Earth & Conservation

The Islamic Pilgrimage To Mecca Explained

The pilgrimage to Mecca is known to hold religious significance for Muslims worldwide. So what exactly occurs during Islam's yearly hajj?

The Islamic pilgrimage ritual known as the Hajj is one of the world's oldest and largest religious traditions. Each year, millions of Muslims travel to the city of Mecca to participate -- and this year's pilgrimage is currently underway.

Jules Suzdaltsev digs into the history and significance of the tradition in today's Seeker Daily report.

The journey and rituals of the Hajj are considered a kind of religious duty for all practicing Muslims, to be carried out at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj occurs every year from the 8th to the 12th or 13th day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This month is known as Dhu al-Hijjah, but since the western Gregorian calendar and the Islamic calendar do not follow the same standard, this date is different for Western cultures every year.

The journey is based on a number of rituals performed by the prophet Ibrahim around 2,000 years ago. Ibrahim built the Kaaba, a sacred prayer space, and directed Muslims to travel to it -- a journey first officially completed by the prophet Muhammad around 628 AD. Pilgrims who arrive in Mecca, located in present-day Saudi Arabia, must perform a number of rituals to complete the Hajj.

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Everything begins and ends at the Kaaba, an enormous black cube in the center of Mecca. Pilgrims walk counter-clockwise seven times around the strucutre, after which they complete other rituals in the region -- traveling everywhere on foot. Those who complete the pilgrimage often add the title Hajji to their names, as a social signifier.

Literally millions of Muslims participate in the Hajj each year, which has prompted religious officials and the Saudi government to come up with innovative solutions to logistical issues. For example, a monorail system has recently been put in place and this year organizers have started handing out GPS bracelets to keep track of pilgrims.

Check out Jules' report for more details, or click on over to our investigation on rapidly expanding religious populations, What Does the Future of Religion Look Like? The New York Times is also running an interesting Q&A series from a reporter participating in this year's pilgrimage: Postcards from the Hajj.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

Al Jazeera: Hajj 2016: Five-day Ritual Begins on September 10

The Guardian: Hajj Pilgrimage: More than 700 Dead in Crush Near Mecca

BBC: Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca