If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The Rituals of the Hajj

There are two pilgrimages to Mecca. Hajj—known as the Greater Pilgrimage and ‘Umra—the lesser pilgrimage. Hajj can only be undertaken between the 8th and the 13th of Dhu al-Hijja —the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar. At all other times of the year, pilgrims may travel to Mecca to undertake ‘Umra. Both pilgrimages begin at stations known as miqat, which pilgrims cannot cross unless they are in the white garments known as ihram. It is here that they put them on, make their intention for Hajj and recite the talbiya—a prayer to announce to God their arrival for pilgrimage.
‘Umra involves rituals which take place in the sanctuary at Mecca itself: circumambulation of the Ka‘ba (tawaf) and the passing between the hills of Safa and Marwa (sa‘i). Pilgrims also pray behind the Station or Maqam of Abraham and drink Zamzam water. All of these rituals can be completed in a matter of hours. The Hajj begins with the same rituals as those of ‘Umra, on day one, and continues with visits to the holy sites of ‘Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina on subsequent days.
British Library, MS.Add.27261 fols 362b-363a
British Library, MS.Add.27261 fols 362b-363a
This manuscript was produced at the court of Iskandar Sultan, great patron of the arts, grandson of Tamerlane and ruler of the province of Fars in south-west Iran (1409 –1414). The illustration is from a text on Islamic jurisprudence about the restrictions on a pilgrim when in the state of ihram (white garments). A dense concentration of pilgrims are depicted in ihram surrounding the Ka‘ba. The sanctuary and the city are enclosed behind a high wall. Angels hover above the Ka‘ba. During Iskandar Sultan’s rule, manuscripts of great refinement were made in the royal atelier at Shiraz. The other texts in this volume comprise a selection of religious and lyric verse and treatises on astronomy, astrology, geometry and alchemy.


Tawaf: Circumambulation; a key element of the Hajj rituals. Performed seven times around the Ka‘ba anti-clockwise, starting from the eastern corner in which the Black Stone is embedded. The tawaf al-wada‘, the farewell tawaf, is the last rite of Hajj.
Sa'i: The shuttling between the two hills of Safa and Marwah. The area in which the activity takes place is called the mas‘a (the place of hurrying).
Wuquf ‘Arafat: Literary meaning ‘standing’, this refers to the vigil that takes place from noon to sunset on the 9th of Dhu al-Hijja. ‘Arafat is where the Prophet Muhammad gave his Farewell Sermon in 632, the year of his death.
At Muzdalifa: Pilgrims collect 49 stones in Muzdalifa to be thrown over several days at the three pillars (jamrat) in the valley of Mina near Mecca.
At Mina: At Mina are the three pillars in the valley of Mina close to Mecca which represent the three times that Satan attempted to tempt Ibrahim (Abraham). They are known as Jamrat al-‘Aqaba (at the narrow pass of al-‘Aqaba, and the largest), Jamrat al-Wusta (the middle one) and Jamrat al-Sughra (the small one).
‘Eid al-Adha: ‘Eid al-Adha (festival of sacrifice) takes place on the 10th of Dhu al-Hijja, a great feast throughout the Muslim world. Pilgrims sacrifice a sheep (sometimes a goat) as a reminder of the obedience of Ibrahim (Abraham) who accepted to sacrifice his son Isma‘il (Ishmael) as an act of submission before God intervened allowing for a lamb to be sacrificed instead.
The British Museum logo
© Trustees of the British Museum

Want to join the conversation?

No posts yet.