The first day of Hajj
The Hajj traditionally begins in Mecca, with a smaller pilgrimage called the “umrah”, which can be performed year-round. To perform the umrah, Muslims circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise seven times while reciting supplications to God, then walk between the two hills traveled by Hagar. Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, encompasses the Kaaba and the two hills.
The second day of Hajj
After spending the night in the massive valley of Mina, where 160,000 tents are set up to house them, the pilgrims head to Mount Arafat, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca, for the pinnacle of the pilgrimage.
The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have said that Hajj is Arafat, in reference to the day spent there and its importance. Pilgrims are packed shoulder to shoulder, with some men and women openly weeping and praying.
Tens of thousands scale a hill called Jabal al-Rahma, or mountain of mercy, in Arafat. It is here where Muhammad delivered his final sermon, calling for equality and for Muslim unity. He reminded his followers of women’s rights and that every Muslim life and property is sacred.
Around sunset, pilgrims head to an area called Muzdalifa, nine kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat. Many walk, while others use buses. They spend the night there and pick up pebbles along the way that will be used in a symbolic stoning of the devil back in Mina, where Muslims believe the devil tried to talk Ibrahim out of submitting to God’s will.
The final three days of Hajj
The last three days of the Hajj are marked by three events: a final circling of the Kaaba, casting stones in Mina and removing the ihram. Men often shave their heads at the end in a sign of renewal.
The final days of Hajj coincide with Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, celebrated by Muslims around the world to commemorate Ibrahim’s test of faith. During the three-day Eid, Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.