One of the five "pillars" of Islam is the pilgrimage to Mecca—the Hadj. Each year from all parts of the Muslim world many thousands of the Faithful journey to the Holy City to participate.
Adult Muslims are required to perform the Hadj once in their life times if they are physically and financially able to do so.
The Islamic calendar is strictly lunar and hence the Hadj runs in time through all seasons of the year. It falls in the second half of the first ten days of the month of Dhu al Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Hijrah Year. During the hot summer months pilgrims must endure hardships which in older times caused many fatalities.
Modern means of transportation and the efforts of the Saudi Arab Government in providing shelter, sanitation and medical care have greatly improved conditions.
Improved also is the appearance of the Mosque of Mecca the Masjid al-Haram, which had been essentially unchanged since the sixteenth century. Under the present Saudi Arab regime great new wings, faced with marble, have been added.
The Pilgrimage was instituted by the Prophet Mohammed in the Hijrah Year 7 (629 A.D.). Its rites and rituals reflect the traditional deeds of Ibrahim (the Biblical Abraham), Hagar and Ishmael, believed by Muslims to have taken place in the vicinity of Mecca.
In conjunction with this annual pilgrimage comes the major Islamic feast of the 'Id, al-Adha. Sheep, camels and cattle are slaughtered throughout the Islamic world and shared by all on the day that the pilgrims sacrifice animals at Mina, near Mecca. Three days of holidays, visiting and gift-giving follow.