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Pilgrimage (Hajj)

“And (remember) when We prepared for Ibrahim the site of the (Sacred) House, (saying): `Do not ascribe anything as associate with Me, and sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it and those who stand and those who bow and those who prostrate themselves (there). And proclaim the hajj to men; they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of lean camel coming through deep ravines.” (22:26:27)

“The first house (of worship of God) appointed for men was that at Bakka, 1 full of blessings and of guidance for all kinds of beings. In it are signs manifest: the station of Ibrahim-whoever enters it attains sanctuary. Pilgrimage to it is a duty men owe to God-those who can afford the journey . . .” (3:96-97)

Hajj- that is, pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia-constitutes the fifth and last of the acts of worship prescribed by Islam. Obligatory once in a life-time for those Muslims who can afford it provided there is safety and security for travel and that provision is left behind for dependents, hajj constitutes a form of worship with the totality of the Muslim's being: with his body, mind and soul, with his time, possessions and the temporary sacrifice of all ordinary comforts, conveniences and tokens of status and individuality which human beings normally enjoy, to assume for a few days the condition of a pilgrim totally at God's service and disposal, His slave who seeks only His pleasure.

Hajj takes place during the first days of the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, with its climax on the ninth of that month. 2 the rites of hajj center on complete submission and devotion to God. At the same time they commemorate as an example of such total submission and obedience the Prophet Ibrahim, especially in his willingness to sacrifice what he loved most in the world - his son Ismael - at God's command (Holy Qur'an 37:99-113) 3

People often wonder what Muslims do during their pilgrimage, What hajj is actually like. What follows is a brief description of the principal rites and experiences of hajj and their meaning to a Muslim. Pilgrims come for hajj from all parts of the globe-from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, even from Australia. The majority of them come by plane to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia's major seaport, which is about forty-five miles west of Mecca. Others arrive in Jiddah by ship, and still others travel by bus or private car from neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states, as well as from various parts of Saudi Arabia itself.

As the pilgrims approach Mecca, at places designated by the Prophet himself where pilgrim facilities have been constructed, they enter into a state of consecration known as ihram. Ihram signifies divesting oneself temporarily of all marks of status and individuality to assume the humble dress and condition of a pilgrim devoted wholly to God. One takes on ihram by expressing his or her intention to enter into that state, making ablution or taking a shower, and putting on the pilgrim's dress (which is also called ihram). The dress of male pilgrims is a garment unique to hajj, consisting of two pieces of white, unsewn cloth, which cover the lower and upper parts of the body. Although no specific garment is prescribed for women, they also enter ihram, wearing any garment, which conceals the shape and covers them completely, leaving only their faces and hands exposed. Pilgrims in ihram, male or female, are to abstain from marital relations, the use of perfume, quarreling, abusiveness and obscenity. They are also prohibited to harm any living thing, plant or animal (with the exception of dangerous insects, snakes, etc.) in the territory of Mecca, which, since the time of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be on him) has been designated as a sanctuary for all creatures. Pilgrims may, however, engage in all other lawful activities, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, washing, commercial transactions, and so forth.

The pilgrim's first obligation when he arrives in Mecca, after he has found his accommodation and taken care of his physical necessities, is to visit the Ka'aba and perform certain prescribed acts of worship following the example of the Prophet (peace be on him). Now Just what is the Ka'aba?

Often referred to as the Sacred House (al-Bait al-Haram), the Ka'aba is a small rectangular stone structure 4 which stands inside the compound of the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram) in the center of the city of Mecca.

