It's time for the Hajj, and the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has revealed the official Hajj 2022 logo, which is displayed below. The logo promotes the event worldwide, including on souvenirs and clothing that commemorate the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. The logo looks abstract, showing a black square representing the Ka'aba surrounded by green concentric circles to indicate the lines of worshipers going around the Ka'aba. The upcoming year will be considered as Hijri 1443 AH (In Latin, AH means Anno Hegirae or the year of the Hijra). Hijri 1443 AH signifies that it has been 1443 lunar years since Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina. The starting point of the Islamic calendar begins in 622 AD, but the years are lunar years which are shorter than calendar years. The Islamic official color is green, as it was Muhammad's favorite color.
(Logo credit to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj and Umrah).
Technically, Hajj 2022 will begin on the evening of Thursday, July 7, and ends on the evening of Tuesday, July 12. It has resumed after a two-year hiatus caused by the Covid 19 pandemic. Usually, there are upwards of three million pilgrims, but this year, the Saudi government is limiting participation to one million: 850,000 foreign visitors and 150,000 local pilgrims. A few housekeeping items worth noting: all applicants over 65 will be considered ineligible, and women between 15 and 45 years of age will need a male chaperone. Quite often, it's only after people retire that they have the time and money to go on trips like this, but perhaps next year, they will ease the age restriction. As to requiring a male chaperone, western women will tell you instantly that they don't need a man telling them where to go and what to do. The Saudi government is moving into the modern world, but it seems not fast enough.
What is the Hajj?
The Hajj pilgrimage is an obligation that should be completed at least once in the life of all non-disabled Muslims. The Hajj is considered the fifth pillar of Islamic practice. The other four are the profession of faith (the shahada), five daily prayers, charity, and fasting during Ramadan. The Hajj is an adventure of a lifetime; the participant travels to Mecca and experiences the rituals and places where the traditions originated, resulting in spiritual enlightenment.
Here is What Happens
Muslims believe that the Hajj rituals originate in the time of the Prophet Abraham. I cover this story in detail in my book, Muslim Mechanics (ready for pre-order on Barnes and Noble). In Islamic tradition, Abraham was escorting his slave/wife Hagar with her infant son, Ishmael, in the deserts of Arabia. With Ishmael close to death from thirst, Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa, looking for water. Hagar called upon God for help and the angel, Gabriel, created a freshwater spring for the baby, known as the Well of Zamzam (see my article "Zamzam With D3", April 1, 2021).
Following the orders of God, Abraham built a monument at the site of the spring known as the Ka'aba. Worshipers from all faiths traveled to revel at the site; in 632 AD, the Prophet Muhammad led a group of Muslims in the first official Hajj, destroying the idols placed there by polytheistic worshipers and re-dedicating the site in the name of Allah. The path that Muhammad traveled is retraced as part of the Hajj rituals. Other rituals include Hagar's walk between Safa and Marwa, stoning the wall of Satan that tempted Abraham, slaughtering an animal in honor of Abraham's sacrifice to save his son, and climbing the Mount of Mercy from which Muhammad made his last sermon.
The ultimate rite of passage during the Hajj is circling the Ka'aba, a giant black cube spiritually considered by Muslims as the center of the world. During the Hajj, vast swells of worshipers seeking forgiveness circle the Ka'aba counterclockwise seven times. Completing all the mandated rituals are believed to guarantee the pilgrim a place in heaven and the title of hajji (literally, one who has performed the Hajj) — coveted and admired in Muslim communities worldwide.
Here's the route that pilgrims take. (Map credit goes to Wikipedia Commons and the Perry-Castaneda Map Collection.)
Around the Masjid al-Haram Mosque in Mecca are a series of entry points at which pilgrims arrive and change clothes. Upon entry, it is prohibited to damage plants or trees, carry weapons, fight or behave in a manner that violates the mosque's sanctity. Men wear seamless, unstitched white clothing, and women wear white dresses with headscarves. The idea is to dress plainly to mask any differences in wealth and status.
Upon arriving at the Ka'aba, pilgrims circle it seven times. They may kiss, touch or approach the Ka'aba during the pilgrimage as a sign of devotion. Afterward, the pilgrims proceed to a ritual walkway about 100 meters from the Ka'aba. The walkway leads to two small hills known as "Safa" and "Marwah."
The story goes that Abraham took Hagar and her infant son out into the desert. He left them near the present-day location of the Ka'aba. Abraham's infant son, Ishmael, cried out with thirst, and Hagar ran between the two hills looking for water until she turned to God for help. God's angel revealed a spring known as Zamzam that still provides water today. Pilgrims drink from the well and take some water home for blessings. The picture below shows pilgrims dressed in white circling the Ka'aba.
(Photo credit to al Jazeera English).
The pilgrims make encampments at Mina, approximately 5 km from Mecca. Mina is a small village with 100,000 air-conditioned tents. With a capacity of up to 3 million people, Mina has been called the largest tent city in the world.
On day two, the pilgrims gather in tents, spend time with one another and perform prayers. Some pilgrims will walk the 2 km to the Plain of Arafat, where a steep incline is referred to as the "Mount of Mercy." The picture below shows where Prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon in 632.
(Photo credit to al Jazeera English).
From the Plain of Arafat, pilgrims transit back to Mina, the tent city. On the way back is Muzdalifah. Muzdalifah is an open area where pilgrims go to commune with God between the Plain of Arafat and Mina . At this location, Pilgrims conduct prayers and gather fist-size stones in preparation for the final stages of the pilgrimage. Pilgrims can spend the night communing with God in prayer or returning to Mina.
(Photo credit to hajjumrahplanner.com)
Days Three thru Five
Pilgrims proceed to "stone the pillars." Christians may remember that Abraham offered to kill his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22). However, the Muslim version of the story is that Abraham offered to kill Ishmael. Part of the legend is that Satan tried to tempt Abraham to disobey God's command to sacrifice his son. To reenact Abraham's rebuff of Satan's temptation, pilgrims throw small stones at a stone pillar near Mina. This "stoning" is the final ritual that pilgrims must complete.
In remembrance of Abraham's courage and God sparing Ishmael, Muslims worldwide ritually slaughter an animal on this day. The occasion turns into a three-day festival called Eid al-Adha.
Many pilgrims spend the next few days in Mina, where they repeat some rituals. The pilgrimage is mentally and spiritually consuming, and it usually takes a couple of days to transition back to worldly life. People who complete the journey do get a certificate stating their accomplishment. The earliest certificates date back to the 11th century. Fulfilling the Hajj is on the bucket list for every Muslim, but the expense increases, and logistics get more challenging each year. This year, the attendees are chosen by lottery; perhaps next year will get back to normal.