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A History of Ḥajj

An excellent daʿwah tool demonstrating the significance of the Ḥajj within Islām.

During the Ḥajj period itself, the atmosphere around the sacred precincts of the Kaʿbah was like a circus. Men and women would go round the Kaʿbah naked, arguing that they should present themselves before Allāh in the same condition they were born.

Ḥajj literally means ‘to set out for a place’. Islamically however it refers to the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Makkah with the intention of performing certain religious rites in accordance with the method prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).

Ḥajj and its rites were first ordained by Allāh in the time of the Prophet lbrāhīm [Abraham] (ʿalayhi al-salām) and he was the one who was entrusted by Allāh to build the Ka’ba – the House of Allāh – along with his son Ismāʿīl [Ishmael] at Makkah. Allāh described the Ka’ba and its building as follows:

“And remember when We showed Ibraaheem the site of the [Sacred] House [saying]: Associate not anything [in worship] with Me and purify My House for those who circumambulate it [i.e. perform ṭawāf] and those who stand up for prayer and those who bow down and make prostration [in prayer etc.].”
[Sūrah al-Ḥajj 22:26]

After building the Ka’ba, Ibraaheem (ʿalayhi al-salām) would come to Makkah to perform Ḥajj every year, and after his death, this practice was continued by his son. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Ḥajj rites were changed. As idolatry spread throughout al-ʿArabīa, the Ka’ba lost its purity, and idols were placed inside it. Its walls became covered with poems and paintings, including one of Jesus and his mother Maryam, and eventually, over 360 idols came to be placed around the Ka’ba.

During the Ḥajj period itself, the atmosphere around the sacred precincts of the Ka’ba was like a circus. Men and women would go round the Ka’ba naked, arguing that they should present themselves before Allāh in the same condition they were born. Their prayer became devoid of all sincere remembrance of Allāh and was instead reduced to a series of hand clapping, whistling and the blowing of horns. Even the talbīyah2 was distorted by them with the following additions: ‘No one is Your partner except one who is permitted by you. You are his Master and the Master of what he possesses’.

Sacrifices were also made in the name of God. However, the blood of the sacrificed animals was poured onto the walls of the Ka’ba and the flesh was hung from pillars around the Ka’ba, in the belief that Allāh demanded the flesh and blood of these animals.

Singing, drinking, adultery, and other acts of immorality were rife amongst the pilgrims and the poetry competitions, which were held, were a major part of the whole Ḥajj event. In these competitions, poets would praise the bravery and splendour of their own tribesmen and tell exaggerated tales of the cowardice and miserliness of other tribes. Competitions in generosity were also staged where the chief of each tribe would set up huge cauldrons and feed the pilgrims, only so that they could become well-known for their extreme generosity.

Thus, the people had totally abandoned the teachings of their forefather and leader Ibraaheem (ʿalayhi al-salām). The House that he had made pure for the worship of Allāh alone, had been totally desecrated by the pagans and the rites which he had established were completely distorted by them. This sad state of affairs continued for nearly two and a half thousand years. But then after this long period, the time came for the supplication of Ibraaheem to be answered:

“Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them your āyāt (verses) and instruct them in the book and the Wisdom and sanctify them. Verily you are the ‘Azeezul-Hakeem [the All-Mighty, the All-Wise].”
[Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:129]

Sure enough, a man by the name of Muhammad ibn ʿAbdullāh (ﷺ) was born in the very city that Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-salām) had made this supplication centuries earlier. For twenty-three years, the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) spread the message of Tawheed [true monotheism -SA] – the same message that Ibraaheem and alI the other Prophets came with – and established the law of Allāh upon the land. He expended every effort into making the word of Allāh supreme and his victory over falsehood culminated in the smashing of the idols inside the Ka’ba which once again became the universal centre for the worshippers of the one True God.

Not only did the Prophet rid the Ka’ba of all its impurities, but he also reinstated all the rites of Ḥajj which were established by Allāh’s Permission, in the time of Ibraaheem (ʿalayhi al-salām). Specific injunctions in the Qurʾān were revealed in order to eliminate all the false rites which had become rampant in the pre-Islamic period. All indecent and shameful acts were strictly banned in Allāh’s statement:

“There is to be no lewdness nor wrangles during Ḥajj.”
[Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:197]

Competitions among poets in the exaltations of their forefathers and their tribesmen’s achievements were all stopped. Instead, Allāh told them:

“And when you have completed your rites [of Ḥajj] then remember Allāh as you remember your forefathers; nay with a more vigorous remembrance.”
[Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:200]

Competitions in generosity were also prohibited. Of course, the feeding of the poor pilgrims was still encouraged as this was done in the time of Ibraaheem (ʿalayhi al-salām) but Allāh commanded that the slaughtering of the animals which was done for this purpose should be done seeking the pleasure of Allāh rather than fame and the praise of the people. He said:

“So mention the name of Allāh over these animals when they are drawn up in lines. Then, when they are drawn on their sides [after the slaughter], eat thereof and feed the beggar who does not ask, and the beggar who asks.”
[Sūrah al-Ḥajj 22:36]

As for the deplorable practice of spattering blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of the Ka’ba and hanging their flesh on alters, then Allāh clearly informed them that:

“It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allāh, but it is Taqwáa (piety) from you that reaches Him.”
[Sūrah al-Ḥajj 22:37]

The Prophet (ﷺ) also put a stop to the practice of circling the Ka’ba in a state of nudity and the argument that the pagans put forward to justify this ritual was sharply rebutted in Allāh’s question:

“Say: Who has forbidden the adornment [i.e. clothes] given by Allāh which He has produced for His Slaves?”
[Sūrah al-Aʿrāf 7:32]

Another custom that was prohibited through the Qurʾān was that of setting off for Ḥajj without taking any provisions for the journey. In the pre-Islamic period, some people who claimed to be mutawakkilūn (those having complete trust in Allāh) would travel to perform Ḥajj begging for food the whole journey. They considered this form of behaviour a sign of piety and an indication of how much faith they had in Allāh. However, Allāh told mankind that to have sufficient provisions for the journey was one of the preconditions for making Ḥajj. He said:

“And take a provision [with you] for the journey, but the best provision is al-Taqwáa (piety).”
[Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:197)]

In this way, all the pre-Islamic practices, which were based in ignorance, were abolished and Ḥajj was once more made a model of piety, fear of Allāh, purity, simplicity and austerity. Now, when the pilgrims reached the Ka’ba, they no longer found the carnivals and the frolic and frivolity that had once occupied the minds of the pilgrims there before. Now, there was the remembrance of Allāh at every step and every action and every sacrifice was devoted to Him alone. It was this kind of Ḥajj that was worthy of the reward of Paradise, as the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The reward for an accepted Ḥajj is nothing less than Paradise.”10

May Allāh grant us all the ability to visit His House and perform the Ḥajj in the manner of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). Āmīn.


[1] Sūrah al-Ḥajj 22:26
[2] Labbaik Allāhumma labbaik… (Here I am present, O’ Allāh, I am present…) This is the chant which the pilgrims say when they are going around the Ka’ba.
[3] Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:129
[4] Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:197
[5] Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:200
[6] Sūrah al-Ḥajj 22:36
[7] Sūrah al-Ḥajj 22:37
[8] Sūrah al-Aʿrāf 7:32
[9] Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:197
[10] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhaaree (Eng. trans. Vol. 3 p. 1 no 1)
[11] This article has been taken from: “The Call To Allāh magazine”, (Vol. 1 Issue 4)

Published: June 21, 2007
Edited: August 23, 2022


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