Five Pillars of Islam: Pilgrimage (Hajj)
The fifth pillar of Islam is to make a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Makkah, in Saudi Arabia, at least once in one's lifetime. This pillar is obligatory for every Muslim, male or female, provided that he/she is physically and financially able to do so. Prerequisites for performing the Hajj are to be a Muslim, to be free, to be an adult or mature enough, to be of sound mind, and to have the ability to afford the journey and maintain one's dependants back home for the duration. The reward for the Hajj is nothing less than Paradise.
The Hajj is the ultimate form of worship, as it involves the spirit of all the other rituals and demands great sacrifice. On this unique occasion, nearly two million Muslims from all over the globe meet one another in a given year. Regardless of the season, pilgrims wear special clothes (Ihram) - two, very simple, unsown white garments - which strips away all distinctions of wealth, status, class and culture; all stand together and equal before Allah (God).
The rites of Hajj, which go back to the time of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) who built the Ka'bah, are observed over five or six days, beginning on the eighth day of the last month of the year, named Dhul-Hijjah ((month) of pilgrimage). These rites include circumambulating the Ka'bah (Tawwaf), and going between the mountains of Safa and Marwah, as Hajjar (Abraham's wife (RA)) did during her search for water for her son Isma'il (PBUH). Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafah and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgement. The pilgrims also cast stones at a stone pillar which represents Satan. The pilgrimage ends with a festival, called Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers, the sacrifice of an animal for eating, and the exchange of greetings and gifts in Muslim communities every where.
The Hajj is unique as it is the greatest gathering of mankind, that remains unparalleled in any part of the world. Over two million people, men and women of all different races, colours and nationalities come together for the worship of the one Supreme God in complete brotherhood and harmony. The white clothes that are worn during the pilgrimage are symbolic of perfect equality as no one person seems richer than the other. Rich and poor, Arab and non-Arab, black and white all gather together united by their common faith in one God, an ultimate expression of human brotherhood.
"There were then of thousands of pilgrims, from all over
the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds
to black-shinned Africans. But we were all participating in
the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and
brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to
believe never could exist between the white and the non-
white." Malcolm X