What Muslims Do on Hajj, and Why

Diaa Hadid in The New York Times:

It is incumbent upon every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so to travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest site, at least once in his or her lifetime. The annual pilgrimage is known as the hajj, and it is one of the five pillars of Islam, prescribed in the Quran:

And proclaim to mankind the hajj. They will come to you on foot, on very lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway.

This year, 1437 according to the Islamic calendar, I am making my first hajj. I will be joining two million Muslims from around the world — though the writer Abu Muneer Ismail Davids joked that it may feel more like 10 million people. During the hajj, we must not swear, cut our hair or nails, have sex or crush a plant. I will be chronicling my journey for The New York Times and on social media. To better follow along, here’s a glossary of terms, names and places that help explain the rites and rituals Muslims will participate in during the six days of the hajj, which begins Saturday.

Prophets and Forebears

Ibrahim, the prophet who, following God’s commandment, left his wife, Hajar, and their son Ismail in the Arabian desert. (I am using the Islamic spellings for these figures that also appear in the Judeo-Christian Bible as Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.) It is with Ibrahim that one of the stories of the origin of Islam begins. For Muslims, like Jews, he is considered a patriarch of our faith. Hajar was Ibrahim’s second wife. After she and Ismail were left in the desert, Hajar ran seven times between two hills, Safa and Marwa, searching for water for her thirsty son. Ismail is said to have kicked his leg in the sand, causing water to trickle out. This became the spring of Zamzam, from which we’ll drink during the hajj. Ismail is considered the ancestor of the Arabs. He was reunited with his father after many years when Ibrahim returned to the desert. Ismail is said to have helped his father build a temple, called the Kaaba, or cube, to honor his one God. To test Ibrahim’s faith, God commanded him to sacrifice Ismail. Three times the devil tried to tempt Ibrahim to abandon his mission, and each time Ibrahim hurled seven stones at the devil to ward him off. We’ll re-enact the stone throwing during the hajj.

More here.