“The word hajj literally means repairing to a thing for the sake of a visit (al-qasd li-l ziyara), and in the technicality of law of repairing to the House of God to observe the necessary devotions (iqamat an li-l-nusuk). The word hajj occurs nine times in the Koran in five different verse (2:189), three times in 2:196, three times; and once each in 2:197, 9:3 and 22:27.

The hajj takes place in Zul Hijja, the last month of the Muslim year. On the 7th day of the month, the pilgrims start the rite of ihram (derived from haram meaning prevention or forbidding, or entering upon a state in which a particular dress is put on. The ihram dress consists of two seamless sheets, a sheet reaching from the navel to below the knees and a sheet, which covers the upper part of the body. Both these sheets must be, preferably, white) from the miqat (a place where a person intending hajj), then enter al-masjid al-haram, preferably through bab as-salam (the gate of peace) and listen to a sermon describing the rites, which they are about to perform. The rites themselves begin on the 8th. After the dawn prayer, the participants perform tawaf (tawaf al-qudum, the making circumambulation of arrival) and sa’y. They then proceed to Mina, which is about three miles from Mecca, where they offer the prayers. After sunrise on the 9th, they proceed to the plain of Arafat, which is nine miles further east, repeating talbiya on the way. The talbiya consists in saying aloud labbaika Allah-umma labbaika means “Here am I, O God! Here am I in Your August Presence.” At Arafat, the guide pitches a tent, either on the plain or, if possible, on the adjacent mountain, Jabal Rahma (the Mount of Mercy), the khutba is delivered from the pulpit of Jabal al-Rahma.

The wuquf (standing) at Arafat is the most important element of the hajj. The whole time of the pilgrims from afternoon till sunset is passed in glorifying God and crying aloud labbaika Allah-umma labbaika; a second sermon is preached, and the midday and late afternoon prayers are combined and performed. At sunset, the tents are struck, and at a given signal the pilgrims disperse on foot to Muzdalifa (a sacred spot in the wilderness between Arafat and the valley of Mina) repeating talbiya and prayers for forgiveness as they go. On arrival, the sunset and late evening prayers are said one after the other, and the night is spent in prayer. On the 10th, just before sunrise, the pilgrims collect a number of small pebbles the size of date stones, known as ramy al-jimar (ramy means throwing and jimar means small stones). Then, after the dawn prayer, they return to Mina where there are three stone pillars known as jamrat al-ula, jamrat al-wusta and jamrat al-aqaba. Each pilgrim throws seven pebbles at jamrat al-aqaba, which is the furthest pillar from Muzdalifa. He uses his right hand and recites with every throw: “In the name of God. God is Most Great. The casting of pebbles is against Satan.” After this, the talbiys is no longer to be used. If possible, the pilgrim who can afford to do so proceeds to sacrifice a sheep, a goat or a camel, and has his head shaved. (A woman is not permitted to shave her head; she has about an inch of hair removed instead). The 10th Zilhijja is called yaum al-nahr (the day of sacrifice), being the day, which is celebrated as the Eid al-Adha all over the Muslim world. He may now resume his ordinary clothes until he has returned to Mecca and performed a further tawaf (tawaf al-wada, the tawaf of departure) and sa’y, which is normally done on the same day, and with it, the pilgrims emerge from the state of ihram. The pilgrims are required to stay in Mina for three or at least two days after the yaum al-nahr, that is, on 11th, 12th and 13th Zilhijja, and they are known by the name of ayyam al-tashriq or the days of tashriq. On the 13th, he again throws pebbles at the three pillars and then returns to Mecca. He performs tawaf (tawaf al-ziyara, the tawaf of visit) for the last time, followed by two rakas at the Station of Abraham. Finally, he drinks zamzam water while facing the Kaba and then departs.

“Muslim commentators generally acknowledge that the hajj contains many mysteries that no human intellect grasps fully” (Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern Islamic World, New York, 1995, 2:90). Haydar Amuli in his Asrar al-Sharfah (Tehran, 1983, pp. 221-4) gives three degrees of hajj, one for the exoterists (ahl al-shariah), one for those who follow the sufic path (ahl al-tariqah) and one for those who have attained the Reality (ahl-haqiqah).

