The Five Pillars of Islam

Hajj – Pilgrimage to the House of God

Note: The photos used in this article must not be reproduced without express permission from the respective photographers.

Pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah in Makkah is the Fifth Pillar of Islam. The Pilgrimage aims at creating in the human mind a sense of importance for a common goal of uniting mankind, of shunning worldly base desires and, ultimately, being absorbed in love of the Creator. The task of Pilgrimage is found in all religions of the world, but their places of Pilgrimage are dispersed in various countries. Islam is unique amongst world faiths in that there is a single location, Makkah, where Muslims from across the globe are required to congregate for the sake of God. Millions gather each year from all nations, cultures and races in a phenomenal demonstration of universality not witnessed in any other religion.1

Diagram of the Ka’bah showing dimension and elements

The Ka‘bah, the House of God in Makkah, was, in fact, built in prehistoric times; Abraham(as) rebuilt it on the original old foundations as it appears from the Holy Qur’an where he prayed:  Our Lord, I have settled some of my children in an uncultivable valley near Thy Sacred House—our Lord that they may observe Prayer. So make men’s hearts incline towards them and provide them with fruits, that they may be thankful (Ch.14:V.38). Another verse of the Qur’an relates: Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House, praying, ‘Our Lord, accept this from us; for Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing’ (Ch.2:V.128).

People had been performing the Pilgrimage right from the time of Abraham(as) until the inception of Islam. Islam endorsed this practice, but reformed it by eliminating some unbecoming rituals that had crept in with the passage of time. For example, only the Qureishites, the dominating tribe, could circumambulate the Ka‘bah in pilgrim robes, others were made to perform this ritual while naked. The Holy Prophet(saw) abolished this disgraceful practice.

The Pilgrimage is a worship which is obligatory only once in life for a believer who can find a way to make the journey to the Ka‘bah: And  Pilgrimage to the House is a duty which men—those who can find a way thither—owe to Allah (Ch.3:V.98). ‘Those who can find a way thither’ imposes a necessary condition which is to be satisfied for the Hajj to be obligatory for a person. This condition has several aspects. One, for example, is that there should be peace on the way to Makkah. We know that the Holy Prophet(saw) left Madinah for performing Umrah (the Lesser Pilgrimage), but from Hudaibiyah he returned, for, it was not peaceful to continue journey due to the infidels’ objection. Likewise, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community could not go for Hajj, for, the Makkan ‘Ulema (Muslim clergy) had made pronouncements to excommunicate him from Islam. Even within India, he travelled taking precautions, as several opponents intended to assassinate him. Later on, Hadhrat Hafiz Ahmadullah performed Hajj on the Promised Messiah’s behalf, called Hajj-e-Badal in Islamic terminology.

Hajj is performed on fixed dates, commencing from the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month in the Islamic lunar calendar, until the 12th or 13th of the same month. There are several rituals performed during the Pilgrimage; these should all be understood and appreciated, which are symbolic and have deep spiritual significance.

Muslims wearing the Ihram, the unsewn white sheets, in a mosque in Makkah.

IHRAM:  The pilgrims have to wear two seamless white sheets, one to cover the upper part of the body and the other to cover the lower part. Men should not cover their heads. Women wear their normal clothes; they cover their heads, but leave uncovered their faces. The pilgrims go in to the state of the Ihram after taking a bath or at least performing ablution.

When in the state of Ihram, pilgrims are prohibited from shaving or trimming their hair, clipping their nails, wearing perfumes, hunting, conjugal relations, covering the head (for men) and covering the face for women if there be men who are not related around.

The unsewn ‘shroud-like’ white sheets are symbolic of causing death to ones worldly base desires. Thus, with a pure intention the faithful proceed to perform the Pilgrimage. The identical state of Ihram of the entire multitude displays the equality of high order among human beings.

The pilgrims proceed into the state of Ihram prior to entering the Sacred Sanctuary stretched around Makkah up to a distance varying from 7.5 kilometres to 22 kilometres at different places, from the Ka‘bah. One is not allowed to harm anybody within that area. Even hunting is not permissible, and cutting down trees is also prohibited. Makkah is the Town of Security (Ch.95:V.4). It is the Place of Security (Ch.2:V.126).  This Sanctuary is called Haram in Islamic terms. This is a must so that people may flock to the Ka‘bah without fear, enjoying total peace.

Yalamlam, about 130 kilometres South of Makkah, is one of the designated Miqats for pilgrims coming for the Pilgrimage.

