Within that, there are stipulations: Women under the age of 45 must be accompanied by a mahram , or male such as a husband, son, father, or brother, while women older than 45 may travel without a mahram , so long as they submit a notarized letter of no objection. Children can go on hajj, but need to be able to comprehend and perform its required duties.
But if everything lines up, you are expected—by Allah, by your community—to go. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter or travel through Mecca. But, as people say, you will only go when Allah says it is time for you to go. Once in Mecca , men and women mix while performing hajj rites—a difference from the designated, separate prayer spaces in mosques. Men, to remove any indications of wealth or stature, all wear two pieces of white, unstitched cloth and sandals. The week of hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, occurs during the last month of the Islamic calendar.
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Over the course of five days, men and women alike walk counterclockwise seven times around the cube-shaped, foot high black granite Kaaba, both at the beginning and end of their pilgrimages. They perform the devotional act of sa'i , which consists of hiking back and forth between the small Safa and Marwah hills seven times; drink holy water from the Zamzam well; and spend dawn to dusk contemplating in the plains of Mount Arafat.
In the plain of Muzdalifah, pilgrims spend a night in prayer, and gather the 49 pebbles they will later throw at three foot walls, a symbolic stoning of Abraham being tempted by the devil.
Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, falls toward the end of hajj, and pilgrims sacrifice an animal, and shave their heads men or cut their hair women. And while the rituals required know no gender, the difficulties with each step vary greatly by person. I, as a woman and a mother, felt her pain. For Murtaza Sutarwalla, a Houston-based attorney who went on hajj with his wife in , it was spending the night under the stars on the plains of Muzdalifah—no tents, no roof over your head, no bed beyond a straw mat or cardboard, wearing only ihram.
It took Sutarwalla some eight hours to reach Muzdalifah, but in a journey lies a reward. For many who have completed hajj, though, the thought of doing it all again is met with a mix of apprehension and excitement. The biggest hurdle to getting to that very journey, for many, is financial.
All pilgrims have to go on hajj with a Saudi-approved tour operator, who offer packages of varying price points and privilege, and who receive a licensed number of permits each year. Permits are largely based on the number of Muslims; Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population, sent , people on hajj last year. It does not include air or train transportation to and from Saudi Arabia, which only drives up the cost by the hundreds.
Still, not all tales of saving up, shelling out, and going on hajj have a happy ending: Many pilgrims begin their journey to Mecca only to find out their five-star hotel is a two-star hotel, or that they they are facing an excruciatingly long layover in an airport nowhere near their destination. Everything from air-conditioned smoothie bars in Mina to transportation to and from five-star hotels in Mecca during each day of hajj.
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Hajj is expensive, but then again, it seemingly always has been: In the midth century, a round-trip journey from Damascus to Mecca cost as much as an average-sized Damascene house. An aerial view of the camps at Mina, which is completely deserted the rest of the year but fills up during hajj, when pilgrims are required to spend a few nights here.
Tour operators aside, the hajj is big business. Every year, airlines add additional flights to Jeddah and Medina; in , Emirates alone added 57 extra flights from August to September. Many pilgrims, when standing in the plains of Arafat, feel a close communion with God. Afterwards, pilgrims move to Mina, also known as the Tent City, about five kilometers from the holy city of Mecca. Ibrahim, however, remained unmoved and informed Ismail, who was willing to be sacrificed. They then proceed to follow Ibrahim in the act of sacrifice. The Quran says just as Ibrahim attempted to kill his son, God intervened and a ram was sacrificed in place of Ismail.
In remembrance, Muslims all over the world sacrifice an animal on this day. Many pilgrims spend the next few days repeating the stoning at Mina at least six more times and going around the Holy Kaaba in Mecca at least once more. Pilgrims also start to put on their everyday clothes to indicate a transition to their worldly life. It is believed that a proper performance of the hajj can absolve Muslim pilgrims of any previous sins. However, Muslims also believe that just undertaking the pilgrimage is not enough: It is up to God to judge the pilgrimage as acceptable or not.
The hajj is a massive organizational project for the Saudi authorities. Issues concerning crowd management, security, traffic and tensions constantly plague the successful organization of the annual event. A deadly stampede in left over dead.