Hajj is a life changing experience for Muslims. Hajj is, without doubt, a life changing experience for Muslims that, once accepted and felt in its essence, will let the person return home as clean and sin-free as the day he or she was born. It is because of this life-changing experience that great people have changed their views and ideologies, and started a fresh life after tasting some of the aspects of this enriching Islamic ritual.

To make this experience a very rich one, I think it is the duty of each one who is taking up the blessed journey of hajj to reflect on each single step and stage of his journey, to add spirit and meaning to it and explore meanings that add to his being.

In these lines, I will try to trigger such pondering talent in my brothers and sisters by taking them through the step-by-step simple hajj. The step-by-step one done here is according to what is considered by a significant number of scholars the best form of hajj.

1. Ready to Move: Put on Your Hajj Clothes (Ihram) at Home

The first thing you do before you embark on your journey is to renew your intention, take a shower and put your consecrated hajj attire (Ihram) on and pray two units of ritual Prayer (rakahs) that are known as the “Sunnah of Ihram. This situation always reminds me of death, departure from this world, and taking up a long journey to Allah.

The white Ihram attire preceded by a shower reminds me of the wash each one of us will have upon death and the shroud in which each one will be put in before traveling to the final destiny.

The Prayer reminds me of the funeral prayer that is offered on the dead. In fact, this is all about our life in this world. Each one of us is a traveler, stays for a short while, and soon departs. The question is: what we have prepared for that day?

2. Arriving at the Starting Point (Miqat): Leave the World Behind

Whatever be the country we are coming from, we will pass through a point that is called the miqat in which we have to start our talbiyah (a chant that constitutes a response to Allah’s call, acknowledges His Oneness, and expresses the pilgrim’s gratitude) and be fully in our Ihram attire at.

Many times we go to the mosque everyday, at the door of the mosque where we take off our shoes and put the first foot inside, we are actually disconnecting ourselves from the world’s affairs and connecting with a new world of spirituality and monotheism.

How many times do we do this? How many times do we feel that we have really performed our Prayer and got to the essence, rather than the formula, of it?

I think at this stage of the journey we need to remember this meaning of disconnection and connection. In every worship, we need to disconnect from the world and connect to the Almighty if we really want His blessings to be showered upon us and we feel it in full.

3. Arriving in Makkah: Circumambulation, Prayers, a Well, and Two Hills

At our first sight at the blessed Kabah, we feel awe and respect to that great place. We feel the connection with this place which we face five times a day.

A pilgrim is required to greet this holy place and such a greeting is by doing seven circumambulatory (Tawaf) rounds starting them from the black stone, or what is in the same line of the black stone with the Kabah at the left hand side and walk anti-clockwise.

It is exactly like when you meet a beloved, you want to hug and embrace him fully. You are doing something similar to the Kabah. I think that when you are seeing the Kabah from all sides, it is as if you are taking witness from all sides of the small circle you are making that you have visited the point that dictates the direction of Prayer (qiblah), so that all the bigger circles around that extend to cover the earth, give witness as well that you love this place.

Then, you gather all this witness and move to confirm our link with Prophet Abraham by offering two units of ritual Prayer at his maqam (the place where he used to stand while raising up the building of the Kabah).

Drinking from the well of Zamzam is a reminder of the great work of Lady Hagar and appreciation of this courageous lady who depended on Allah in that barren place and whom Allah has blessed by a spring emerging from underneath the feet of her baby Ishmael.

This hope and trust in Allah that led this lady to run between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwa is appreciated by us following her steps and doing the saiy (the running between these two mountains) give us a feeling that we should work to earn our living and that there is no gain without pain.

The very Arabic word saiy, which carries the connotation of struggle, hard work, and travel, gives us an understanding that we have to struggle in this life to qualify for receiving the blessings of Allah.

4. Shortening the Hair: End of Umrah, Get Ready for Hajj

Once a person has done these brief actions, he is supposed to shorten his hair or, for women, cut some of it as a sign of being back to normal life, taking a rest, and getting ready for al-hajj al-akbar, or the greater hajj as it is known. This rest in itself very significant as it instills in us the sense of balance.

