Wa `alaykum as-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
An essential part of Hajj is the action without which Hajj is invalid, whereas an obligatory action is the one that if skipped, Hajj is still valid, but the pilgrim who skips it must offer a compensatory sacrifice. As for Sunnah actions of Hajj, they are the actions that once skipped, they do not affect the Hajj validity.
In his response to the question, Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munajjid, the prominent Saudi Islamic lecturer and author, states:
The essential parts of Hajj are four, the obligatory actions are seven and everything other than the essential parts and obligatory actions is Sunnah. Here are the details:
Al-Bahuti (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Ar-Rawd Al-Murbi` (1/285):
“The essential parts of Hajj are four:
2- Standing at `Arafah, due to the Hadith,“Hajj is `Arafah.” (An-Nasa’i)
3- Tawaf az-ziyarah (also called tawaf al-ifadah), because Allah Almighty says, “…and [let them] circumambulate the Ancient House (the Ka`bah at Makkah)” (Al-Hajj 22:29)
4- Sa`i due to the Hadith, “Do Sa`i, because Allah has ordained Sa`i for you.” (Ahmad)
The obligatory actions of Hajj are seven:
1- Resuming ihram at the appropriate miqat, i.e., one should enter ihram from the miqat. As for ihram itself, it is an essential part of Hajj.
2- Standing on `Arafah until sunset, for the one who reaches there by day.
3- Staying overnight in Mina during the days of at-Tashreeq (the 11th, 12th and 13th of Dhul-Hijjah), except for those whose job is to bring water and tend livestock.
4- Staying overnight in Muzdalifah until after halfway through the night, for those who reach it before that time, except for those whose job is to bring water and tend livestock.[Some scholars regard staying overnight in Mina as one of the essential parts of Hajj without which Hajj is not valid. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) expressed this view in Zad al-Ma`ad (2/233)].
5- Stoning the Jamarat in the right sequence.
6- Shaving the head or cutting the hair.
[If the pilgrim is doing tamattu` (`Umrah followed by Hajj, exiting ihram in between) or qiran (`Umrah followed by Hajj without exiting ihram in between), then he must offer a sacrifice (by slaughtering a sheep), because Allah Almighty says, “Whosoever performs the `Umrah in the months of Hajj, before (performing) the Hajj, (i.e. Hajj-at-Tamattu` and Al-Qiran), he must slaughter a Hadi such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, he should observe fasting for three days during the Hajj and seven days after his return (to his home), making ten days in all. This is for him whose family is not present at Al-Masjid-al-Haram (i.e. non-resident of Makkah).” (Al-Baqarah 2:196)
The rest of the actions and words of Hajj are Sunnah, such as Tawaf al-qudum, staying overnight in Mina the night before `Arafah, idtiba` (uncovering the right shoulder from the beginning of Tawaf until the end, by placing the middle of the rida’ (upper garment) beneath the right armpit and the ends of the rida’ over the left shoulder), walking at a rapid pace (when doing so is recommended), kissing the Black Stone, reciting the adhkar and du`a’s, and climbing As-Safa and Al-Marwah.
The essential parts of `Uumrah are three: ihram, Tawaf and Sa`i.
The obligatory parts are two: shaving the head or cutting the hair, and entering ihram from the miqat.
The difference between an essential part, an obligatory action and a Sunnah action is that Hajj is not valid without an essential part. Whereas if an obligatory action is skipped, Hajj is still valid but the one who skips it must offer a compensatory sacrifice (a sheep) according to the majority of scholars. As for Sunnah actions, the one who skips them does not have to do anything.