Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, but most people need to learn the true significance of Hajj. Hajj falls during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah. It is a sacred annual pilgrimage to Makkah that all sane, adult, physically, and financially-able Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime.
The rituals of Hajj retrace and acknowledge the tasks performed by Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ), Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), and his wife, Hazrat Hajrah. More than two million Muslims perform Hajj every year. During the ritual, Muslims enter the sacred state of Ihram and must abstain from sexual activity, violence, and even cutting their hair and nails. In addition, they must always remain calm and composed, which is one of the most important things Hajj teaches us.
Today, we will highlight the history of Hajj and what makes this pillar of Islam socially and spiritually significant.
Historical Background of Hajj
Hajj dates back to 2,000 B.C. when Hazrat Ismail (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), the infant son of Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), was stranded in the desert with his mother, Hazrat Hajrah. Hazrat Ismail (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) was near death from thirst, which forced a desperate Hazrat Hajrah to run back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa in search of water. Then, Allah commanded Hazrat Jibra’il to sprout a spring of fresh water at the site where Hazrat Ismail was frantically kicking, known presently as the Well of Zamzam.
Following Allah’s orders, Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) constructed a memorial at the location of the spring, which came to be known as the Kaaba. As stated in Surah Baqarah:
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Ibrahim the site of the House, [saying], “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate.” (22:26)
Hajj after Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ)
Following the construction of the Kaaba, Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) would visit Makkah every year to perform Hajj. After his death, Hazrat Ismail (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) continued this practice. However, as idol worship spread throughout Arabia, the true form and rites of the ritual changed.
The Kaaba lost its sanctity, and worshippers placed about 360 idols inside it. Furthermore, its walls were covered with paintings and poems, and men and women would circle the Kabaa naked. Prayers lacked sincere remembrance of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) and instead included whistling, clapping, horn blowing, singing, drinking, adultery, and poetry competitions.
Worshippers also made sacrifices in the name of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى); however, they poured the blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of the Kaaba and hung their flesh from pillars surrounding the Kaaba. Thus, worshippers had completely forgotten the teachings of Hazrat Ibrahim and had reverted to the pagan ways of their forefathers.
Restoration of the Ritual by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)
Hajj continued without morals and sacredness for almost two and a half thousand years. However, after this period, the prayer of Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) was finally answered and Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) sent Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ)to guide the people:
“Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them your aayaat (verses) and instruct them in the book and the Wisdom and sanctify them. Verily you are the ‘Azeezul-Hakeem [the All-Mighty, the All-Wise].” (2:129)
Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) conveyed the message of Tauheed (oneness of Allah) and re-established the true Islamic Shariah. His ultimate victory came when he smashed the idols inside the Kaaba and reinstated it as the universal center of worship for Muslims worldwide. Furthermore, the Prophet (ﷺ) restored the true rites of Hajj as per injunctions mentioned in the Quran and banned all shameful and indecent acts.
As is stated in Suran Baqrah:
“Whoever commits to ˹performing˺ pilgrimage, let them stay away from intimate relations, foul language, and arguments during the pilgrimage. Whatever good you do, Allah ˹fully˺ knows of it. Take ˹necessary˺ provisions ˹for the journey˺—surely the best provision is righteousness. And be mindful of Me, O people of reason!” (2:197)
Hence, all pre-Islamic and immoral practices associated with Hajj were abolished by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), and the ritual once again centered around fear of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى), purity, simplicity, and sacrifice, as it is to this day.
The Significance of Hajj
Of all the pillars of Islam, Hajj is the most divine and demanding ritual. So let’s analyze the different aspects that make Hajj such a significant part of a Muslim’s life.
Religious and Historical Significance
It is stated in Surah Baqarah:
“And complete the Hajj and ʿumrah for Allāh”. (2:196)
Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has also acknowledged the importance of Hajj in Islam. As narrated by Hazrat Abu Hurrairah (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ):
“Whoever performs Hajj for Allah’s pleasure and does not have sexual relations with his wife, and does not do evil or sins then he will return (after Hajj free from all sins) as if he were born anew.” (Sahih Bukhari, Book 26)
Social and Spiritual Significance
Muslims from all across the Islamic world aspire to undertake the spiritual journey of Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Since Hajj falls during a specific Islamic month, pilgrims historically used to travel in groups. The journey was considered extremely dangerous, with many pilgrims falling sick or getting robbed.Nevertheless, pilgrims never feared dying on their way to or during Hajj since they believed that those who died went to heaven and all their sins were forgiven.
Today, going for Hajj has become much less hazardous and quicker. Muslims from around the globe can reach Saudi Arabia on an airplane and make their way to the Holy City of Makkah. Moreover, since the Muslim calendar is Lunar, Hajj progressively falls in all four seasons, making its physical intensity variable.
On the social side, Hajj requires all Muslims to wear the Ihram, which abolishes any sign of status or wealth and unites everyone under one faith and social standing. It also ensures that believers remain aware of the magnitude of their journey and its reward in this world and the hereafter.
Significance of Rituals
Sa’i: This ritual reminds pilgrims of the struggle of Hazrat Ibrahim’s wife, Hazrat Hajrah (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), to find water for her son Hazrat Ismail (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) when they were stranded in the desert. Moreover, Sa’i symbolizes our ongoing daily struggles and how we must be patient and steadfast.
