The Hajj is a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca which all adult Muslims must undertake at least once in their lifetime.
Hajj literally translates into English as ‘to intend a journey’.
The event has grown into one of the most spectacular and largest gatherings of people in the world, with hundreds of thousands of worshippers meeting in the main square of the Saudi Arabian city at any one time.
Hajj is not the only pilgrimage to the holy city.
Muslims can also go on the ‘Umrah’, a journey that can be made at any time of the year, but not as a substitute for the Hajj.
Legend of the Kaaba
The Hajj came about as a traditional pilgrimage from Muhammad, although the origins of the ritual are believed to lie much farther back in history.
Muslims say that Ibrahim – the Muslim name for the Christian and Jewish prophet known as Abraham – was told to abandon his wife and son in the desert at around 2000 BCE by Allah, while they searched for water.
The child was scratching in the sand and a spring erupted. Ibrahim was ordered to build the Kaaba on the spot and to call for pilgrims to come and worship.
The Kaaba is the building at the centre of the sacred Al-Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca.
The story continues that the angel Gabriel flew down from heaven with a black stone that was lodged in the corner of the Kaaba.
When is the Hajj 2017?
The date is decided by the passage of the moon and traditionally occurs in the final month of the Islamic calendar and is determined by the first sighting of the moon in that month in Mecca.
In 2017, the Hajj starts on August 30 and ends on September 4.
What happens at the Hajj?
All adult Muslims who have the means and health to make the journey must go to Mecca at least once in their life.
There, they must attain the sacred state of Ihram and then take part in prayers and rituals, one of which involves walking around the Kaaba.
Pilgrims must also visit other sites near Mecca for prayer and contemplation.