The Haj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is currently the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Haj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah.
The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last 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 Haj changes from year to year. Ihram is the name given to the special state in which Muslims live whilst on the pilgrimage.
The Haj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet 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 Abraham (Ibrahim). Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Haj, and perform a series of rituals: Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, 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. Source: Wikipedia.

The Haj A Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim prays atop Mount Al-Noor during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 9, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim scribbles a note on a rock on Mount Al-Noor during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 9, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims stand on Mount Al-Noor during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 9, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim descends Mount Al-Noor during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 9, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims climb Mount Al-Noor during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 9, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Burqa-clad women arrive to see off their relatives who are leaving Ahmedabad for Mecca in Saudi Arabia to attend the annual religious Haj pilgrimage October 26, 2010. The first batch of 450 Haj pilgrims on Tuesday set off for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest site for Muslims. A total of 7500 pilgrims from Gujarat state are expected to perform this year's pilgrimage, authorities said. REUTERS/Amit Dave

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A man kisses a ram that he purchased from a cattle market in Al Manashi village in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, November 11, 2010. Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca by hundreds of millions of Muslims, with the slaughter of goats, sheep and cattle in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Vendors await customers at a cattle market in Al Manashi village in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, November 11, 2010. Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca by hundreds of millions of Muslims, with the slaughter of goats, sheep and cattle in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Boys clean slaughtered cows, sheep and camel in El Madbah market, ahead of the upcoming Eid Al-Adha festival, Al Manashi village in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, November 11, 2010. Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca by hundreds of millions of Muslims, with the slaughter of goats, sheep and cattle in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A butcher gives students a mock demonstration on how to perform the ritual sacrifice of an animal before the upcoming Eid Al-Adha at Nile Garden school in Cairo November 11, 2010. Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca by hundreds of millions of Muslims, with the slaughter of goats, sheep and cattle in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim reads the Koran at Mount Al-Noor during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims attend Friday prayers at the Grand mosque in Mecca, November 12, 2010, during the annual haj pilgrimage. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims attend Friday prayers at the Grand mosque in Mecca, November 12, 2010, during the annual haj pilgrimage. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims walk upon arrival to Mena, near Mecca, during the annual haj pilgrimage November 14, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims exchange money at a currency exchange centre outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, November 13, 2010, during the annual haj pilgrimage. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims sit in front of a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (C) in Mina November 13, 2010. King Abdullah has appointed the second deputy prime minister to oversee the haj pilgrimage, the state news agency reported on Saturday, a day after doctors ordered rest for the ruler due to a slipped disc. Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, also the Interior Minister, is to oversee the annual haj, when some two million Muslim pilgrims will gather in the holy city of Mecca. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A vendor waits for customers at a livestock market in Amman November 14, 2010. Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca by hundreds of millions of Muslims, with the slaughter of goats, sheep and cattle in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims take part in night prayers upon their arrival to Mena, near Mecca, during the annual haj pilgrimage November 14, 2010. Muslims across the world are preparing to celebrate the annual festival of Eid al-Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the haj pilgrimage to Mecca by hundreds of millions of Muslims, with the slaughter of goats, sheep and cattle in commemoration of the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to Allah. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslims on the haj pilgrimage take a rest in Mina near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by the Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/
Fahad Shadeed

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim reads the Koran on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim rests as others pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim prays on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims gather on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims rest on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

The hands of a Muslim pilgrim are seen as he prays on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims gather on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim is helped onto Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca, November 15, 2010. At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 8, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 8, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 8, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca, during the annual haj pilgrimage, November 6, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims pray at the Grand mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims pray at the Grand mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The A Haj Pilgrimage To Mecca

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque in Mecca during the annual haj pilgrimage November 11, 2010. The haj is one of the world's biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem`

Nov 15, 2010