The Ka'aba was originally built in antiquity by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismael, also a prophet (peace be on them both), as the first sanctuary on earth dedicated to the worship of the One God. The story of the building of the Ka'aba is related in the Qur'an thus:

“And remember Ibrahim and Ismael raised the foundations of the (Sacred) House, (saying): `Our Lord, accept it from us, for Thou are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. Our Lord, make us those who submit to thee and of our descendants a people who submit to Thee. And show us our rites, and forgive us. Indeed, Thou are the Forgiving, the Mercy-Giving.'” (2:127- 128)

And again,

“Remember we made the House a place of gathering for men, and of security. And you take the Station of Ibrahim 5 as a place for prayer. And We covenanted with Ibrahim and Ismael that they should sanctify My House for those who circumambulate it or use it as a retreat, or bow or prostrate themselves (there in worship).” (2:125)

During the three thousand years since it was first built, the Ka'aba was demolished several times by natural disasters or the hands of men, but each time it was rebuilt at the same site and for the same purpose. 6 The celebrated Black Stone, thought to be a meteorite, is known to be a part of the original structure; it is set into one corner of the Ka'aba and, following the Prophet's example, the pilgrim kisses, touches or points to it while he makes his circumambulations of the Ka'aba as a gesture of love and respect for the significance of the Sacred House of God. The Ka'aba is draped with a woven black covering embellished with Qur'anic verses embroidered in gold; this covering is replaced annually with a new one.

Because of its unique significance as the first house of worship of God, Islam prescribes that Muslims face the direction of the Ka'aba whenever they perform salat; this direction of the Ka'aba from any Place on earth is known as the qiblah. 7 Hence millions of Muslims in every part of the globe turn their faces toward the same central point five times a day as they offer their worship to God. Since at all times some people in some parts of the world are engaged in salat, the cycle of worship with its focus toward the Sacred House continues uninterrupted. The Ka'aba is the visible symbol of God's Unity, representing in concrete form His centrality in the life of the Muslim, the focal point for Muslims of all times and places to turn toward in their worship as a symbol of their unity as one community submitting to the One God, a part of the endless stream of worshippers facing and circling around it unceasingly since remote antiquity in the glorification of God Most High.

For the Muslim, visiting the Ka'aba, whether it is for the first or for the tenth time, is a profound, awe-inspiring experience. The worshipper `enters the Sacred Mosque by one of its doors, with a supplication for God's peace and blessings. Looking beyond the throng of pilgrims and the patterns of columns and arches into the vast open courtyard around which the mosque is constructed, he catches a glimpse, with a tremor of awe and excitement, of the solitary black-draped Ka'aba which is the center of every Muslim's world. After performing a brief salat of "greeting" of the mosque, he makes his way toward the Ka'aba through the vast array of Muslims of every place and race on earth 8 in order to perform the first of the pilgrim's rites, that of tawaf or circumambulation.

Seeking out the corner of the Ka'aba in which the Black Stone is embedded, from which the circumambulation is to start, with words of praise to God the worshipper joins the host of Muslims circling the House and pouring out their hearts in supplication to Him. A sense of timelessness sweeps over him as he realizes that he is one atom in an endless ocean of those who have worshipped at this House since nearly the beginning of recorded history. Moving in that sea of worshippers within the shadow of the Ka'aba, a deep sense of his smallness and insignificance comes to him, and all the trappings and defenses of his ego fall away as he realizes that God alone is great and that none of His slaves can bring any of his worldly props and privileges with him to confront the glory and majesty of his Lord. Here, under the blazing sun of Mecca, making his circuits around God's Holy House as he repeats the solemn, moving supplications of the pilgrim, he comes face to face with his own nothingness,his creatureliness, his utter dependence on his Creator in the face of God's ineffable glory and sanctity, grasping, in that brief yet intense encounter with the sublimity of God, that all the movements and efforts which men make on this earth are as nothing. They and he will pass away, and then he will come alone before the One who gave him his life to receive His judgment and the recompense for all he did.

After completing seven circuits of the Sacred House, the pilgrim may spend as much time as he wishes in making supplications to God in the immediate vicinity of the Ka'aba, and before he leaves he prays two rak'ats of salat. He will then probably go to the spring of Zamzam, situated underground within the compound of the Sacred Mosque very close to the Ka’aba. 9 refresh himself with its water. He then goes to a nearby area within the compound of the Sacred Mosque to perform the next rite of hajj. This is known as sa’i, that is, "has tening" between the two small hillocks of Safa and Marwah, separated now by a long, marble-lined corridor, in commemoration of Hagar's hurried search for water at this site.