Well before the radius of the Sanctuary, there are some particular locations wherefrom the pilgrims are required to wear the Ihram and without which the pilgrims should not enter the Sanctuary. These locations are situated on all sides around the Sanctuary. There are five in all: (1) Dhatu Irq, some 90 kilometres from Makkah towards North East. (2) Qarnul-Manazil, 80 kilometres East of Makkah. (3) Yalamlam, about 130 kilometres South of Makkah. (4) Al-Juhfah, 182 kilometres North West of Makkah and (5) Dhul-Hulaifah, 410 kilometres North of Makkah. These locations are termed Miqats. Those residing within the boundary of the Sanctuary may go into the state of Ihram from their residence. The inhabitants of Makkah, likewise, may wear the Ihram in Makkah with the intention of performing Hajj (Pilgrimage), but if they intend to perform Umrah (the Lesser Hajj), they have to proceed to the Miqat to wear the Ihram. For them, the nearest Miqat is Tan‘im, which is 7.5 kilometres from the Ka‘bah. The above-mentioned five Miqats are meant for the pilgrims coming from longer distances.

Muslims surge forward to try and touch the black stone.

In Umrah, pilgrims have to perform the rituals within Makkah, while in Hajj (the Pilgrimage), in addition to the Umrah rituals, they have to proceed out of Makkah to some places for performing other rituals. These are described further on.

After going into the state of Ihram, the pilgrims recite the following words called Talbiyah:

“Here am I, at your service, O God. All praise belongs to Thee, all beneficence is from Thee. Thine is Kingdom; Thou Hast no partner.”

The Talbiyah is recited frequently throughout the first leg of the Pilgrimage, which terminates with the slaughter of the sacrificial animal on 10th Dhul-Hijjah.

Having worn the Ihram, the pilgrims say two Rak‘ats (units) of Prayers, then proceed to Makkah. After entering Makkah, they go to their pre-booked lodging, store their luggage, perform ablution and then proceed to the Ka‘bah for its circumambulation (Tawaf). This is called Tawafe-Qudum, Tawaf of Arrival.

In Tawaf, the pilgrims start from the Black Stone (Hajr-e-Aswad), an unshaped stone built in southeast corner of Ka‘bah at the height of about four feet from the ground. The Pilgrims first face the Black Stone and say, “In the name of Allah, Allah is Great, all praise belongs to Allah,” then keeping the Ka‘bah on their left they go around it counter-clockwise and perform seven circuits. Every circuit starts from the Black Stone and ends at the same location. During the circuits, the Pilgrims earnestly recite Talbiyah, glorify God, supplicates and ask for forgiveness of sins. In every circuit when they reach the Black Stone, they kiss it, if possible, or just face towards it. In the first three circuits, the pilgrims run with short steps, if they are able to run; in the remaining four circuits they walk at normal pace.


Abraham(as) and his son Ishmael(as) built the Ka‘bah with stones. After them, the Ka‘bah has been rebuilt several times. This Black Stone is the only stone left out of those original stones. This is precious and historical stone. In olden times, an unshaped stone was a symbol of the belief in Oneness of God, as the idols were the stones cut into shapes. Muslims do not attach any supernatural powers with this Black Stone. Being unshaped, it is a symbol of Unity of God, so the faithful kiss it to express their love, and their belief in the Unity of God.

Performing circuits is symbolic of love in the very purpose of building the Ka‘bah, that is, the Unity of mankind and the propagation of the belief in One God.

The number 7 in the Arabic language means completion, and hence seven circuits of the Ka‘bah. The entire universe has seven heavens (Ch.2:V.30). The First Chapter of the Holy Qur’an is a complete gist of the Holy Qur’an; it has seven verses. A complete week has seven days. Hell has seven gates (Ch.15:V.45). Every circuit of the Ka‘bah, if performed with pure intention, closes a gate of the Hell. Seven circuits close all seven gates of Hell for the faithful.

The seven ‘gates’ of Hell may mean seven exteroceptive senses by which one receives impression from the outer world; namely, vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, pain and temperature.

Maqam-e-Ibrahim (Place of Abraham(as)) — Photo by Ayse Topbas, Photographer, Istanbul

Keeping the Ka‘bah on your left during circumambulation, metaphorically, means to follow the purpose of building the Ka‘bah, for, the Imam is kept on left during the congregational prayer when there are only two worshippers.

MAQAM-E-ABRAHAM: After going around the Ka‘bah seven times, the pilgrim goes to the Maqam-e-Abraham (the place of Abraham(as)) on the eastern side of the Ka‘bah, prays there two Rak‘ats (units), then drinks to his fill of the water of Zamzam.

Pilgrims running between Safa and Marwah

RUNNING BETWEEN SAFA AND MARWAH: After circumambulating and drinking Zamzam water, the pilgrims proceed to running between two hillocks, Safa and Marwah, situated near the Ka‘bah to its Southeast and Northeast respectively. This running is called Sa‘yi in Islamic terminology.

