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Hajj the fifth among the five rukons (pillars) of islam. The word hajj literally means the intention to go somewhere or to resolve to do so. According to shariah, hajj is the pilgrimage to Mokka on appointed days in the month of Zu'l-Hijjah and to perform prescribed activities laid down by the Prophet hazrat muhammad (Sm). These activities are going round the Ka'bah (tawaf), running between the As-Safa and Al-Marwah hills, and sojourn or 'halting' (wukuf) in the plain of Arafat.

The Holy quran mentions that the Ka'bah, known as Baitullah (the abode of Allah), is the first house of worship for men in the world (3 t 96). Allah instructed Hazrat Ibrahim (A), 'keep My House clean and sanctified for those who perform tawaf, salat, rukoo and sizda. And announce the hajj to men: they will come to thee on foot and' [mounted] on fastest moving camels, travelling from far away places'. (22 t 26, 27). Following the divine instruction, Hazrat Ibrahim (R) introduced hajj making Ka'bah its focus. Responding to his call people began coming to Mokkah for performing hajj. Hazrat Ibrahim (A) and his son Hazrat Ismail (A) rebuilt the Ka'bah (2t127). Since then, people from far and near began to come to Ka'bah Sharif every year to perform hajj.

Innovations came at a later period and Ka'bah was then turned into a place of idolatry housing 360 images in it and people worshipped them instead of Allah. Furthermore, people also began to indulge in various improper acts and vulgarities at the place. Due to these reasons Prophet Muhammad (Sm) did not go there to perform hajj in 9 AH (631 AD). Instead, he sent a delegation of 300 companions headed by Abu Bakr (R). In 10 AH (632 AD), the Prophet himself led in the hajj. On that occasion, the Prophet indicated the manner of performing hajj. This historic hajj is known in history as 'the Farewell Pilgrimage' (Hajjatu'l-Wada).

The performance of hajj is faraz (obligatory) for a Muslim. Unless unable for some valid reasons, every Muslim man or woman is to perform hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. The conditions of eligibility of some for performing hajj are: adulthood, good physical health and mental health, unbonded status, financial solvency, safe passage and the maintenance of the family during his absence. A woman, while in hajj must be accompanied by her husband, or a near relative (mahram), who can not marry her according to shariah.

Muslims unable to perform hajj may bequeath a sum of money to be paid to someone else to do the same on their behalf. This is called Badla Hajj, or Hajj by proxy. Hajj becomes wajib (obligatory) on the heirs of a person who dies after making wasiyat (expressing clear intentions) for a Badla Hajj, if one-third of the property left after covering the cost of funeral rites and repayment of loans, if any, is sufficient to meet the hajj expenses.

The farz actions (divinely instituted obligations) of hajj are: (a) to wear no other garment except the ihram; (b) to stay (wukuf) in Arafat, (c) to go round the Ka'bah seven times (tawaf-al-ifada), which can be performed on the 10th, 11th or the 12th of Zu'l-Hijjah, although it is preferable to do so on the 10th; The wajib (obligatory of the second order) actions of hajj are (a) to stay (wukuf) at Muzdalifa; (b) to run between the As-Safa and Al-Marwa hills seven times (sa'i); (c) to throw stones at Mina (ram'i); (d) (in case of male pilgrims) to shave the head (halq) or trim the hair (takxir); and (e) to offer sacrifice at Mina (in case of Qiran and Tamattu Hajj).

Hajj can be performed in three different ways: (a) Ifrad, i.e., performing only hajj with ihram (pilgrim's robe) and not performing umrah at the same time; (b) Qiran, i.e., performing both hajj and umrah (umrah first and then hajj) with the same ihram; and (c) Tamattu, i.e., putting on ihram for umrah and after performing it, putting on ihram afresh and then perform the hajj.

As the holy pilgrimage must be performed in a decent and holy environment, the state of ihram is considered a must for hajj. Those who live far from Makkah put on ihram after reaching a particular point known as Miqat. If someone arrives at Mokka on a day other than that of the hajj, he/she is to perform umrah or the minor hajj. There is no fixed day for umrah, which comprises walking round (tawaf) the Ka'bah seven times and running between As-Safa and Al-Marwa (sa'i).

Some scholars divide the history of hajj into two periods - pre-Islamic and Islamic and they hold that Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) brought some modifications in the rituals of hajj innovated by mushriqs (who do not believe that Allah is one) and only reintroduced in a revised form. But the theory is wrong. Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) only re-established the hajj introduced by Hazrat Ibrahim (A) that was based on tauhid and upheld the Islamic principle of oneness of Allah.

Bengal Muslims performed hajj ever since the country became under Muslim rule. Nur Qutub-e-Alam, for example, performed hajj several times in the fifteenth century. With an intent to perform hajj, Shah Shuja left Dhaka with the members of his family to go to Mokka via Arakan. Haji Muhammad Mohsin performed hajj at Mokka. Haji Shariatullah also visited Mokka with the same purpose. During the British period, the Muslims of Bengal went to hajj on ship via Mumbai.

At present, about fifty thousand Muslims of Bangladesh fly to Mokka for performing hajj. The government had constructed a Haji Camp in the Uttara Model Town, Dhaka as a temporary residence for the pilgrims and for enabling them to complete all preparations for their journey. Those who perform hajj are entitled to use Haji or Alhaj as a prefix to their names. They enjoy a position of special respect in the Muslim community. [Syed Ashraf Ali]

Bibliography AY Ali tr, The Holy Quran Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1946; TP Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, Delhi, 1988 edition; HAR Gibb and JH Kramers, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Karachi, 1981.