah. However, even if they perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime.
Dresscode for Pilgrimage
Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups, as an expression of unity. Some airlines have special package holidays for Muslims going to Mecca. And now ships have also taken the job of taking the pilgrims to Mecca so they can perform Hajj.
During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab - normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face.
The Ihram clothing is intended to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah, symbolizing the idea that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper when everyone is dressed equally. The Ihram also symbolizes purity and absolution of sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat.
While the pilgrim is wearing the Ihram, they cannot shave, cut their nails, wear deodorant or perfume. They may not swear or quarrel, kill any living thing (even an insect) or engage in sexual intercourse.