The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It should be performed once by all Muslims, health and means permitting. About 2,000,000 Muslims perform the Hajj each year in Mecca.
I describe what has to be done. The really hard question is - Why would Allah want people to do all these things?
In 'Twenty-three years', Ali Dashti quotes a poem about the Hajj.
People come from far corners of the land
to throw pebbles at the Satan and to kiss the black stone
How strange are the things they say!
Is all mankind becoming blind to the truth?
Umrah is the lesser pilgrimage. It can be performed at any times except the days in the month reserved for the Hajj, which are the 8th,9th and 10th days.
In the first five days, the pilgrim wears plain clothes and abstains from all violence and sexual intercourse. He visits the sacred mosque of Mecca and kisses the sacred Black Stone.
Then, he walks seven times around the Kaaba. He walks three times quickly and four times slowly. He touches the Yamani corner each time.
Then, he or she goes to the place of Abraham and prays twice. After that, he or she must return to the Black Stone and kiss it again. The pilgrims then move to the enclosure called the al-Hijr. This is where Muhammad is supposed to have slept when he made his miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.
On the sixth day, the pilgrim goes to the hill known as Mount As Safa, while reciting verses from the Qu'ran. There he must run from the top of As Safa to the summit of al-Marwah seven times (no more and no less), while praying.
For the benefit of non-Muslims, who will not be able to guess why people should be commanded by God to run up and down a hill seven times, it is to commemorate Hagar's search for water.
The ninth day is spent at Mount Arafat where the wuquf (standing) is performed. This is where Adam and Eve met. By sunset, the pilgrim must have hurried to Muzdalifah for evening prayer.
The tenth day is the day of Sacrifice. There a three pillars in Mina. Seven stones must be thrown at each of these pillars. The pebble must be held between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand and be thrown more than five yards. How strange are the ways of Allah to Western eyes!
After this a goat or lamb is sacrificed. Many pilgrims also choose to have their heads shaven or have their cut.
Why does the Almighty require people to perform all these acts?
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