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Are there any pilgrimages in Islam?

In Islam, the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is one of the five pillars of faith. Every faithful Muslim must make the pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime –if not impeded by any force majeure event, condition, or circumstance. It is an outward and inward experience that implies a whole series of rites and places to visit –including the tomb of the Prophet in Al Madinah Al Munawwarah.

Mecca is the holiest place in Islam: the Ka’aba, Beyt Allah, the House of God, where Heaven touches earth, a crossroads where the divine meets the human. Pilgrimages to this place were inaugurated by the Prophet himself, while he was still living in Medina.

For a Muslim, performing the Hajj is a highlight in life, and confers pilgrim status. The Hajj is only valid if it is done on the right dates (last month of the Islamic year), and the pilgrim must prepare him or herself properly (ihram) –spiritually, that is, since this pilgrimage is first and foremost a transcendent personal journey that implies a thorough personal and moral transformation.

The pilgrim must perform a series of rites: he must wear white and shave his head, as well as offer certain sacrifices and visit certain places, following in the footsteps of the Prophet, but also of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael, from whom Muslims consider themselves descendants). He must also circumambulate the Ka’aba seven times in a counterclockwise direction. 

In addition, a Muslim may (but is not required to) make pilgrimage to Mecca at other times. These pilgrimages are called umrah.

There is also a third form of pilgrimage, ziyarah. It does not involve going to Mecca, but to other places related to the Prophet or his descendants, or people related to him, or to other people revered as sages and saints. However, ultra-orthodox Muslim currents such as the Wahhabis or the Salafists do not admit this type of pilgrimages –which are particularly popular in Southeast Asia.

The pilgrimages to the holy cities of Jerusalem, Kerbela, or Mashhad, which gather hundreds of thousands of people every year, are also very popular.

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