Many of the rites of pilgrimage are connected to Abraham and his family. Abraham was commanded to leave his baby son Ishmael, and Ishmael’s mother Hajar in the barren land of Mecca before it became a thriving city. Hajar was left with little provisions for herself and her son. In order to seek water, she ran between the two nearby hills of Safa and Marwah a number of times. This is where the pilgrimage rite of Sa’i, or the walking between the two hills comes from.
On her 7th circuit up the hills, Hajar saw water by where she had left Ishmael. Fearing the water would run out, she built a small mound around it to contain it. This is the well of Zamzam. This water is considered blessed and pilgrims will drink from this water throughout their stay in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Ishamel and Hajar would settle in this city and other people would come and join them. When Ishmael was a young boy, Abraham saw a dream that he should offer him as a sacrifice to God. Abraham informed Ishmael of this, and together they walked the short distance to Mina, the place where pilgrims today spend much of their pilgrimage. On his way, Satan appeared three times to Abraham to convince him to disobey God’s command. Each time, Abraham took small pebbles and threw them at Satan. This is why pilgrims stone the three pillars during the pilgrimage.
When Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael, God informed him that he had passed the test, and instead replaced Ishmael with a ram. Today, pilgrims offer a similar sacrifice during their pilgrimage.
A number of years later, Abraham returned to Mecca. This time, God had commanded him to raise the foundations of the Ka’bah. Abraham asked Ishmael for his assistance. Together, they built the Ka’bah. Abraham proclaimed this as God’s house and a place of pilgrimage, and invited God’s faithful servants to come there for pilgrimage.
It is in response to this call from God, through Abraham, that millions of Muslims flock annually to the holy city of Mecca to perform this once-in-a-lifetime obligation of pilgrimage.