Hajj - The fifth pillar of Islam
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Shahaadah (testimony of faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (alms-giving) and Sawm (fasting). Hajj is the pilgrimage to the Ka'bah, the House of Allah SWT in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and consists of a series of rituals and acts of worship that need to be fulfilled at a specific time of the year as prescribed by Allah SWT.
Etymologically, the word Hajj comes from the root letters which mainly carry the meanings of: making a case with an irrefutable proof, pleading a cause, going somewhere for the sake of visiting, and more specifically in the case of Hajj, going to visit the House of Allah SWT to complete the pilgrimage with its prescribed manners, during its prescribed period of time.
Even though the word Hajj is only mentioned a few times in the Qur'an, there are many more references of the rituals, the command of Allah SWT to perform the pilgrimage if they are able, and the story of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) who first enacted it. Among these references:
"We showed Abraham the site of the House, saying, 'Do not assign partners to Me. Purify My House for those who circle around it, those who stand to pray, and those who bow and prostrate themselves. Proclaim the Pilgrimage to all people. They will come to you on foot and on every kind of swift mount, emerging from every deep mountain pass to attain benefits and celebrate God's name, on specified days, over the livestock He has provided for them– feed yourselves and the poor and unfortunate– so let the pilgrims perform their acts of cleansing, fulfil their vows, and circle around the Ancient House.' All this [is ordained by God]: anyone who honours the sacred ordinances of God will have good rewards from his Lord." (Surah Al-Hajj, 22:26-30)
"The first House [of worship] to be established for people was the one at Mecca. It is a blessed place; a source of guidance for all people; there are clear signs in it; it is the place where Abraham stood to pray; whoever enters it is safe. Pilgrimage to the House is a duty owed to God by people who are able to undertake it. Those who reject this [should know that] God has no need of anyone." (Surah Ali Imraan, 3:96-97)
"Safa and Marwa are among the rites of God, so for those who make major or minor pilgrimage to the House [i.e. Hajj or 'Umrah] it is no offence to circulate between the two. Anyone who does good of his own accord will be rewarded, for God rewards good deeds, and knows everything." (Surah Al Baqarah, 2:158)
"Complete the pilgrimages, major and minor, for the sake of God." (Surah Al Baqarah, 2:196)
"The pilgrimage takes place during the prescribed months. There should be no indecent speech, misbehaviour, or quarrelling for anyone undertaking the pilgrimage– whatever good you do, God is well aware of it. Provide well for yourselves: the best provision is to be mindful of God– always be mindful of Me, you who have understanding– but it is no offence to seek some bounty from your Lord. When you surge down from Arafat remember God at the sacred place. Remember Him: He has guided you. Before that you were astray. Surge down where the rest of the people do, and ask forgiveness of God: He is most forgiving and merciful. When you have completed your rites, remember God as much as you remember your own fathers, or even more. There are some who pray, 'Our Lord, give us good in this world,' and they will have no share in the Hereafter; others pray, 'Our Lord, give us good in this world and in the Hereafter, and protect us from the torment of the Fire.' They will have the share they have worked for: God is swift in reckoning." (Surah Al Baqarah, 2:197-202)
There are many benefits to undertaking this life-transforming journey, not only from a religious perspective but also from a spiritual and even social perspective, among others:
Hajj is obligatory for all adult Muslims (men and women alike) who are physically and financially able to. The Prophet (saws) said, "Hajj is obligatory only once in one's lifetime. Whatever one does over and above this is supererogatory (a voluntary act) for him." (Bulugh al-Maram)
As mentioned in the Qur'an, there are prescribed days in the year to complete Hajj. It takes place each Hijri year (Islamic calendar) from the 8th to the 13th of Dhul Hijjah, the Hijri month (lunar calendar). Dhul Hijjah is the 12th and last month of the Hijri year. It is preceded by the month of Dhul Qa'dah and followed by the month of Muharram.
Every year, many Muslims wish they could also complete their Hajj but are unable to do so due to physical or financial constraints, or perhaps even because of limitations on visas and entry requirements. But Allah SWT is certainly the Most Merciful and has made the first 10 days of the month of Dhul Hijjah – during which Hajj is to be performed – a special time of year for everyone, no matter where they are! Ibn 'Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "There are no days during which the righteous action is so pleasing to Allah than these days (i.e., the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah)." He was asked: "O Messenger of Allah, not even Jihad in the Cause of Allah?" He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, "Not even Jihad in the Cause of Allah, except in case one goes forth with his life and his property and does not return with either of it." [Al- Bukhari].