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The Hajj (Arabic: حج Ḥaǧǧ) is a pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah). It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah(God). The pilgrimage occurs from the 7th to 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian date of the Hajj changes from year to year. In 2007, the Hajj was from December 17–21; in 2008 from December 6–10, and in 2009 will be November 25–29. Ihram is the name given to the special state in which Muslims live whilst on the pilgrimage.
The Hajj is associated with the life of Muhammad from the 7th century, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham). Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Ka'bah, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer; kisses the Black Stone in the corner of the Kaaba; runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah; drinks from the Zamzam Well; goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil; and throws stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
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