What is Hajj?


Sarmad Naveed, Canada

Love is a powerful force. It can become the greatest motivation in a person’s life, or even the very reason for which a person lives. Love can change the course of an entire life, or even be the cause of a life renewed. Love causes a person to seek the approval and pleasure of their beloved; love evokes various expressions in order to please the beloved. A person will set out with a purpose to do what is necessary; they’ll walk past and around the home of their beloved, ardently hoping that their beloved’s attention is drawn towards them. This, in essence, is Hajj; a magnificent expression of love. 

What is Hajj?

Hajj is an Arabic word, one of the meanings for which is, ‘he went or betook himself to an object of respect and reverence’. [1] It is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam which a Muslim must strive to adhere to. Hence, Hajj is a pillar which all those who are able must strive to complete at least once in their lifetime. It constitutes the yearly pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, the birthplace of Islam and home of the Holy Ka`bah. Hajj takes place from the 8th to the 13th of Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar. 

The importance of performing Hajj is understood through the Word of God Himself, as He states in the Holy Qur’an:

‘And pilgrimage to the House is a duty which men — those who can find a way thither — owe to Allah.’ [2]

Every year, millions of people converge upon the holy city to undertake the Hajj. Its primary purpose is to worship God and express love for Him; this is done through the various rites of Hajj. 

Rites of Hajj

There are various components which need to be fulfilled in order to complete the pilgrimage.

Entering the State of Ihram

This is the very first step in the process of offering the pilgrimage. This essentially prepares the pilgrim before setting on the journey of pilgrimage. This is done at specified locations before entering the holy city of Makkah. The Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states:

Ihram reminds one of the Day of Resurrection. Like the shroud of a dead body, the pilgrim is covered only with two unsewn sheets, one for the upper part of the body and the other for the lower; and he also has to remain bareheaded. This condition is to remind him that he has here, as it were, risen from the dead.’ [3] 

There are two aspects of entering the state of Ihram.

The first is the physical aspect. The pilgrim performs ablution or bathes, after which males don two white, unsown sheets; one to cover the lower body and the other to cover the upper body. Women can continue wearing their normal attire. While in the state of Ihram, things such as hunting, applying any sort of scent, cutting hair or nails and having marital relations become forbidden. Furthermore, one should avoid all vain and foul things, as it is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

‘The months of the Hajj are well known; so whoever determines to perform the Pilgrimage in these months, should remember that there is to be no foul talk, nor any transgression, nor any quarrelling during the Pilgrimage. And whatever good you do, Allah knows it. And furnish yourselves with necessary provisions, and surely, the best provision is righteousness. And fear Me alone, O men of understanding.’ [4]

The other aspect to entering the state of Ihram is a spiritual one. Once pilgrims have taken the physical steps mentioned above, they offer two units of prayer and then make the intention for offering the pilgrimage (similar to the concept of making intention before offering prayer). At this point, the pilgrims begin to constantly recite the following prayer taught by the Holy Prophet (sa) known as the Talbiyah:

لَبَّيْكَ اللَّهُمَّ لَبَّيْكَ، لَبَّيْكَ لاَ شَرِيكَ لَكَ لَبَّيْكَ، إِنَّ الْحَمْدَ وَالنِّعْمَةَ لَكَ وَالْمُلْكَ، لاَ شَرِيكَ لَكَ

I am present, O Allah, I am present. I am present; there is no partner for You. I am present. To You belong all the praise, favours and blessings. And all Sovereignty belongs to You. There is no partner for You.’ [5]

In this way, one becomes prepared to offer and fulfill the subsequent rites of Hajj. 

Entering Makkah

Upon entering Makkah, the pilgrims go straight to the Holy Ka`bah where they perform seven circuits around the cube-shaped mosque in a counter clockwise direction. This mosque is the central mosque in Islam, towards which all Muslims throughout the world face while offering their prayers. While circulating the Ka`bah, pilgrims recall the Majesty of God Almighty.