These two are historical hillocks where Hadhrat Abraham(as)’s wife Hagar(ra) (Hajirah) ran to and fro supplicating in search of water for her infant Ishmael(as), which resulted in the sudden appearance of a fountain near the infant. Water was gushing with a sound, ‘zam, zam, zam’, and hence it was named Zamzam Fountain. This is a clear manifestation of how God helps His servants.

So, the pilgrims, starting from Safa, proceed to Marwah with rapid strides, and then they return to Safa. Going back and then forth between the hillocks is counted as two rounds. In this way, seven rounds are completed. The seventh round will end at Marwah. In between Safa and Marwah, there is a valley where Hadhrat Hajirah(ra) ran, for, she could not see her child from there, so she hurried to reach quickly up the hill that she might look at her son. Therefore, the pilgrims also cover that part running which is marked with green posts to direct the faithful. During this ritual, the faithful glorify God and earnestly supplicate.

Photo from the mountainside of tents used during the Pilgrimage spread out over the plain of Mina in Makkah.

The acts of going around the Ka‘bah up to the running between Safa and Marwah are performed before the 8th of Dhul Hijjah. These are the only rituals performed for the lesser Pilgrimage (Umrah)

At this juncture, its seems proper to say a few words about the types of Hajj.

Tamattu‘: This means ‘to get benefit’. In fact, Hajj (Pilgrimage) and Umrah (lesser Pilgrimage) are two separate worships. Umrah can be performed at any time during the year, except from 8th Dhul Hijjah up to 13th Dhul Hijjah, as these are the days of performing Pilgrimage (Hajj). Hajj can only be performed in this specific period.

Hajj-e-Tamattu‘ means to get the benefit of combining both Umrah and Hajj. In this case, after completing the rituals of Umrah, one shaves one’s head or trims the hair and removes the Ihram and wears one’s usual clothes. Then on 8th Dhul Hijjah, the first day of Hajj, the pilgrim goes into the state of Ihram afresh and performs the acts of Hajj.

Hajj-e-Qiran: Qiran means ‘to join’. In this case, the pilgrim should not remove the Ihram after Umrah nor should he shave or trim the hair. Wearing the same Ihram, he starts performing the rituals of Hajj on 8th Dhul Hijjah.

Hajj-e-Ifrad: It means ‘only Hajj’ without Umrah. In this case, rituals of Umrah are excluded. The pilgrim starts the rituals of Hajj starting from the 8th Dhul Hijjah.

FIRST DAY OF HAJJ:  It is 8th Dhul Hijjah. In the state of Ihram, the pilgrims proceed to Mina, some 7 kilometres from the Ka‘bah. In Mina, they camp until the next morning. They pray there five prayers, i.e. Zuhr (early afternoon Prayer),Asr (mid-afternoon Prayer), Maghrib (evening Prayer), Isha (night Prayer) and the next morning Fajr (early morning Prayer). While at Mina, they spend most of the night praying and supplicating.

SECOND DAY:  On 9th Dhul Hijjah, after praying Fajr, the early morning Prayer, the pilgrims leave Mina and proceed to Arafat, a place towards northeast of Makkah, about 22 kilometres from the Ka‘bah. There lies the famous mount called Jabal-e-Rahmat, whereon the Holy Prophet(saw) delivered his sermon riding a she-camel.  Thus, the Imam of Hajj delivers sermon there on 9th Dhul Hijjah.  Arafat is situated outside the Sanctuary. In pre-Islamic era, Qureishites thought it below their dignity to go beyond the radius of the Sanctuary, while non-Qareishites reached Arafat. The Holy Qur’an made mandatory for all pilgrims to reach Arafat: ‘…But when you pour forth from ‘Arafat, remember Allah at Mash’ar al-Haram…’ (Ch.2:Vs.199-200). It is of supreme importance for a pilgrim to be there. This day (9th Dhul Hijjah) is called Yaumul-Hajj, the Pilgrimage Day. If the pilgrim does not reach Arafat on 9th Dhul Hijjah, the Hajj is not counted; and the pilgrim would have to come the following year for the Pilgrimage.

Pilgrims at Arafat – Photo by Omar Chatriwala

Arafat literally means ‘awareness’. The pilgrims get a tremendous awareness of God here and remain busy supplicating and seeking forgiveness of their sins and shortcomings. The whole day they remain there. They pray here Zuhr (early afternoon Prayers) and ‘Asr (mid-afternoon Prayers). After sundown, before praying Maghrib (evening Prayer), they leave for Muzdalifah en route to Mina by a different route. Muzdalifah is about eight kilometres from Makkah, between Arafat and Mina. At Muzdalifah there is a mound called Al-Mash‘arul-Haram. Here the Holy Prophet(saw) combined his Maghrib and Isha Prayers and supplicated the whole night. The pilgrim also prays here Maghrib and Isha Prayers, supplicate and meditate most of the night. Muzdalifah means ‘become near’. At this juncture, the pilgrim who has performed the rituals most fervently gets nearer to God. And Al-Masharul-Harammeans ‘sacred consciousness’; a faithful gets sacred consciousness of God at this stage.

