The Fifth Pillar, or major requirement, of Islam is the pilgrimage known as the Hajj, required for all Muslims to undertake at least once in their lives. The Hajj is a pilgrimage taken to Mecca, in modern day Saudi Arabia, the major city of Islam due to its role in the founding of Islam by the Prophet Muhammad. An optional stop on the pilgrimage is the city of Medina, also of historical importance.
Mecca is the pilgrimage site for Hajj because it was the birthplace of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca in the seventh century, and it was in a cave outside of Mecca where Muhammad first experienced the revelation from God that led him to found Islam. Although the people of Mecca initially rejected Muhammad's teachings, the city soon became the center of Islam and its most holy site.
A second major reason the Hajj is made to Mecca is the Ka'aba, or Sacred House, in Arabic, the black building around which Muslims ritually walk during the Hajj. According to Muslim tradition, the Ka'aba was built by Abraham as the first mosque. In Muhammad's time the Ka'aba was used by the tribes of Mecca to worship idols, but Muhammad resanctified it as a mosque after his revelation.
Other rituals performed by Muslims during Hajj also reflect the Islamic history of Mecca. Pilgrims walk back and forth seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah as did Hagar, the wife of Abraham and mother of Ishmael, when searching for water in the desert for her son. Additionally, pilgrims visit Mount Arafat, where Muhammad gave his final sermon, and then throw stones at walls symbolizing devils to reenact Abraham throwing stones at the devil in the same spot.
While Mecca is the primary site for rituals of the Hajj, pilgrims can also chose to visit the nearby Medina, the second most holy site in Islamic tradition. When the people of Mecca rejected Muhammad's message, he and his followers fled to Medina to regroup, thus making Medina the first city where Islam was established. Pilgrims to Medina can pay respect at Muhammad's tomb and the tombs of his companions, a culmination of the rites of the Hajj.
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