BAGHDAD - An important time for Muslims is fast approaching. The Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, begins on the eighth day of the Arabic month of Dhul-Hijjah, which corresponds to Nov. 25.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and is required of every able-bodied Muslim at least once in their lifetime, according to Kadhim al-Waeli, cultural advisor for Multi-National Division-Baghdad. In fact, the word hajji in Arabic means a person who has undergone the Hajj.

"Mecca is the holy city of Islam, built by the prophet Abraham and Ishmael," said Kadhim. "If you're a Muslim you have to make the pilgrimage if you are physically able."

The religious observance at Mecca is a ritualized observance of the trials of Abraham, who is the common denominator of three of the world's major religions.

"The Hajj lasts seven days and each day has different rituals," said Kadhim.

Pilgrims perform a variety of rituals, including seven revolutions around the holy Kaba, the black stone believed to be constructed by Abraham and Ishmael. They will also make seven trips between the hills of Safa and Marwah, commemorating the search for food and water by Hagar, the mother of Ishmael.

Another ritual during the Hajj is the symbolic defiance of Satan (al Shaitan), demonstrated by throwing seven stones at a pillar that represents the devil's temptation of Abraham as described in the Quran, said Kadhim.

According to Kadhim, Muslims undertaking the Hajj will also go to Mount Arafat, where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as ordered by God, to prove his faith. As a reward for his steadfast loyalty, Ishmael was spared and a lamb was offered in his place.

"They will sacrifice a lamb in commemoration of this act," he said.

Finally, the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha, which is a four-day celebration, occurs at the end of Hajj, Kadhim explained.

"This is the second Eid in the Islamic calendar, the first one being at the end of Ramadan," he said. "They are very peaceful days. There will be celebrations, maybe some celebratory fire, but I don't expect anything out of the ordinary."

For Shia Muslims, the end of Hajj is a time to travel to Najaf, to celebrate the nomination by God of Ali ibn Abu-Talib to be the Prophet Muhammad's successor, which is the source of the schism between Sunni and Shia, Kadhim explained.

"When the Iraqi Shia return to Iraq [from Mecca], they go to Najaf to visit the tomb of Imam Ali ibn Abu-Talib for two or three days and then they go home," he said.

One thing Soldiers of Multi-National Division Baghdad can expect, Kadhim mentioned, is increased amounts of traffic as the pilgrims return from Mecca and during the subsequent days of celebration.

The period of Hajj is a joyous time for Iraqi Muslims. Soldiers of Multi-National Division Baghdad can keep this in mind to better relate to their Iraqi counterparts.

Page last updated Tue November 24th, 2009 at 10:07