The pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to do so. Nevertheless, over two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another.
The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar year. Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include going around the Kaaba seven times, and going seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar (Hajira, Abraham’s wife) during her search for water. The pilgrims later stand together on the wide plains of Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Mecca) and join in prayer for God’s forgiveness, in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment.
The close of Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This and Eid al Fitr, a festive day celebrating the end of Ramadan, are the two holidays of the Islamic calendar.