While the circumambulation of the Ka'aba centers around God Most High, the center of the drama of sa'i is man. Sa'i is symbolic of man's efforts and movements in this life, of the human soul's ceaseless striving in his journey through the world, together with the host of his fellow human beings. The worshipper walks, and during part of the way may break into a run, seven times between the two lava-rock mounds, situated about a quarter of a mile apart, glorifying and supplicating God. Between the marble arches he catches glimpses of the adjacent courtyard of the Sacred Mosque. At the center of it, like a luminous jewel, stands the black –draped Ka’aba around which, like an endless river lowing on and on day and night since remote antiquity, supplicants from every corner of the world, clad in the simple pilgrim’s dress, move in utter absorption with God, uttering His praises and calling on His name .One who has visited the Sacred House leaves it with an intense longing to return to it again and again, and with a vivid understanding of why the Ka’aba is indeed the focal point of the earth for the worship of God ,the Praise and the Exalted, representing in concrete from His centrality in the life the Muslim individual and community.

Pilgrims may arrive in Mecca to perform their tawaf and sa’i either immediately before the days of hajj or earlier, as they wish; in fact, thousands of pilgrims arrive in Mecca days or weeks before the immediate period of hajj in order to have more time to spend in devotion at the Sacred Mosque. However, the climax of the hajj occurs on the ninth day of Dhul- Hijjah, the Day of Arafat. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stressed the essential nature of this day’s observance by saying that one who had been present at Arafat would have performed hajj, signifying that even if a pilgrim arrived too late to perform the initial rites at the Sacred House, still, as long as he had taken part in the assembly at Arafat, his hajj would be accepted by God.

Arafat is the name of a vast, empty plain some miles outside Mecca; it is a treeless and barren, without any shelter from the blinding desert sun and encircled by stark, jagged purple-black lava peaks .It is to this plain that the entire assembly of pilgrims, during the late 1970’s numbering some one –and – a-half to million people, moves during the morning of the 9th of Dhul –Hijjah in order to spend the afternoon up to sundown engaged in penitence and supplication to God. The pilgrims come by private car, by bus and on foot, in wave upon wave, an unbelievable vast gathering of human beings of amazing diversity, reciting in unison the fervent, moving pilgrim’s call of response to his Lord. Thousands of tents have been erected on the plain for this occasion to shelter them.

After the noon and the afternoon prayers have been performed together in the shortened form recommended for travelers and people have had a chance to eat and rest .The period of devotions begins. During the afternoon up to sun-down all these human beings, assembled here from every land and belonging to countless races and cultures, are completely absorbed in supplication to God Most High, glorifying Him, affirming their utter helplessness and dependence on Him, and yearning for His forgiveness and His pleasure, enduring all the fatigues and difficulties of travel and the pilgrimage itself, with severe climate and hard conditions, for the sake of that intense, profound experience of pouring out their souls before their Lord . The vast, otherwise-empty plain is filled with tents and with thousands upon thousands of pilgrims, tired and disheveled and totally humble before their Creator, standing with hands raised in supplication, many weeping in the intensity of their awe and devotion to Him. Some climb up the Mount of Mercy, a hill in the middle of the plain from where the prophet (peace be on him) delivered his last hajj address to his people, to make their supplications. The gathering of `Arafat brings vividly to mind the immense gathering of that awesome Day when men's bodies will be brought out of their graves and rejoined with their souls and all will stand in utter humility before God Most High to await His judgment a time when no soul will have anything to bring with it before God except its inner state and whatever little good it may have been able to do in this quickly passing life.

As soon as the sun sets, the exodus of the pilgrims from `Arafat begins; they go as they came-by bus, car or on foot-in an endless stream which continues for many hours. Their next station is Muzdalifah, a barren, inhospitable, lava-rock wasteland a few miles closer to Mecca, where they perform the sunset and night prayers together, spending part of the night resting after the fatigues of the day and engaged in supplication to God. Here they also gather a number of pebbles to be used for stoning three stone columns representing Satan which have stood since ancient times in the village of Mina, to which all the pilgrims go after their brief half in Muzdalifah, to live for the next two-and-a-half or three days in a vast tent city before they complete their pilgrims' rites and disperse.

