"Haji" is the Arabic form of address for someone who has made the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj. It is the duty of every Muslim to undertake the Hajj once in their lifetime if they can afford the journey.
The importance of the Hajj dates back to the Prophet Muhammad, who established it as one of the five pillars of Islam and a duty of every Muslim to perform it once in their lifetime. The pilgrimage is to the holiest city in Islam, Mecca. Mecca is the site of the Kaaba, where it is believed that Abraham built the first shrine to God. As the site of the first monotheistic shrine, the Kaaba is treated as the holiest spot in the world.
Muslims are supposed to start the Hajj during the beginning of the month of Dhu al-Hijja in the Muslim calendar. Once they arrive in Mecca, they are expected to visit a number of sites and participate in a number of activities, including: Walking seven times around the Kaaba in a counterclockwise direction; touching the black stone at the site, which is believed to have been dropped there from heaven; visiting Mount Arafat, where Muhammad gave his last sermon; throwing stones at a pile of rocks representing the devil in the village Mina; sacrificing a sheep or goat at Mina in commemoration of the sacrifice Abraham offered to God (many pilgrims now pay someone else to sacrifice the animal for them); and drinking water from the well of Zamzam in the Great Mosque, where it is believed that God provided water for Hajar and her son.
Behavior and Dress
Those departing on the Hajj are expected to dress and behave appropriately. Before entering Mecca, pilgrims are expected to be in the state of ihram, or purity. Men are expected to dress in the ihram clothing, wearing sandals and white sheets wrapped around the body. Women are also expected to dress in white, and should cover everything except their hands and feet. The attire is supposed to represent the purity of the pilgrimage, and to support a feeling of solidarity by removing symbols of class and wealth. Pilgrims are not supposed to cut their hair or nails while in the state of ihram, and are also supposed to refrain from arguing or fighting, having sexual relations, and hunting.
Shortened Form of Hajj
Many Muslims participating in the Hajj choose to forgo some of the rituals and practices, choosing instead a shortened version of the pilgrimage. The shortened version is known as Hajj e lfrad, and does not involve the circling of the Kaaba seven times or touching the black stone, but does involve visiting the Kaaba and offering prayers. It is not required to sacrifice an animal if performing this form of the Hajj.
Number of Haji
Although not all Muslims may be able to afford the pilgrimage of the Hajj, millions still arrive in Mecca each year during the Hajj. The large numbers of people filling these holy sites has been a challenge for Saudi authorities to manage crowds, prevent accidents and to enlarge areas of worship. Those who do participate in the Hajj leave Mecca as Haji.
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