Stay at Mina: This presents a unique opportunity for spiritual reflection and deep praying to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى).
Stay at Arafah: This is symbolic of the Day of Resurrection when all Muslims will stand before Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) to be judged. Therefore, it is a time for immense praying and asking Allah for forgiveness and mercy.
Rami (Symbolic Stoning of the Shaitaan): This ritual is executed in memory of Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) and his steadfastness during the task of sacrificing his son Hazrat (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) as commanded by Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى). The shaitaan tried three times to dissuade Hazrat Ibrahim (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ). When he reached the site where Jamarat al-Aqaba (the biggest pillar) now stands, Hazrat Jibra’il directed him to throw seven stones at shaitaan, after which he immediately fled.
The Five Days of Hajj: Brief Description of Rituals
The Hajj is a five-day physical and mental excursion to Makkah, Arafat, Mina, and Muzdalifah. At every site, pilgrims perform certain rituals to pardon themselves of their sins and re-establish their connection with Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى).
Here’s a brief outline of the rituals performed during Hajj:
Day 1 (8th Dhul-Hijjah)
This marks the beginning of Hajj. First, Pilgrims enter the state of Ihram and start reciting Talbiyah. They then make their way to the tent city of Mina, located about 8 kilometers from Makkah, where they stay the night. Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, Isha, and next day Fajr prayers are offered at Mina.
Day 2 (9th Dhul-Hijjah)
After Fajr prayers, pilgrims make their way to the plains of Arafah. This day is marked by reciting istaghfar and saying different prayers to ask for Allah’s pardon. Stay at Arafah is among the most important rituals of Hajj.
Dhuhr and Asr prayers are recited at Arafah, and after sunset, pilgrims make their way to Muzdalifah. This is a vast open area between Mina and Arafah. Maghrib and Isha prayers are recited here, and pilgrims spend the night praying and resting. Pebbles for Rami (symbolic stoning of the Shaitaan) are also collected from here.
Day 3 (10th Dhul-Hijjah)
After offering Fajr prayers at Muzdalifah, pilgrims return to Mina while reciting the Talbiyah. This is also the first day of Rami.
Moreover, after the obligatory sacrifice is made, males shave or trim their hair, and women cut it to the length of a fingertip. Then, they may also leave the state of Ihram.
Pilgrims then make their way to Makkah to perform two obligatory rituals: Tawaf al-Ifadha and Sa’i. These can also be performed on the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah.
Day 4 and 5 (11th and 12th Dhul-Hijjah)
The last two days of Hajj include staying at Mina and finishing the Rami rituals. After that, Pilgrims make their way to the Jamarat on the afternoon of 11th Dhul-Hijjah and stone the Jamarah al-Ula (the small pillar), followed by the Jamarah al-Wusta (the middle pillar) and finally, the Jamarah al-Aqaba (the big pillar).
The last ritual is the obligatory Farewell Tawaf or Tawaf-ul-Wida, which marks the completion of Hajj. It must be performed before exiting the boundaries of the Haram. This is followed by offering two Rakat of Salah and drinking Zam Zam.
Conclusion for the Significance of Hajj: Exploring the Fifth Pillar of Islam
Hajj is the pillar of Islam that physically, emotionally, and spiritually unites a Muslim with Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى). Throughout the ritual, the pilgrim becomes closer to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) and feels morally stronger. His devotion to Islam is intensified, and his knowledge about the religious sacrifices and efforts of Prophets is replenished.Truly, no other pillar comprises all these benefits put together.
Now that you know the significance of Hajj, pray that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى) gives you the financial and physical strength to perform Hajj and to strengthen your relationship with Him further, amen!
When is Hajj 2023?
Hajj is performed in Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar. Hajj starts on the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah and runs to the 13th of Dhul-Hijjah, corresponding to Monday, June 26, 2023, and ends on Saturday, July 1, 2023.
Who can perform Hajj?
Hajj is compulsory for all sane, adult Muslims who are financially and physically capable of performing the pilgrimage. Also, their absence must not put their families under any hardships.
Can Women perform Hajj alone?
Yes. Although women were previously not allowed to perform Hajj without a Mehram (male guardian), Saudia Arabia has now abolished this rule. Riyadh recently made the announcement and stated that it would apply to pilgrims globally.
What is the significance of Hajj?
Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and is compulsory for all Muslims once in their lifetime. It is a financially and physically demanding ritual that offers Muslims a chance to deepen their faith and erase all their past sins to refresh their relationship with Allah. It also allows Muslims to acknowledge the historical sacrifices made by Prophets in the name of Islam.
How long does Hajj last?
Hajj starts on the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah and runs to the 13th of Dhul-Hijjah.
What is the difference between Hajj and Umrah?
Umrah is a short, non-compulsory pilgrimage that Muslims can perform at any time of the year. Hajj is an obligatory and comparatively longer pilgrimage involving more rituals that Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime.
How do I prepare for Hajj?
Since Hajj involves a lot of physical exertion, many people exercise and watch their diet to get in shape in the weeks leading up to the pilgrimage. Walking frequently also helps develop endurance and strength.