Hajj – Mecca, Saudi Arabia
The Hajj is a mandatory at least once in a lifetime Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, that takes place annually. It is mandatory for all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. Those who do not make the trip, no matter where they are in the world, face toward Mecca during their five daily prayers.
The pilgrimage is the religious high point of a Muslim’s life and an event that every Muslim dreams of undertaking. Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, can be undertaken at any time of the year; Hajj, however, is performed during a five-day period during the year.
In the past, and as late as the early decades of last century, few people were able to “make their way” to Makkah for the pilgrimage. This was because of the hardships encountered, the length of time the journey took and the expense associated with it. Pilgrims coming from the far corners of the Islamic world sometimes dedicated a year or more to the journey, and many perished during it due in part to the lack of facilities on the routes to Makkah and also in the city itself
The circumstances of the Hajj began to improve during the time of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Major programs were introduced to ensure the security and safety of the pilgrims, as well as their well-being and comfort. Steps were also taken to establish facilities and services aimed at improving housing, health care, sanitation and transportation.
Today, though the rituals at the holy sites in and near Makkah have remained unchanged from the time of the Prophet, the setting for the pilgrimage and the facilities available to the pilgrims are a far cry from those that existed at any time in history. Hardship was once expected and endured as part of the pilgrimage, and Muslims who embarked on this undertaking traditionally assigned a relative or trusted member of the community as the executor of their wills in case they did not return from the journey.
Muslims today undertake the pilgrimage in ease, receive a warm welcome on their arrival in Saudi Arabia, and are provided with the most modern facilities and efficient services possible. Without the distractions that their forebears had to contend with, today’s pilgrims are free to focus solely on the spiritual aspect of the Hajj.
To the Muslims, Hajj is associated with religious as well as social significance. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit that provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal. Hajj serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when Muslims believe people will stand before God.