After completing the seven circuits, pilgrims offer two units of prayer (raka`at) near the Maqam-e-Ibrahim, (the Place of Abraham) which is located in close proximity to the Holy Ka`bah itself. God Almighty states in the Holy Qur’an:

‘And remember the time when We made the House a resort for mankind and a place of security; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of Prayer.’ [6]

With regards to the significance of offering prayer here, it is said that this was the place where Abraham (as) stood and prayed in gratitude to God after completing the construction of the Ka`bah. Thus in commemoration of this prayer, Muslims offer prayer in the area after completing circuits around the Ka`bah. [7]

Thereafter, pilgrims make their way to Safa, a hill located a short distance from the Ka`bah. From here, the pilgrims will make seven rounds between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is called Sa’i and is to commemorate these hills as being two magnificent signs of God. It is famously recorded that while alone in the barren land of what we now know to be Makkah, Hagar (as) and her infant son Ishmael (as) ran out of water. As her son cried, Hagar (as) anxiously ran between the two mountains of Safa and Marwah searching for water. After her seventh round, an Angel appeared to her, informing that a stream had manifested near her son; lo and behold a stream was flowing forth and we know this to be the stream of Zamzam. Hence, pilgrims make rounds between the two hills, as it is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

‘Surely, As-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the Signs of Allah. It is, therefore, no sin for him who is on pilgrimage to the House, or performs ‘Umrah, to go round the two.’ [8]


On the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, the pilgrims travel to Mina, which is located about 8 kilometers from Makkah. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states:

‘Mina is a name derived from the word  ‘’umniyyah’ which means ‘an object’ or ‘a desire’. This reminds the pilgrim of the fact that he goes there with the ‘object’ or the ‘desire’ of meeting God.’ [9] 

In Mina, pilgrims will offer the prayers Zuhr [early afternoon prayer], Asr [late afternoon prayer], Maghrib [prayer after sunset], Ishaa [evening prayer] and then will spend the night in Mina. The next morning, they will offer Fajr [prayer right before dawn] before journeying to the next destination. 


On the morning of 9th Dhul-Hijjah, after having offered the Fajr prayers, pilgrims will make their way to Arafat, located approximately 13 kilometers away. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states:

‘The pilgrim proceeds to ‘Arafat, the root-meaning of which is ‘to recognize’. This reminds him that he has now reached the stage of ‘recognition’ where he has ‘recognized’ or known the One Lord and has met Him.’ [10]

In Arafat, the pilgrims will offer the Zuhr and Asr prayers combined [11], after which they will spend the remainder of the time in personal reflections and prayers, such as reciting the Talbiyah, sending salutations upon the Holy Prophet (sa) (durood) and seeking forgiveness from God (istighfar) among others. This stop is known as the Wuqoof (stay) at Arafat and is vital to performing Hajj, and a person’s pilgrimage cannot be considered complete without this stay.


On the evening of 9th Dhul-Hijjah, after the sun has set, pilgrims move towards Muzdalifah, located about 13 kilometers away. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states:

‘the pilgrim proceeds to Muzdalifah which means ‘nearness’ and reminds him that the object with which he had set out has drawn ‘near’.’ [12]

Here, they will combine the Maghrib and Ishaa prayers [13] and spend the night in Muzdalifah. The next morning, pilgrims will also offer the Fajr prayer in Muzdalifah.

