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How to Perform Hajj

Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a sacred duty that every Muslim is obliged to perform at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able. This major pilgrimage occurs annually, drawing millions of Muslims to Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia.

The rituals of Hajj are performed from the 8th to the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar (355-day) calendar. That means that the date in the Gregorian (365-day) calendar changes from year to year:

  • 2024: 14–19 June
  • 2025: 4–9 June
  • 2026: 24–29 May

Preparation for Hajj

Here are the main activities that Muslims should perform in the run-up to the Hajj.

Entering Ihram  

The first step in undertaking the Hajj is entering into a “state of Ihram”. Pilgrims make their Niyyah (intention to worship) for Hajj and begin by wearing Ihram garments at designated boundary stations known as Miqats.

For men, Ihram clothing consists of two unsewn white garments, while women continue wearing their ordinary Islamic clothes but should ensure that their attire avoids any adornment. Ihram garments are simple, to convey a sense of respect, modesty and togetherness. By looking at a Muslim dressed for the Hajj, you should not be able to tell if they are a millionaire or a pauper.

Depending on where they travel from, pilgrims will pass through one of several Miqat zones:

  • Dhu’l Hulaifah for those coming from the direction of Medina
  • Al-Juhfah for those arriving from the direction of Syria
  • Qarn al-Manazil for pilgrims travelling from Najd (Central Saudi Arabia) or Taif (a city 60 km east of Mecca)
  • Yalamlam for pilgrims arriving from India, Pakistan or Yemen
  • Dhat Irq for those coming from Iraq

Each pilgrim must adopt Ihram before crossing the Miqat by performing cleansing rituals and reciting prayers specific to Hajj. Once in Ihram, pilgrims must abstain from certain actions like cutting their hair or nails, engaging in intimate relations or using perfume.

Performing Umrah  

Before Hajj begins, pilgrims perform Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, which involves Tawaf (circumambulating the Kaaba) and Sa’iy (walking between the hills of Safa and Marwah).

Essential steps of the Hajj rituals

The following activities must all be performed on the Hajj.

Travel to Mina

On the 8th of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the day and night in prayer and reflection.

Day of Arafat (9th Dhu al-Hijjah)

Pilgrims travel to the plains of Arafat where they stand in vigil for lengthy periods, and pray near Mount Arafat from noon until sunset. This is known as the Waquf and is often considered the highlight of Hajj.

Muzdalifah

After sunset, pilgrims move to the town of Muzdalifah, between Mina and Mount Arafat. Here, they perform their Maghrib and Isha prayers combined and collect pebbles for the next day’s ritual, Rami al-Jamarat.

Rami al-Jamarat (stoning of the Devil)

Returning to Mina on the 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims throw pebbles at three pillars, symbolically rejecting evil. The first stoning marks the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice.

Nahr (animal sacrifice)

A sacrifice is performed where an animal, usually a sheep, camel, goat or cow, is slaughtered to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. The meat is distributed among the poor.

Halq or Taqsir (Haircutting)

Men either completely shave their heads (halq) or trim their hair (taqsir). Women cut a small portion of their hair as a symbol of renewal.

Final Tawaf and Sa’iy

Known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, this is perhaps the most iconic and famous aspect of Hajj to non-Muslims. It involves circling the Kaaba and performing another Sa’iy between Safa and Marwah if performing Hajj al-Tamattu (the commonest form of Hajj, as described here).

Farewell Tawaf

As pilgrims prepare to leave Mecca, they perform a final circumambulation of the Kaaba, known as Tawaf al-Wada.

Completing the experience

Upon completion of these rituals, pilgrims can collect their belongings and gradually exit the hallowed parts of Mecca. The final steps out of Kaaba are accompanied by heartfelt prayers and reflections over the spiritual journey that has just been undertaken.

Hajj is not only a physical and spiritual journey but a powerful reminder of unity, humility and devotion to Allah. Muslims from all walks of life embark on this sacred pilgrimage with reverence and preparation.

Should you do Hajj more than once?

Although it’s necessary to do Hajj once in your lifetime if you’re able, some Muslims might go more than once as an act of devotion. Pilgrimages can be made to Mecca at any time, but they are not considered one of the pillars of Islam unless they take place during the 8–12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah period.

From a practical standpoint, the numbers of pilgrims visiting Mecca each year (around 2–3 million) have started to put strain on the local amenities and transport hubs. There have also been some tragic incidents caused by overcrowding. With 2 billion Muslims in the world, some experts recommend that Hajj really should be a “once in a lifetime” experience. 

In recent times, the local governments had to put severe restrictions on visiting Mecca and Saudi Arabia during the COVID-19 outbreak, so millions planning their Hajj were left disappointed. That has put even more pressure on the event, as those who missed it try to catch up. Performing the Hajj should always be a personal choice, but with a growing Muslim population, it’s important to consider safety and practicality.