stoning, Zamzam, circumambulation… The rituals of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca

stoning, Zamzam, circumambulation… The rituals of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca

The ritual of the stoning of Satan, one of the last of the hajj, the great annual Muslim pilgrimage, is held on Wednesday June 28 in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, brings together hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. It must be undertaken by every Muslim at least once in his life if he can afford it. It is composed of several codified rituals, spread over several days and necessary for the hajj to be recognized as valid.


The hajj is based on four essential stages. The first step is theihram, or sacralization, before entering the holy places. The pilgrims then express their intention to perform the hajj. The men put on a loincloth made of a single piece of cloth and put on sandals. The women uncover their faces and hands.

Once there, pilgrims must complete the tawaf, the seven ritual towers around the Kaaba, the black-clad cube to which Muslims turn to pray, and which was, according to the Koran, built by Abraham. This circumambulation is done counter-clockwise.

Then the pilgrim performs the sa’y, a procession between two hills close to the sanctuary, Safâ and Marwâ. He must travel seven times to repeat the journey of Hajira (Hagar in the Bible), mother of Ishmael, who runs between the two hills in search of water. Finding none, she prays to God who brings water out of the ground, says the Koran. Pilgrims should drink from this well named Zamzam.

Finally, on the ninth day of dhou al-hijja, the month of the hajj, pilgrims go to Mount Arafat or Mount of Mercy. At the foot of the place where the Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon, the khoutbat al-wada’, in 632, pilgrims pray, recite the Koran, invoke God and ask His forgiveness. This is the key moment of the hajj.

The Stoning of Satan

Besides these pillars of hajj, other rituals are advised. This is the case of the stoning of Satan in Minâ, a large arid valley near Mecca. After having slept and collected stones in the plain of Mouzdalifa, the pilgrims must throw seven on three stelae symbolizing Satan to prove his renunciation of evil.

This ritual having turned tragic several times in the past and caused the death of thousands of people, a concrete structure was built with corridors and bridges to facilitate movement and the throwing of stones. This ritual coincides with Eid el-Adha, which commemorates, in the Muslim tradition, the sacrifice that Ibrahim almost made by wanting to immolate his son, before the angel Gabriel offered him in extremis to kill a sheep at his place, according to tradition.

Returning to Mecca, the faithful once again perform the seven circumambulations around the Kaaba as a ritual of farewell and end of the pilgrimage.

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