More than two million Muslims from all over the world began the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, over the weekend.
Briefly.co.za looks at the importance of Hajj, when it is usually held, and what Muslims do during the pilgrimage.
What is Hajj?
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is an annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Islam requires all Muslims to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives if they are financially and physically able.
Why is it important?
According to the Qur'an, the Hajj originates from the story of prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). God asked him to leave his wife and baby son in the desert in what is now Mecca.
God miraculously created a fresh spring when Ibrahim wife had almost given up. When Ibrahim returned, he constructed the Kaaba, to which Muslims turn to when they pray.
Later, prophet Muhammad liberated the Kaaba from pagan idols. The Hajj therefore commemorates these events.
When is Hajj 2018?
The Hajj is held over a period of five days. This year, it began on Sunday, 19 August and will end on Friday, 24 August.
It takes place between the eighth and 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12 month of the Islamic calendar. Eid Al Adha is held on the 10th day of this month.
Preparation for Hajj
Muslims begin preparing for Hajj soon after the Eid Al Fitr festival, or the end of the month of Ramadan.
Muslims leave behind their material possessions once they get to Mecca and dress in light robes to signify equality.
Rituals of Hajj
Hajj involves prayers in Mecca, where Muslims circle the Kaaba. After the prayers, they head to Mount Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon.
Pilgrims then symbolically stone the devil using small pebbles at Muzdalifa. They also make animal sacrifices during Eid Al Adha.
Once the Hajj is complete, they shave their hair to signify renewal. Women however cut only a lock of their hair.
Greetings for Hajj
Muslims often greet each other during the Hajj with the simple phrase, "Hajj Mubarak". This means "Blessed Hajj".
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