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Islam - Religious Duty - Five Pillars

5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)

The last of the five pillars of Islamic Religious duty is the pilgrimage or Hajj. This ritual represents one of the peak experiences in the life of a Muslim. The Hajj or Pilgrimage is made to the sacred places of Islam in and around Mecca. Once in a lifetime every Muslim, man or woman, is expected, unless it is impossible, to make a pilgrimage (a hajj) to Mecca. The pilgrim should be there during the sacred month Dhu-al-Hijja so as to enter with thousands of others into the annual mass observance of the circumambulation of the Ka'ba, the Lesser and Greater pilgrimages, and the Great Feast. 

When war or other untoward conditions do not interfere, a great part of the pilgrims nowadays go by rail and ship or by air to the coast below Mecca or to nearby airfields. In ancient times they joined far- traveling over-land caravans, which in the last stages of the journey crossed the desert from Basra in Iraq, or followed the trade routes from Yemen, Cairo, or Damascus. Each such caravan had as an indispensable part of its insignia a camel bearing on its back an unoccupied mahmal or richly ornamented litter, the resplendent symbol of the piety and sacrificial spirit of the pilgrims. 

All male pilgrims are required, whether rich or poor, to enter the sacred precincts of Mecca wearing the same kind of seamless white garments and practicing the proper abstinences: no food or drink by day, continence, and no harm to living things, animal or vegetable. This is the first of a long series of leveling practices by which people of all countries and languages are made to mingle in one unifying mass observance without distinction of race or class. 

The principal ceremonies in Mecca begin with circumambulation of the Ka'ba. The pilgrims start at the Black Stone and run around the building three times fast and four times slowly, stopping each time at the southeast corner to kiss the Black Stone, or to touch it with hand or stick, or perhaps just look keenly at it depending on the crowd. 

The next observance is the Lesser Pilgrimage, which consists of trotting, with shoulders shaking, seven times between Safa and Marwa, two low hills across the valley from each other-this observance is in imitation of frantic Hagar seeking in despair for water for wailing little Ishmael. 

On the eighth day of Dhu-al-Hijja the Greater Pilgrimage begins. The pilgrims in a dense mass move off toward Arafat, nine miles to the east. They spend the night at Mina, at the half-way point. The next day, all arrive at the Arafat plain. The pilgrims participate in a prayer service conducted by an imam. They listen to his sermon, and, of utmost importance, stand or move slowly about, absorbed in pious meditation. 

After sunset they begin running en masse to Muzdalifa, a fourth of the way back to Mecca, where they pass the night in the open. At sunrise they continue to Mina, where each pilgrim casts seven pebbles at three places down the slope below the mountain road, crying out at each throw: "In the name of God! Allah is almighty!" Those who are able to do so then make the Great Feast possible by offering as a sacrifice a camel, sheep, or horned animal. The sacrificer eats part of the meat and gives the rest of it to the poorer pilgrims who stand by, whoever they may be. 

The three days following are spent in eating, talking, and merry-making, in the strictest continence, and then, as a final act of the pilgrimage, all return to Mecca and make the circuit of the Kaba once more. 

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