Mash`ar al-Haram

On the morning of 10th Dhul-Hijjah, after having offered the Fajr prayer, pilgrims make their way to Mash`ar al-Haram (Sacred Monument) where pilgrims lay emphasis on reciting the Talbiyah. It is a small hillock in Muzdalifah located between Makkah and Arafat. It is stated that the Holy Prophet (sa) stopped here to offer prayers. [14] This place is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, as God Almighty states:

‘It is no sin for you that you seek the bounty of your Lord. But when you pour forth from ‘Arafat, remember Allah at Mash‘arul-Haram; and remember Him as He has guided you, although, before this, you were of those gone astray.’ [15]

Rami Jamarat al-Aqabah

Still on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims return to Mina. Here pilgrims make their way to Jamarat al-Aqabah, a stone pillar meant to represent Satan. As a symbol of shunning Satan, pilgrims will throw seven pebbles at the pillar, while declaring ‘Allah is the Greatest’. This is known as Ramy al-jamarāt. With the first pebble thrown, the mandated reciting of Talbiyah comes to an end. 

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states:

‘The casting of pebbles at these pillars is also symbolic of Satan being pelted. Evil thoughts should be driven out of one’s mind just as God has driven away Satan from His presence.’ [16]

Animal Sacrifice and Shaving/Cutting Hair

Continuing on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims will sacrifice an animal and shave or cut their hair. Women should not shave their head, rather they can cut a small piece from a strand of their hair. Upon this, the state of Ihram along with its restrictions comes to an end. 

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) states:

‘The animals sacrificed are reminders of the great sacrifice of his son Ishmael offered by Abraham, and teach, in symbolic language, that man should ever be willing not only to sacrifice himself but also his wealth and property and even children in the way of God out of love for Him.’ [17]

Circuits Around the Ka`bah

After having come out from the state of Ihram, pilgrims make their way back to Makkah, where they perform seven circuits around the Holy Ka`bah. This is known as Tawaf al-Ziyarah. After doing so, the pilgrims return to Mina. 

Remaining Days in Mina

The remaining days of Hajj – 11th to 13th of Dhul-Hijjah – are spent in Mina. This time is known as Ayyam al-Tashriq (days of beauty and brightness). During these days, pilgrims spend their time in prayer and remembrance of God. Furthermore, there are three stone pillars here representative of Satan; Jamarat al-Dunya, Jamarat al-Wusta and Jamarat al-Aqabah. On each day, the pilgrims will pelt the stone pillars with seven pebbles each. 

Ending the Pilgrimage

God Almighty has given pilgrims the option of ending their pilgrimage either on the 12th or 13th of Dhul-Hijjah. With regards to the time spent in Mina and the option of leaving on either the second or third day, God states in the Holy Qur’an:

‘And remember Allah during the appointed number of days; but whoso hastens to leave in two days, it shall be no sin for him; and whoso stays behind, it shall be no sin for him.’ [18]

Hence, if a pilgrim wishes to complete the Hajj on the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah, then after pelting the three stone pillars, the pilgrim will go Makkah, perform a circuit of the Ka`bah known as Tawaf al-Wida`(the farewell circuit), drink water from Zamzam, and thus complete the pilgrimage. The same procedure would be followed by pilgrims choosing to end their pilgrimage on the 13th of Dhul-Hijjah

The Significance of Hajj

It is important to understand that the rites of Hajj transcend far beyond the mere physical observances. Rather, if carried out with true sincerity, the purpose of these physical observances is to express love for God, to attain His nearness, and reap the rewards of His blessings. 

A Source of Immense Blessings

The Holy Prophet (sa) is narrated to have said:

‘When you leave home intending to perform the Hajj, for every stride your camel takes, a good deed is written down for you and one sin is forgiven. The reward for the  Rak’ats [units of prayer] after the Tawaf [circuits of the Ka`bah] shall be as you have freed a slave from among the descendants of Prophet Ismael (as). The reward for Sa’i [running] between the hills of Safa and Marwah is like that of freeing seventy slaves. As for your stay in ‘Arafat, Allah descends to the lower Heaven during this time and He boasts to the angels saying, ‘My slaves have come to me, having unkempt hair, coming from every well-travelled corner of the earth, seeking My paradise. [O my Servants!] If your sins are as numerous as the grains of sand or drops of rain or as much as the foam of the ocean, I have forgiven them all. O My servants! Go forth. You are forgiven as well as those whom you intercede on behalf of.’ 

