Upon arrival in Mecca the pilgrim, now known as a Hajji, performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his wife Hajar (Hagar). The acts also symbolize solidarity of Muslims worldwide.
The greater Hajj (al-hajj al-akbar) begins on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhu al-Hijjah. If they are not already wearing it upon their arrival, pilgrims put on ihram clothing and then leave Mecca for the nearby town of Mina where they spend the rest of the day. The Saudi government has put up thousands of large white tents at Mina to provide accommodations for all the pilgrims.
The route for pilgrims during Hajj
A Google Maps image of the route for pilgrims during Hajj
On the first day of the Hajj, the 8th day of the 12th month, Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims perform their first Tawaf, which involves all of the pilgrims entering The Sacred Mosque (Masjid Al Haram) and walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba, kissing the Black Stone (Hajr Al Aswad) on each circuit. If kissing of the stone is not possible due to the crowds, they may simply align themselves with the stone and point to it. Each complete circuit constitutes a "Shout" with 7 circuits constituting a complete tawaf. The place where pilgrims walk is known as "Mutaaf". Only the first three Shouts are compulsory, but invariably almost all perform it seven times.
Piligrims doing Tawaf around the Kabah, while others pray in rows
Eating is not allowed and the tawaf is normally performed all at once, the only exception being the drinking of water. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.
After the completion of Tawaf, all the pilgrims have to offer two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqaam E Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba. However, again due to large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the groundlevel, Tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque.
After Tawaf on the same day, the pilgrims perform sa`i, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of the frantic search for water for her son Ismael by Abraham's wife Hagar, before the Zamzam Well was revealed to her by an angel, who hit the ground with his heel (or his wing), upon which the water of the Zamzam started coming up from under his feet. The circuit used to be in the open air, but is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels. Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they are allowed to run, along with an 'express lane' for the disabled. The safety procedures are in place because previous incidents in this ritual have resulted in stampedes which caused the deaths of hundreds of people.
As part of this ritual the pilgrims drink water from the Zamzam Well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque. The pilgrims then return to their tents.
The next morning, on the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims leave Mina for Mount Arafat where they stand in contemplative vigil, near a hill from which Muhammad ﷺ gave his last sermon. This is considered the highlight of the Hajj. Pilgrims must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset. No specific rituals or prayers are required during the stay at Arafat, although many pilgrims spend time praying, and thinking about the course of their lives. If a pilgrim does not spend the afternoon on Arafat then their pilgrimage is considered invalid.
Pilgrims climbing Mount Arafat. The Hajj tents are also visible.
As soon as the sun sets, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, an area between Arafat and Mina, where 49 pebbles are gathered for the next day's ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan). Many pilgrims spend the night sleeping on the ground at Muzdalifah before returning to Mina. It is now the 10th of the month, the day of Eid ul-Adha.
Pilgrims on their way to Muzdalifah
Stoning of the Devil: Ramy al-Jamarat
At Mina the pilgrims perform Ramy al-Jamarat, throwing stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. This symbolizes the trials experienced by Abraham while he decided whether to sacrifice his son as demanded by God. The Devil challenged him three times, and three times Abraham refused. Each pillar marks the location of one of these refusals.
On the first occasion when Ramy al-Jamarat is performed, pilgrims will stone the largest pillar know as Jamrat'al'Aqabah. On the second occasion, all other three pillars will be stoned. The stoning consists of throwing seven pebbles. Because of the crowds, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls. Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-levelled Jamarat Bridge, from which they can throw their stones at the one jamarat.
Stoning of the Devil: Ramy Al Jamarat
After the Stoning of the Devil an animal is sacrificed. This symbolizes God having mercy on Abraham and replacing his son with a ram, which Abraham then sacrificed.
Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins which allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present. Centralized butcher houses will sacrifice a single sheep for each pilgrim, or a cow can represent the sacrifice of seven people. The meat is then packaged and given to charity and shipped to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a four-day global festival called Eid ul-Adha. Many Muslims say that this is the highlight of the pilgrimage.
On this or the following day the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca for a tawaf called the Tawaf az-Ziyarah or Tawaf al-Ifadah which symbolises being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
On the afternoon of the 11th and again the following day the pilgrims must again throw seven pebbles at each of the three jamarat in Mina.
Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th. If they are unable to leave Mina before sunset, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wada.
Journey to Madinah
Though it is not required as part of the Hajj, many pilgrims also travel to the city of Madinah and the Mosque of the Prophet, which contains Muhammad ﷺ's grave.
The Prophet's mosque in Madinah