This is a simplified narrative about the Hajj Pilgrimage.
It is intended for reading and speaking practice in English.
It is not intended to be a guide or thorough explanation of anything to do with Islam but an information exercise.
THIS IS THE NARRATIVE.
The Haj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
It is centred on the city of Mecca and the nearby locations of Mina, Medina, Mount Arafat and Jamarat.
It is something all Muslims must do at least once in their life provided they are physically and financially capable. Many Muslims save all their lives for the opportunity to make the pilgrimage.
Doing it is one of the five Pillars of Islam. Muslims believe it purifies life from poverty and sin and leads to spiritual rebirth.
It is the largest mass gathering in the world in one place and unites Muslims equally of all nationalities.
Muslims follow the lunar not the solar calendar. This means that the two key Islamic festivals called Eid Idul Fitri and Idul Addha are determined by the sighting of the moon.
The Hajj pilgrimage occurs for five days during the eighth to the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar year.
Hajj begins at Mina when pilgrims enter a state of holiness called Ihram and must wear special seamless white cloths. The end of Hajj is marked with animal sacrifice which coincides with Eid Idul Addha. At this time, livestock is slaughtered and meat distributed to the poor.
During the Hajj, Muslims should undertake a number of rituals to confirm their religious commitment such as circling anti-clockwise the Ka’aba seven times, drinking from the Zamzam well, climbing Mount Arafat to ask God for forgiveness of their sins, stoning the devils wall at Jamarat and conducting an act of sacrifice.
Clearly, not all Muslims, even if they wanted to, would be able to fulfil their religious goal because of the limitation placed on the numbers allowed to enter Saudi Arabia at this time by the Saudi government.
There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today. In 2015, it was estimated that three million Muslims came to the Islamic Holy Land for Hajj.
Indonesia is the country in the world with the largest population of Muslims, 86% of its total population of 212 million. Its current quota for Indonesians to go to Hajj is around 200,000 per year.
All Muslims going for Hajj are required to have a Permit from the Saudi Arabian Government which may take many years to obtain. There are inevitable restrictions on anyone who is too young or old to travel, has a serious health condition or indeed has already been on the pilgrimage more than once or is not a Muslim.
Due to the large number of pilgrims in one place, there are unavoidable crowd control, health and safety issues and so, therefore, many of the rituals are performed symbolically.
Huge, extensive air-conditioned tunnels and expansive bridges have been built to enable pilgrims to fulfil their religious obligations in greater safety and crowd control monitoring put in place.
Despite this, tragedies still happen such as the recent stampede at Medina when more than seven hundred people died at the 2015 Hajj and remind us that the logistical problems are far from being solved.
The Hajj is also an attractive target to cheat unsuspecting pilgrims by corruption and pick-pocketing and Pilgrims should always be extra vigilant during their pilgrimage.
For Muslims who are unable to make it for Hajj, they can visit the Islamic holy places for Umrah at any other time of the year because the Holy places are never closed but a special visa from the Saudi government is still required.