[The Prophet Muhammad (sa) further stated] As for stoning the Jamarat [stone pillars representing Satan], for every stone that you throw, one such major sin that would have destroyed you is pardoned. The reward for sacrificing an animal is stored by your Lord. When you shave your head, for each hair, you will receive one good deed and one sin is wiped off. After all this when you perform the final Tawaf around the Ka`bah at the end of the Hajj, you do so in a condition where not a single sin remains upon you. An angel places his hand on the back between your shoulder blades and says, ‘Now you may recommence your deeds, all your previous sins are forgiven.’’ [19]

A Magnificent Expression of Love and Devotion

Perhaps the greatest way to explain all the rites of Hajj, is love. Love can manifest through various expressions, the essence of which are not the actions themselves, but the sentiments behind them. The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) explains:

‘When in love, a person’s being revolves around its beloved and kisses its threshold. As such, the Holy Ka`bah has been provided as an example for the true lovers [of God], and God says, ‘Look, this is My house, and the Black Stone is the cornerstone of My threshold.’ This commandment has been given so that one may physically express their fervent love and affection. Hence, pilgrims physically circle around the place of Hajj [the Ka`bah] and their expressions show that they have become infatuated and lost in the love of God. They forego adornment, shave their heads and display the expressions of those who have become enraptured as they perform circuits of love around the Ka`bah, and they kiss its stone perceiving it to be the cornerstone of God’s threshold. This physical fervor brings about a spiritual warmth and love; so while the body circulates around His house [the Ka`bah] and kisses the cornerstone of [His] threshold, at the same time, the spirit revolves around the true Beloved and kisses His spiritual threshold. In this way, there is no aspect of shirk [association of partners with Allah]. A person may kiss even a letter they receive from a dear friend. Muslims do not worship the Holy Ka`bah, nor do they seek anything from the Black Stone. Rather, these are considered to be physical examples bestowed by God and nothing more.’ [20]

Hence, for one who is brimming with the love of God, Hajj is an opportunity to express that which the soul feels within. For one who seeks to increase in the love of God, Hajj affords the opportunity to undertake the rites solely for the sake of God, so that the physical actions impact the soul, thereby naturally increasing a person’s love for God. Thus, the purpose of Hajj is clear; it is a magnificent means for increased worship in order for one to strengthen their faith and their connection with God. It is, in essence, a profound means to express love for the One, True God. 

About the Author: Sarmad Naveed is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who graduated from the Ahmadiyya Institute for Languages and Theology in Canada. He serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and coordinates the Facts from Fiction section. He has also appeared as a panelist and host of programmes on Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) such as ‘Ahmadiyyat: Roots to Branches.’


[1] Farīd Malik Ghulām. Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an:164. Tilford: Islam International Publications Limited, 2010. 

[2] The Holy Qur’an 3:98

[3] The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) Vol. 1 p. 330

[4] The Holy Qur’an 2:198

[5] Sahih al-Bukhari Kitab al-Hajj Hadith #1549

[6] The Holy Qur’an 2:126

[7] The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) Vol. 1 p. 219

[8] The Holy Qur’an 2:159

[9] The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) Vol. 1 p. 329

[10] Ibid

[11] Sahih al-Bukhari Kitab al-Hajj Hadith #1662

[12] The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) Vol. 1 p. 329

[13] Sahih al-Bukhari Kitab al-Hajj Hadith #1674

[14] The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) Vol. 1 p. 321

[15] The Holy Qur’an 2:199

[16] The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) Vol. 1 p. 330

[17] Ibid

[18] The Holy Qur’an 2:204

[19] Masnad Al-Bazzar, Masnad Ibn-e-Abbas, Hadith #6177

[20] Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam, Chashma-e-Ma`rifat, Ruhani Khaza’in Vol. 23 pp 99-101