Even between actions of worship, we are supposed to have space and rest, for the one who continually works will collapse one day. The example given by the Prophet is excellent as he said: “The one on the back of the camel beating it severely to run beyond its capacity will not travel distances beyond the capacity of his camel nor will he keep his camel fit; rather it will collapse (Baihaqi).”

I think, we need to learn from this even when we do our acts of worship to take it easy on ourselves and admit that we are human beings; flesh and blood and need some rest to be able to continue with the same energy or otherwise we will collapse.

5. To Mina, Then to Mount Arafat

As the 8th day of the lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah dawns, pilgrims move to Mina, a space around Makkah and close to Mount Arafat. The day is called “yawm at-tarwiyah” (the day of getting water provisions), which denotes a practice when the pilgrims used to take drinking water from Makkah before they move to the area of Mina that did not have enough water.

In Mina, the pilgrims keep themselves busy with worshipping and remembrance of Allah as if they are in a camp where people give themselves a kind of isolation to reflect and think.

Then on the 9th day, pilgrims move to Mount Arafat, where all of them are gathered in one big space, praying, and celebrating the praises of Allah. They combine noon and afternoon Prayers together and feel as if they are standing for judgment before Allah. Each one of us should ask him or herself: am I ready for that day?

6. After Arafat: Muzdalifah, Then Throwing Pebbles

By the sunset of the 9th day, pilgrims move to a place called Muzdalifah where they wait till midnight or the last third of the night. They pray the sunset and night Prayers together at the time of night Prayer and collect seven small stones.

Later, they move towards a place called jamratul-aqabah to throw these seven pebbles in a symbolic ritual to signify their denunciation of Satan and all his traps and insinuation. This last ritual awakens in me the importance of throwing a stone at each single evil desire of us that is going to take us a way from the straight path of Allah.

The word jamrah — which in Arabic refers to small pebble and even refers to fire — and the word aqabah — which in Arabic means hindrance or an impediment — give the indication that you have to overcome this great hindrance of desire, remove the stones of that dam that hinders you from reaching your destination, feel the fire of your desires that will burn you if you submit to them and therefore will stop you from connecting with Allah.

With each stone you throw, you should remember to repeat, “I will overcome my evil desires. They will not impede me in my journey to Allah.”

7. Back to the Holy Mosque and the Two Hills

Once this is done, it will be almost the dawn of the 10th, and therefore, pilgrims flock to the Holy Mosque again to do Tawaf , two units of ritual Prayer at the maqam of Prophet Abraham, drink from Zamzam Well, and run between Al-Safa and Al-Marwa.

Such a package is like a confirmation and a conclusion that mark the end of the rituals of hajj with a few things that are to be done in the following day. It seems like an intensive workshop and a heavy dose of spirituality that charges the batteries of faith hopefully for good.

Once pilgrims have done this, they can shave their heads (or cut their hair) and get back to normal. Yet, they still have a few things to do.

8. Back to Mina and the Pebbles

Now, before a pilgrimage season is over, a few more things to be done to complete the whole thing. A pilgrim returns to Mina to spend 2 or 3 days there. It is quite a retreat in which he/she is busy with nothing but prayer and remembrance of Allah.

In each of these days, namely the 11th, 12th, and 13th, a pilgrim visits the three places called the jamarat (pl. of jamrah); the Greater jamrah, the Middle jamrah and the Smaller jamrah which are three big pillars at which the pebbles are thrown.

In each, pilgrims throw seven pebbles making a total of 21 pebbles each day. This practice normally starts in the early afternoon and continues for the 11th and the 12th.

If the pilgrims leave, there is no problem, but if they stay, then they have one more day to go. That is the 13th, in which they follow the same previous steps.

I see this as a confirmation and final training in a three-day retreat in which the main message of hajj is confirmed: that is, to overcome the self, to control desires, and to confirm the eternal enmity with Satan, and send him a daily message that he is thrown away from our lives.

This is very important to realize the status of servitude to Allah, and to affirm our total dedication to Him. Only by grasping this and living it, pilgrims are spiritually re-born.

Having finished this, pilgrims have already fulfilled all the steps of hajj, and can go back, not to normal life, but to a fresh one in which they see everything with different eyes: eyes of beauty, dedication and love.

Travelling back home, pilgrims may think they have finished their pilgrimage, but in reality, they have undertaken a short journey to prepare for a longer one: the journey to our destiny.

By Ahmad Saad