Like all religions, Islam has a complex set of beliefs and practices that have been influenced by a variety of cultural, historical, and spiritual factors. But the Five Pillars of Islam stand as a set of practices that all Muslims around the world, regardless of denomination, are expected to perform. Muslims believe that these practices reflect the most important core beliefs of their religion: monotheism, Muhammad's status as God's last prophet, the importance of honoring God, and the underlying unity of all followers of Islam as fellow Muslims.
The Five Pillars of Islam are:
Shahadah = Testimony of Faith
Salah = Daily Prayer
Zakat = Charity
Sawm = Fasting
Hajj = Pilgrimage to Mecca
Muslims believe that the purpose of practicing the Five Pillars is to live a good life and show gratitude (mashallah) to Allah for everything they have in their life.
Clockwise from Top Left- Salat; Sawm; Shahadah; Hajj Center- Zakat
Hajj is the pilgrimage (religious journey) to Mecca that every Muslim must make at least once in their lifetime if they are able. It is the most spiritual event that a Muslim experiences, observing rituals in the most sacred places in the Islamic world. Mecca is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the location of the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam. As such, it is a deeply spiritual destination for Muslims all over the world and is considered the heart of Islam.
At the center of the Great Mosque of Mecca lies the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building that Muslims believe was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. It was in Mecca that the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelations in the early 600s CE. Therefore, the city has long been viewed as a spiritual centre and the birthplace of Islam. The rituals involved with Hajj have remained unchanged since its beginning, and it continues to be a powerful religious undertaking which draws Muslims together from all over the world, irrespective of nationality or denomination.
When pilgrims today undertake the Hajj journey, they follow in the footsteps of the millions that came before them. Since Hajj can only be performed at a designated time of the year, historically pilgrims made the journey together in huge caravans. In the past the journey could be extremely dangerous. Pilgrims often fell ill or were robbed on the way and became destitute. However, pilgrims did not fear dying on Hajj, because Muslims believe that those who die on Hajj will go directly to Heaven with their sins erased. Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from over 70 nations can get on an airplane to reach Saudi Arabia, making the journey much easier than it was in the past.
The Hajj involves a series of rituals that take place in and around Mecca over a period of five to six days. Muslims believe that the rituals of Hajj have their origin in the time of the prophet Abraham. Muhammad led the Hajj and performed these rituals himself in 632 CE, the year of his death.
The first ritual that pilgrims perform after arriving in Mecca is tawaf in which pilgrims walk around the Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction. After praying in the direction of the Kaaba their whole lives, this can be a powerful experience for many pilgrims.
The Covid-19 Pandemic required major adjustments to the Hajj. The number of pilgrims was strictly limited. As a result the Hajj, usually an event attended by hundreds of thousands, was barely recognizable.