Hajj is the principal Muslim pilgrimage. It has been described as "the greatest journey in the world" and is the one pilgrimage that all able-bodied and solvent Muslims must complete in their lifetime. Because of this, Hajj constitutes one of the famous Five Pillars of Islam, the structure behind the whole Muslim faith.
As the birthplace of Mohammad, the place where the Quran was composed and the holiest of cities, Makkah is the destination for the hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims. During the twelfth month in the lunar Islamic calendar, Dhu Al-Hijjah, the Hajj begins, meaning that in the Western calendar the actual dates of Hajj differ from year to year.
Although Hajj is widely believed to be connected with the life of the prophet Muhammad, Muslims hold that the origins of the pilgrimage and its rituals go back well before the 7th century to the time of Ibrahim.
These rituals are: walking seven times anti-clockwise around the Kaaba, running between the twin hills of Al-Safah and Al-Marwah, drinking from the ZamZam well, the vigil in the desert by Mount Arafat, and stone-throwing to represent the Stoning of the Devil.
Once these are completed, Hajj pilgrims shave their heads and perform an animal sacrifice enactment. They then, like all other Muslims worldwide, take part in Eid al-Adha. This three-day celebration links also to the prophet Ibrahim, as it recalls the ultimate sacrifice he was prepared to commit to show his love of God, that of his first born Ishmael.
The reasons why Muslims go on Hajj, can be split into two. Most importantly, by undertaking the Hajj they show their ultimate submission and devotion to Allah. The second element they demonstrate on Hajj is their solidarity with all other followers of Islam.
This togetherness is shown by the spirit of equality and harmony throughout the pilgrimage. For this reason, no ostentatious signs of wealth such as jewellery are allowed on Hajj. And permitted clothing is two simple white garments that not only show humbleness but also purity, or Ihram.
A state of devotion is maintained in Hajj, meaning that pilgrims exhibit no vulgarity or vanity, and watch over themselves and other pilgrims to see that there is no profanity, fighting nor any violence towards animals.
These conditions are essential to the proper fulfilment of Hajj, the pilgrimage that remains the most important earthly task that Muslims will ever be called upon to perform.