Pilgrims on Mount Arafat – Photo: Ayse Topbas, Photographer, Istanbul

The pebbles, which are to be thrown at the three Jamarat (Posts) at Mina, are picked up from Muzdalifah. At least 49 pebbles should be picked. Those pilgrims who wish to stay an addtional day at Mina take 70 pebbles.

THIRD DAY:  On 10th Dhul Hijjah, after praying the early morning Prayer (Fajr) at Muzdalifah, the Pilgrims leave for Mina.

RAMYUL-JAMARAT (Throwing Pebbles): There is a narration that when Hadhrat Abraham(as) was going to sacrifice his first-born, Ishmael(as), he was tempted at Mina by Satan to abandon his intention, but Abraham(as) rejected him very firmly. After some time Satan tried again to tempt him but failed miserably. After a while, he tried the third time to entice him not to sacrifice his son, but Abraham(as) rejected him outright. Three pillars have been erected there to mark these spots of Abraham(as)’s trial. All three are in one line on the road. Between first and the last pillar there is a distance of about 400 metres.

Pilgrims on the Jamarat bridge in Mina, where they pelt stones at the three Pillars. Photo: Omar Chatriwala

So, the pilgrims pelt these three posts, called Jamarat, with the pebbles. This is symbolic of rejecting any satanic temptation. While coming from Muzdalifah, the pilgrim will come across the Post called the Jamrah Ula, the First Post; after some distance comes the Jamrah Wusta, the Middle Post, and then the third one called Jamrah ‘Aqabah, the post at difficult mountainous passage. These are usually called Minor Post, Middle Post, and the Big Post. This depicts that initially Satan’s inducements are of minor nature, and if the person does not yield, Satan’s inducements become more intense. If he fails again, he tries his maximum power of inducement.

Pilgrims throwing stones at one of the Pillars. – Photo: Omar Chatriwala

On 10th Dhul Hijjah, after arrival at Mina, only Jamrah ‘Aqabah, the Big Post, is pelted. Seven pebbles are thrown. This can be performed at any time from the morning until the declining of the sun.

The pilgrims pick these pebbles from the sands of Muzdahifah wherein they are found in abundance.

SACRIFICE:  After pelting the Jamrah ‘Aqabah (The Big Post), the pilgrims slaughter the sacrificial animal. A goat or a sheep suffices for a pilgrim, while a camel or a cow may be shared by seven pilgrims. This sacrifice is compulsory for those who are performing the Tamattu‘ or Qiran type of Hajj. For him who is performing Hajj-e-Ifrad, the sacrifice is not compulsory, though it is desirable.

After slaughtering the sacrificial animal, the pilgrims shave their heads or trim the hair, and with that all the restrictions, save conjugal relations, are lifted. The pilgrims take bath and wear their usual dress. At this juncture, the recitation of Talbiyah comes to an end.

TAWAF-E-ZIYARAT: Ziyarat means ‘visitation’. The pilgrims proceed to Ka‘bah the same day, on the 10th Dhul Hijjah, perform seven circuits of the Ka‘bah as they did in the Tawaf of Arrival and return to Mina the same day. The pilgrims supplicate, ask forgiveness of sins most of the time throughout their Pilgrimage.

FOURTH DAY:  On 11th Dhul Hijjah, the ritual of pelting is performed, but now all three Jamarat are targeted. The Jamarat are pelted in sequence, i.e., the pilgrim starts with the First Post, and then goes to the Central Post and pelts it and finally the third post, Jamrah   ‘Aqabah, is pelted.

FIFTH DAY:  On 12th Dhul Hijjah, after pelting the three Jamarat in the manner mentioned above, the pilgrims leave for Makkah; there they perform Tawaf-e-Wada‘ or Tawaf-e-Ifadah (The Farewell Tawaf). With this, the only restriction that was not lifted after the sacrifice and shaving head, is lifted. The Hajj is complete. Now the pilgrims may proceed to Madinah, and then leave for their homelands. If the pilgrims want to stay at Mina even the sixth day, 13th Dhul Hijjah, they must pelt all three posts that day also, then proceed to Makkah for Tawafe-Wada‘.

The Pilgrim, who performs all the rituals whole-heartedly with pure intention and full attention, is cleansed of all sins and acquires nearness to God, and hence achieves the very purpose of his life. He becomes a pious person, harmless, meek and helpful to humanity.

Malik Jamil R. Rafiq


1.  Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, An Elementary Study of Islam, chapter on Hajj, Islam International Publications Ltd. (1996)