These stone pillars stand at the sites where Satan appeared to Ibrahim and Ismael (God's peace and blessings be on them) in remote antiquity, tempting them to disobey God when Ibrahim was taking his son to be sacrificed at God's command. On each of the three days of sojourn in Mina, countless numbers of pilgrims go to the columns, stoning them with the pebbles they have collected to symbolize their rejection of Satan, in a stirring drama of the endless human struggle against evil promptings and temptations.

After the first day's stoning, the pilgrim may shower and return to his ordinary dress, and most of the prohibitions applying in the state of ihram are now lifted. At this time, following the Prophet's example and injunction, many of the pilgrims slaughter an animal in commemoration of Ibrahim's sacrifice of a sheep in the place of Ismael; part of the meat is used to feed themselves and their group, and the rest is distributed among the poor. During this period the pilgrims also return briefly to Mecca to perform their final circumambulation of The Ka'aba. The pilgrim's home during the days in Mina is a tent shared with other pilgrims of the same sex or with his family, Within specified camp compounds provided by pilgrim guides or by various governments or organizations; he spends the time in making daily trips for the stoning, praying and reading the Qur'an, listening to talks about various aspects of Islam, visiting with his fellow-pilgrims, or resting. Before sundown on the third day or the following morning he leaves Mina and his pilgrimage is now complete.

In addition to its unique spiritual aspects, hajj is also remarkable, as we have seen, for the fact that it brings together from every part of the earth such an immense diversity of human beings, who, in spite of vast differences of culture and language, form one community (ummah), all of them professing and living by the same faith and all devoted to the worship of their single Creator. One can see pilgrims from Turkey, from Indonesia, from India; Egyptians and Afghans, Tunisians and South Africans, Malaysians, Saudis, Iraqis, Sudanese, Libyans; old men with henna-dyed beards from Baluchistan or the Frontier areas of Pakistan, Irani women clad in chadors, men and women from the tropical areas of Africa with their distinctive dresses, and here and there such faces as can belong only to Europeans or Americans. It was this aspect of hajj which Malcolm-X commented on so eloquently in his Autobiography, describing it as a tremendously moving and almost unbelievable experience to be, for the first time in his life, regarded and respected simply as a human being who was the equal of every other human being without consideration of the usual man-made distinctions and barriers such as race, color, nationality or social status. This is assuredly the ultimate experience in human brotherhood known to man. And what is required of a pilgrim during hajj is not merely to be present, but to behave with kindness and consideration to one's fellow pilgrims (although in practice there are unfortunately many deviations from this requirement); indeed, one's entire pilgrimage can be rendered void by acts of harshness or hostility to others.

As we have seen, hajj takes place each year during the specified period of pilgrimage. However, Muslims may visit the Ka'aba at any time to perform Omrah, the "Lesser Pilgrimage." The rites of `Omrah consist simply of the assumption of ihram, tawaf around the Ka'aba, and sa'i. Outside the season of hajj, countless Muslims visit Mecca to perform `Omrah each year, and still others who live in Mecca or its vicinity visit the Sacred Mosque frequently for salat, meditation, reading the Qur'an, or to make tawaf which in itself is a complete act of worship without performing `Omrah or entering into the state of ihram.

Although it is not in any way related to the observances of hajj or omrah, those pilgrims who are able visit the city of Medina some three hundred miles north of Mecca during their trip to Saudi Arabia. There they visit the grave of the Prophet (peace be on him), which is situated within the mosque which bears his name. The Prophet’s Mosque stands at the site of the small mosque where he prayed and preached, next to which he had his home. Visitors spend as much time as possible in the mosque engaged in salat, reading the Qur'an and meditation. The spirit of the Prophet seems to breathe within it, for it radiates an atmosphere of the deepest serenity and peace. As in Mecca, there are always visiting Muslims in Medina, and it possesses the same unique flavor of peoples from all parts of the world coming together for the worship of God Most High-and here for the love and remembrance of His Holy Prophet (may God's peace and blessings be on him) as well.

 
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