Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca which is one of the five pillars of Islam. For a Muslim, Hajj is obligatory once in his or her lifetime. The Quran explains the rites of Hajj in detail in chapter 2 verses 196-202.
The pilgrimage to the Ka’aba, the symbolic house of Allah built by prophet Ibrahim (Abraham, peace be upon him), is the single-most gathering of Muslims annually on such a large scale. It is expected that more than 2.5 million people will perform Hajj this year.
Hajj holds much spiritual significance, as prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said to his followers that by completing all the rituals of Hajj sincerely for Allah alone, a person wipes out all his previous sins and becomes as pure and innocent as a newborn baby. Hajj is a means of purification and gives a person a fresh start in life.
As with all other acts of worship in Islam, intention is of primary important. For Hajj to be accepted by Allah, a person must leave aside all worldly reasons for performing Hajj, such as to show he or she has accomplished this obligation of Islam, or to gain prestige in the community, or any other reason apart from pleasing Allah. Hajj is a great social leveler as all men are dressed in two pieces of white unstitched cloth, irrespective of how rich or poor they might be. Women are allowed to wear their normal stitched clothes which adhere to the rules of dress for Muslim women, and covering of the face and wearing of expensive clothes or jewelry is to be avoided. Hajj is also an excellent reminder of the equality of all humans as decreed by Allah, as there are people from diverse races, cultures, societies, of different color, language, age,the poor and rich who are all gathered for the worship of Allah without any distinction or status.
One of the rites of Hajj is to sacrifice an animal to commemorate the willingness of prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) to sacrifice his son, Ismail, to obey and please Allah; at this time Allah intervened through his angel Jibrael (Gabriel) and replaced Ismail with a ram which was sacrificed in his place. Every year, Muslims in Hajj and around the world, honor this act of submission and obedience by sacrificing an animal for the sake of Allah. This is called ‘Eid ul Adha’ or the ‘festival of sacrifice’ which is celebrated for three days from the 10th day of the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah. These days of Eid are considered most significant, and a time for special supplication to Allah for all our needs. The meat from the sacrificed animal is generally divided into three parts- one to be consumed by the family who has made the sacrifice, one for friends and relatives and one for the poor and needy.