The hajj rites, being symbols, are also indicated in the Koran from where the Sufis and the Batinis desired their meanings. For instance, “God has laid down that the Kaba, the inviolable temple, shall be a symbol for all mankind, and (so, too) the sacred month (of pilgrimage) and the garlanded offerings (are symbols) meant to make you aware of all that is on earth, and that God has full knowledge of everything” (5:97), and “Mountains of al-Safa and al-Marwa are among the symbols of God and whoever performs the hajj to the Kaba or performs umra, it is not harmful for him to perform tawaf between them” (2:158), and “As for the sacrifice of cattle, We have ordained it for you as one of the symbols set up by God, in which there is (much) good for you” (22:36). Commenting on the above verses, Muhammad Asad writes in The Messenger of the Quran (Gibraltar, 1980, note 47) that, “This stress on the symbolic character of all rites connected with the pilgrimage is meant to draw the believer’s attention to the spiritual meaning of those rites, and thus to warn him against making unthinkingly a sort of fetish of them.”

Ibn Arabi in his Tafsir al-Koran al-Karim (Beirut, 1978, 2:123) interprets the pilgrimage ritual as the inner devotion of a pious person along his journey to God. Thus, Mecca is, for Ibn Arabi, the breast and the Kaba is the heart contained in it. The sacred monument (al-mash’ar al-haram) is the inner faculty where God must be remembered and in which His beauty may be seen. As for the remembrance of God in this station of spiritual pilgrimage, Ibn Arabi says, “It is an act of witnessing (mushahadah). God first guides you to the remembrance (zikr) of the tongue, which is the zikr of the soul. He then guides you to the zikr of heart, which is the zikr of the actions from which the favours and bounties of God flow. After this He guides you to the zikr of the innermost faculty (sirr), which is the true version and revelation of the sciences of the manifestations (tajalliyat) of the divine attributes. God then guides you to the zikr of the spirit, which is the witnessing of the manifestations of the attributes and the discernment of the light of the Divine essence. He then guides you to the inner zikr (al-zikr al-khafi), which is the witnessing of the beauty of the Divine essence, where duality is still present (that is, of subject and object). Finally, He guides you to the zikr of the Divine essence which is the witnessing of the essence where all other things are abolished.” Lastly, Ibn Arabi quotes when Junayd (d. 910) was asked, “Where is the end ?” He answered, “It is the return to the beginning.”

Muhammad bin al-Fadl says: “I wonder at those who seek His temple (Kaba) in this world: why do not they seek contemplation of Him in their hearts? The temple they sometimes attain and sometimes miss, but contemplation they might enjoy always. If they are bound to visit a stone, which is looked at only once a year, surely they are more bound to visit the temple of the heart, where He may be seen three hundred and sixty times in a day and night. But the mystic’s every step is a symbol of the journey to Mecca, and when he reaches the sanctuary he wins a robe of honour for every step.” (cf. Kash al-Mahjub by Hujwiri, tr. By Nicholson, London, 1967, p. 327).

Hujwiri (d. 465/1072) further writes that, “Pilgrimages are of two kinds (1) in absence (from God) and (2) in presence (of God). Anyone who is absent from God at Mecca is in the same position as if he were absent from God in his own house; and anyone who is present with God in his own house is in the same position as if he were present with God in Mecca. Pilgrimage is an act of mortification (mujdhadat) for the sake of obtaining contemplation (mushahadat), and mortification does not become the direct cause of contemplation, but is only a means to it. Therefore, inasmuch as a means has no further effect on the reality of things, the true object of pilgrimage is not to visit the Kaba, but to obtain contemplation of God.” (Ibid., p. 329). Muhammad Yusuf bin Jafar al-Makki observes in Bihar ul-Ma’ani that, “The way to God lies in the mu’min’s heart, and that is just a step away, therefore seek Him in the heart, for the true hajj is the hajj of the heart.”