We are in the 12th month of the lunar calendar. This is important, as you will see (thanks to PC backgrounder, excerpted below):
“The 5th pillar of Islam is el-hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mekka. It takes place in the 12th month of the lunar calendar. No one today knows either the original rationale for the pilgrimage or what events it was meant to celebrate. When Mohammed appropriated it, he converted it to his own use and gave it a new mythology. Men and women from the length and breadth of the Islamic world come together to the holy place. They dress alike and act alike, subordinating their own wills and personalities to a greater power. They undergo a long and arduous routine together, which gives them a common experience and an opportunity to get acquainted. They attain the symbols of initiation that enhance their prestige. On their way home, as they pass thru other countries, they may trade, meet with others-the pilgrimage became a principle media for interaction in the Islamic world, one of the chief vehicles by which it was unified. Every Muslim is supposed to make the pilgrimage at least once. In Mohammed’s life this was simple, for his congregations did not extend far.
The pilgrim sets out well in advance, to arrive on the sixth day of the Dhu el-hijra at one of the six rest houses, situated five or six miles outside the city on the six roads which lead to it. At the rest house the pilgrim bathes, makes 2 prostrations and exchanges his clothing for the ihram, which consists of 2 pieces of cotton cloth, without seams, about the size of ordinary towels. Women’s uniform consists of 5 pieces-trousers, overdress and frock of green, a black rope and a veil. The male pilgrim may wear sandals, but not shoes. He may not shave, pare his nails, oil his head, or scratches his skin until the pilgrimage has been completed.
The pilgrim now walks to the city in the company of his fellows, singing a special pilgrim song. Once in Mekka, he goes to the great mosque, performs his ablutions, and kisses the Black Stone which is still in the same position to which it was raised at Mohammed’s direction. He then walks around the Ka’ba 7 times counterclockwise, 3 of these running and 4 at a slow walk, and on each circuit he touches the so-called Yemeni corner and kisses the Black Stone. Next he goes to a spot known as the Place of Abraham, where he recites: ‘Take ye the place of Abraham for a place of prayer’. Two more prostrations, and he returns to the Ka’ba to kiss the black stone once more. Then out the gate to Mount Safa, a hill on the outskirts of the city, he goes, reciting: ‘Verify As-Safa and Al-Marwa are signs of God’. Having climbed the hill he recites this 3 more times, after which he runs from the top of As-Safa to the top of Al-Marwa 7 times, repeating his prayers each time he reaches the summit of each hill. The pilgrim then returns to Mekka and walks around the Ka’ba once more.
After this strenuous exercise, he rests, for on the 7th day of Dhu el-hija he need only listen to a speech in the great mosque about the pilgrimage. On the 8th day, he walks with his companions to a village called Mina, where they all pray and sleep. On the morning of the 9th day, they pray at Mina and then proceed to Mount Arafat, where they pray more and hear another sermon. Then they go to the place called al-Muzdafila, halfway between Arafat and Mina, arriving in time for the sunset prayer, and there they sleep. On the 10th day the pilgrimage reaches its climax. This is the day of sacrifice, called variously lum-an-nahr, al-Azha, and ‘aid-el-kbir. The pilgrim rises early, prays, and then goes to Mina where 3 ancient pillars mark some archaeological site. Each has a name, the first being shitan el-kbir (the big devil). The pilgrim picks up 21 stones, which he finds conveniently lying on the ground at his feet, and throws 7 at each pillar, from a distance of 15 feet or more, with his right hand. In 1300 years, several millions of pilgrims have thrown these pebbles, several tens or even hundreds of millions of times at the same pillars, and no one knows how many times this was done before Mohammed’s day. The pillars are still standing. This is considered a miracle.
Still at Mina, the pilgrim now acquires an animal, preferably a sheep. He cuts the throat of this animal ritualistically, while exclaiming, ‘God is Great’. He gets a shave, has his nails pared, and removes his ihram. Now he can put on his regular clothing and resume the character of an individual. After a 3 day rest at Mekka and a few other duties, including a final circumambulation at the Ka’ba, he is free to go home, wearing a green turban and from now on people will address him as al-Hajj, the pilgrim, and this will add greatly to his prestige."
"On the 10th day of the month of el-hijja, the last month of the year, the Islamic world celebrates its yearly sacrificial feast. (This will be next week, on Tuesday, Dec 9.) In Morocco it is known as the ‘Great Feast’. This is the central feast in Islam, comparable to and derived from the feast of the atonement, Abraham’s substitute sacrifice, for the remission of sins. Hence the animal must be mature and without blemish.
Every family must have its sheep just as we need turkeys for the proper celebration of Thanksgiving, but those who cannot afford one, may buy a goat or another cheaper animal. In Morocco the animal cannot be slain until the King has killed his sheep. Then in each household the head of the family kills the sheep. The sheep is eaten in an orderly fashion determined by local customs. For example on the first day the liver, heart, stomach and lungs are eaten while on the second day the head and feet are eaten.
There are purification and sanctification customs and rites that prepare the people for the holy feast and its principal feature, the sacrifice. The people must purify and sanctify themselves in order to benefit by the holy feast and its sacrifices. Personal cleanliness should be observed. Men and boys visit the barber and a trip to the hamman is not unusual. Henna is used not merely as a cosmetic but as a means of protection against evil influences. Women paint their hands with it and in many cases also their feet. Among some tribes henna is also applied to domestic animals.
Almsgiving and prayer are 2 other purification rites followed during the Great Feast. Gifts are exchanged between family members and a portion of the meal is given to the poor. Prayer begins the day. The chief praying ceremony takes place in the morning at the mosque. The day is spent in the company of family.”