It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world.It is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah SWT
The pilgrimage occurs from the 6th to the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the event cannot be pegged to the Gregorian calendar, whose (solar) year is eleven days longer. In 2007, Hajj took place from December 17 to December 21. The next one will begin in the first week of December, 2008.
The Hajj is associated with the life of Muhammad, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam, and was considered ancient during his lifetime in the 7th century. Many Muslims believe that it goes back to the time of Abraham in 2000 BCE. Pilgrims would join processions of tens of thousands of people, who would simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals. Each person would walk counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, the cubical building towards which all Muslims pray; kiss the sacred Black Stone on its corner; run back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah; drink from the Zamzam Well; go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil; The pilgrims would then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice, and celebrate the four day global festival of Eid al-Adha.As of 2007, an estimated two million pilgrims participate in this annual pilgrimage. Crowd-control techniques have become critical, and because of the large numbers of people, many of the rituals have become more stylized. It is not necessary to kiss the Black Stone, but merely to point at it on each circuit around the Kaaba. Throwing pebbles was done at large pillars, which for safety reasons were in 2004 changed to long walls with catchbasins below to catch the stones. The slaughter of an animal can be done either personally, or by appointing someone else to do it, and so forth.
But even with the crowd control techniques, there are still many incidents during the Hajj, as pilgrims are trampled in the crush, or ramps collapse under the weight of the many visitors, causing hundreds of deaths. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Hajj has a website, with the message, "Be peaceful, orderly and kind. No crushing."
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