The Hajj

Surah 22 (Al-Hajj/The Pilgrimage): 27

And proclaim unto men the Pilgrimage.

They will come to thee on foot, and on every lean camel, coming by every distant, deep, track.


The hajj pilgrimage is mentioned by name in five verses of the Qur’an: four in Surah 2 {2.158, 189 196 & 197} and also {22.27}, produced above, whilst a so-called ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the umrah appears twice, {2.158  & 196}.

{2.158} reads:

Truly Safa and Marwa are among the rituals of God; so whosoever performs the ḥajj to the House or makes the ‘umrah, there is no blame on him going to and from between them.

And whoever volunteers good, truly God is Thankful, Knowing.


{2.189} describes new moons as ‘the markers of time for mankind and for the ḥajj’,


{2.196-200} refers to the hajj and the umrah as a duty on believers. It also gives guidance upon the rituals: pilgrims should refrain from shaving their heads ‘until the offering reaches its place of sacrifice…’ and, when they have ‘poured out from Ararat’, ‘seeking a bounty’, pilgrims are advised to ‘remember God at the sacred ground … then surge onward and ask God for forgiveness’.

This passage also hints at conflict: offerings should be offered ‘when you are safe’ and those pouring forth from Ararat are permitted to ‘seek bounty from your Lord’. Consistent with this, alternatives to these rituals are prescribed for those unable to undertake them due to illness or lack of means.


{22.26-29} links the word ‘ḥajj’ with the House of Abraham and, as seen in 〈53.〉, introduces some further physical activities to the pilgrimage scene: circumambulating, standing, bowing and prostrating.


In addition to the above, and without mentioning the hajj or umrah by those names:

{3.96-97} states that ‘pilgrimage to the House’ is obligatory, ‘a duty upon mankind before God for those who can find a way‘. It offers an explanation for the pilgrimage destination, that it is ‘the first house established for mankind … at Bakkah, full of blessing and a guidance for the worlds’, wherein are ‘clear signs, the station of Abraham’ and assurance that ‘whosoever enters it shall be secure’,


{5.1-2 & 95-97} prohibit the slaughtering of game and the eating of hunted game when in a ‘state of pilgrim sanctity’, and fixes penalties for contravention of these rules. {5.95-97} warns: ‘Do not violate the rituals of God, nor the sacred months, nor the offerings, nor the garlands, nor those bound for the Ka’aba, the Sacred House.’


{8.34-35}, which were clearly announced during a time when the Quranic community was excluded from the Masjid al-Haram, scorns the worthless rituals of those who were still able to attend the pilgrimage, whose ‘prayer at the House is naught but whistling and clapping.


All of these pilgrimage verses raise once again the location of the Masjid al-Haram, already addressed in 〈2.〉, 〈34.〉, 〈36.〉, 〈39.〉 and 〈50.〉 The Hebrew word ‘ḥaḡ’ appears twenty-five times in the Torah to indicate a religious feast, and in particular denotes the feasts of ‘ḥaḡ hammaṣṣôṯ’, the Feast of Unleavened Bread/the Feast of the Passover; ‘ḥaḡ šāḇû’ôṯ‘, the seven day Feast of Weeks or Feast of the Harvest, and ‘ḥaḡ hassukkôṯ‘, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. These three festivals are listed together in Deuteronomy chapter 16 in which they are addressed collectively:

Three times a year then, every male among you shall appear before the Lord, your God, in the place which he chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. Nobody shall appear before the Lord empty-handed but each of you with as much as he can give, in proportion to the blessings which the Lord, your God, has bestowed on you,

(see also Exodus 23.14 & 17 , 34.23 , 2 Chronicles 8.13   and 1 Kings 9.25 .)

After the founding of the Jerusalem temple, the three festivals became the three great pilgrimage feasts (‘shalosh regalim’) of Judaism. During the First and Second Temple periods it was customary for pilgrims celebrating ‘ḥaḡ hammaṣṣôṯ, normally upon the first full moon following the spring equinox, to sacrifice a lamb or goat at the Temple, pursuant to God’s instruction in Exodus 12.24-27 . The Mishna Sukkah (4.5 ) prescribes circling the temple once on each of the first six days of the ‘ḥaḡ šāḇû’ôṯ‘, and seven times on the seventh day.
Several elements of the Qur’an’s hajj reflect these Jewish festivals, and especially to the Passover. Both involve a pilgrimage, obligatory on those for whom it is practicable, on a date dictated by the lunar calendar, to circumabulate and prostrate to a cubic structure attributed to Abraham 〈2.〉, and associated with a place called Bakka, preceded by ritual purification there to perform an animal sacrifice. The similarity of the words ‘ḥaḡ‘ and ’ḥajj‘ excludes the possibility of coincidence.


However, there are differences between Jewish and Quranic pilgrimages too. The Qur’an links its hajj to a new moon, {2.189}, whereas the Passover takes place upon a full moon; and the Qur’an refers to ritual actions that are not to be commonly found in Judaism: the shaving of heads and the wearing of garlands. {2.158}, given its wording, is invariably associated with a ritual of traversing between two places named Safa and Marwa. Tradition treats this verse as referring to a ritual walking or running several times between two hills bearing those names, in commemoration of Hagar who left baby Ishmael on the ground between them whilst she ran back and forth between them, climbing each seven times looking for water or help. However, this implausible account bears all of the hallmarks of a story concocted to explain a verse of which the first Muslim exegetes could make no sense. With the evidence of association with the Jewish pilgrimages, it may be wondered if Marwah may indicate Mount Moriah, the location of the Jewish Temple, see 〈2.〉 Al-Safa is the name of a mountain in southern Syria, south east of Damascus, and its surrounding region, and the verse may possibly be understood as conveying that both the Arabian desert and the Temple Mount are symbols of God, that that either making ‘hajj to the House’ (the Passover pilgrimage to the Temple) or performing the unknown ritual of the umrah were equally acceptable to God, if performed by those who acted righteously, and that there was no sin in ‘going to and fro’ between the two.