The annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, has involved Muslims from all round the world for over a thousand years. This illustration of the Ka’bah, the sacred mosque in Mecca, is part of a book on the hajj written in the Malay language by Muhammad Azahari bin Abdullah and published in 1900.
Depiction of the Ka‘bah, Singapore, 1900
BL 14620.g.28, p. 2
Copyright © The British Library Board
What is the hajj?
At least once in their lifetime, every Muslim who is able to do so must journey to Mecca and perform the prescribed rites of hajj. Around 2-3 million pilgrims, dressed simply in white sheets and sandals, gather in the Saudi Arabian town to retrace the steps of the prophets. Male pilgrims shave their heads during the trip to symbolise the cutting away of sin. The hajj is always done from days 8 to 13 of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, Dhu al-Hijjah, to which the pilgrimage gave its name.
Why is Mecca important for Muslims?
The city holds the holiest site in all Islam, the Masjid al-Haram ('Sacred Mosque'), and was declared a site of pilgrimage by the Prophet Muhammad in 630. That was the year of his triumphant return to the city after years of exile in Medina. Inside the Sacred Mosque is the Ka'bah, a large cubical building said by Muslims to have been built by Abraham. In the Ka'bah is the "black stone", an object Muslims believe was given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel.
Muhammad is buried at Medina. While a visit to his tomb there is not a prescribed part of the pilgrimage, many pilgrims make use of their presence in Arabia to visit it, and other places associated with the Prophet's life.
What are other main holy sites in Islam?
Medina, where Muhammad fled in 622, is the second holiest site in Islam. Next is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven on his horse Buraq to receive divine commandments.
Why is the Ka'bah special?
The name Ka'bah comes from the Arabic word meaning 'cube', and refers to the cube-shaped stone structure inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. As the focal point for worship during the daily prayers, it unifies all Muslims: wherever they are in the world, Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca and the Ka'bah. This direction is known as the qiblah.
The Ka'bah is ritually circled by pilgrims seven times during their hajj.