2 ARRIVAL AND CHANGE: The Purifying Rite of Ihram The first rites of the Hajj take place at one of the border stations on the edge of Mecca's sacred territory. A pilgrim arrives here as a person identified by a name, social position, race, nationality, and a daily way of life. Before crossing into Hajj territory, the pilgrim leaves all this behind, intentionally adopting the universal identity of a person dedicated to God. To mark this profound change of perspective, men and women exchange their distinguishing clothes for more uniform garments: Men put on two strips of unadorned white cloth, women adopt more modest forms of their usual dress. The clothes act as a leveler. They de-emphasize the differences that separate people—race, wealth, social position—and underscore the humanity all of us share as we stand before God.
3 THE HAJJ RITES IN MECCA: Circling the House of God, Walking between Hagar's Hills, Drinking from the Zamzam Well. MECCA: The Hajj rites continue in Mecca, a spiritual crossroads that has attracted pilgrims since pre-recorded times. Muslims believe that Abraham visited Mecca and helped his son Ishmael build a house of worship, the Kabah, here. Many centuries later Muhammad was born in Mecca. The first Muslim community emerged within its walls. Today, Mecca is a modern city of more than a million people. The Kabah still occupies the town center. The enormous open-air mosque that surrounds it is the focal point of the next stage of the Hajj. Inside the mosque walls, every pilgrim performs several simple rites. First, you circle the Kabah seven times in a counter clockwise direction. This rite, called Turning or Tawaf, is a form of prayer performed only in Mecca. Going around the shrine's draped walls, you literally place God's House at the center of your life. Pilgrims now cross the mosque to a long corridor on its southern side. The corridor, or Masa'a, runs between two foothills enclosed within the building. Here pilgrims walk back and forth seven times at a brisk pace in a rite called Sa'y or Running that imitates the steps of Hagar, Ishmael's mother in the Torah, who rushed between the hills in search of life-giving water for her infant son. The story and the rite express the effort required in a person's search for salvation. The sudden appearance of a well in this desert landscape is the core of a miracle that Muslims believe saved Hagar and saved a branch of Abraham's family in Mecca. Not accidentally, this rite places a mother's story at the heart of the Hajj. The Zamzam well that saved Hagar and Ishmael is within the mosque, too. Each pilgrim sips from its water as a reminder of the real results of spiritual effort and to be connected with the foundations of a religious tradition that emphasizes the worship of one God.
8 THE HAJJ RITES IN THE DESERT: Mina Valley, Plain of Arafat At this point, the Hajj becomes a moveable ritual, stopping four times along a circular fifteen-mile route through a desert landscape ringed with granite hills. On the eighth day of the pilgrimage month, pilgrims all leave the city and troop five miles east, into Mina Valley. Here, a tent city of enormous proportions fills the valley for miles around. Pilgrims pass the night in Mina, leaving behind the comforts of civilization and further dissolving class and cultural distinctions, as everyone becomes a wayfarer. On the morning of the ninth day, the exodus pushes another five miles east, to the Plain of Arafat. Here the high point of the Hajj takes place in the form of a group vigil, called the Day of Standing Together (Yawm al-Wakuf). At Arafat, pilgrims are transported into a timeless frame of mind: Arafat is the location where, Muslims believe, Adam and Eve were reunited after leaving Eden. This is a place set aside for spiritual reunion, where pilgrims come to seek pardon, reclaim their faith, and re-collect their spirit. Muslims often refer to this portion of the Hajj as a rehearsal for the Day of Judgment.
11 THE HAJJ RITES IN THE DESERT: Muzdalifah At sundown, the Hajj population moves en masse to a nearby open plain, called Muzdalifa. Here, pilgrims participate in a meditative nightlong vigil. They rest, pray, read, eat, and share their experiences in a quiet period. Many also collect the pebbles they will throw at the "Jamarat" pillars in the morning. At dawn, the Hajj is on its way again.
12 RETURN TO MINA VALLEY AND CONCLUSION OF THE HAJJ On the 10th day, starting at dawn the pilgrims circulate back to Mina Valley. Three pillars stand at the center of Mina Valley. In the next three days each pilgrim will pass by them three separate times, performing a rite called the Stoning, in which you cast small pebbles at a series of three pillars representing Satan. This athletic activity engages each pilgrim, physically and symbolically, in resisting temptation and warding off wrong. At Mina pilgrims are free to exchange the Hajj garments for their usual dress. Many mark this transition by having their hair cut. Now a three-day feast begins to celebrate the end of Hajj. Muslims around the world join in this celebration. During this period pilgrims may return again to Mecca. Before leaving the city for home, they perform the seven turns around the Kabah one last time. The formal Hajj is completed now. It is up to each pilgrim to carry its spirit back home.