Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage, is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a mandatory rite of worship that every single Muslim man and woman must do during their lifetime if they are physically and financially able. The pilgrimage should be done during the Islamic month of "Dhul-Hijjah", which literally translates to "Of Pilgrimage", and it is the twelfth and final month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Dhul-Hijjah begins 17th October 2012 so the day of Eid Al-Adha falls ten days later on the 27th of October and the new year of the Islamic calendar 1434 begins from the 15th of December 2012. At the start of the month of Dhul-Hijjah some 12 million pilgrims flock to the holy city of Makkah from all the corners of the world to perform the hajj.
The purpose of Hajj serves both the individual and the Muslim Ummah (worldwide community of believers). Firstly, for the individual, by going to perform the hajj, they are doing one of the essential rites of worship that they must complete in their life, and by doing so they enact a spiritual baptism that washes away their sins and renders them purified and if they maintain this purity their reward is heaven.
The Prophet Muhammed (SAW) said:
"Whoever does Hajj for the sake of Allah (sincerely), and does not have sexual relations or commit sins (while in the state of ihram), will come back like the day his mother bore him (sinless)."
Then, from the perspective of the Ummah, pilgrims from all the different countries of the world leave behind their personal burdens and personal foibles, they leave behind their errant ideals and the things that divide people like political association, creed, social status, wealth, race, skin colour and nationality and unite as one people under the banner of Islam, professing the oneness of God, reciting His praise and worshipping their Lord together as one. They vocally recite in unison the Talbiah prayer:
La shareeka laka.
La shareeka lak."
|"Here we come,|
O Allah, here we come!
Here we come.
No partner have You.
Here we come!
Praise indeed, and blessings, are Yours -
the Kingdom too!
No partner have You!"
A person who intends to perform the pilgrimage must enter the state of Ihram, which means they declare an intention to complete the hajj and abide by its special rules. The word Ihram comes from the word haram which means forbidden. When in the state of Ihram the pilgrim is forbidden from things which would normally be allowed, such as cutting nails or wearing perfume. The word ihram is also the name of the clothing of a pilgrim. A pilgrim must put away their fancy clothes and jewellery and change into the clothes of ihram � simple clothing that, for men, are two unsown white sheets that are wrapped around the body. The requirement of wearing the same simple clothing as everybody else brings a person down to earth. The rich and powerful man now stands next to the poor and weak man, shoulder to shoulder and equal in status. This destroys the illusion that some people have that they are superior to their fellow human being.
When Allah looks to measure the value of a person He does not value them by how much money they have in their bank account or who their parents are or what their nationality is or by their race or skin colour. No. Here, God reminds us that we are all human beings and equal to each other.
The mandatory rites of Hajj are partly symbolic of the history of the Ka'bah, the first permanent shrine built in pure reverence and homage to God by the Prophet Abraham with the help of his first born son Prophet Ismaeel (Ishmael) (PBUT). Prophets Abraham and Ishmael are the fore-fathers of our beloved Prophet Muhammed (SAW). It helps to know a few of the stories of Prophet Abraham to understand some the hajj rituals. Summarized, they are -
Once the Prophet Abraham was asked by God to take his wife Hajir (Hagar) and the baby Ismaeel (Ishmael) to Arabia and return back to Palestine. He did as he was requested and it was not long before Hagar had run out of food and water. In a bid to find water for herself and her baby she ran to-and-fro between two hills after seeing mirages of springs. She returned to Ismaeel without any water and prayed for water with absolute sincerity. Suddenly a spring of water sprang from beneath the feet of Ismaeel and they were saved. Today, this spring continues to flow and is called the Zamzam spring and it is recommended to drink from it. Also, part of the hajj rituals is to jog seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa as Hagar did in search of water.
Prophet Abraham once had a dream, a message from God, where he was asked to sacrifice his only son Ishmael. When he was about to slay his son, God stopped him and instead brought him a ram to sacrifice instead. The pilgrims remember this test from God and on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, the Eid Al-Adhha, (celebration day of the slaughtering), they also laughter a sheep, goat, cow or camel as a sacrifice to God just as was done at the time of Prophet Abraham and afterwards, and eat the cooked meat, share it with others and distribute it amongst the hungry and poor people.
Prophet Abraham and his son were asked by God to build the first physical and permanent shrine building devoted to God. This building is called the Ka'bah because of its cuboid shape and pilgrims go around the Ka'bah circulating it anti-clockwise seven times. This is called tawaf. There is a place at one corner of the Ka'bah called Maqam Ibraheem, the station of Abraham (PBUH), which is the place Prophet Abraham stood and observed the building process when he originally built the Kaaba, and pilgrims pray a short prayer at this stop.
Prophet Abraham was once pursued and harassed by Satan, Iblees, three times. Abraham took stones/pebbles from the ground and threw them at him to make him go away. As part of the hajj rites, pilgrims collect enough pebbles to throw 7 clear shots each at three stone pillars that represent Satan. The stone throwing symbolizes an assault on Satan and the act of distancing the devil from oneself.
Aside from the mandatory acts of worship there are also many mustahab (recommended) rites of worship that are done during the hajj like doing different prayers and supplications, seeking sincere repentance, kissing Al-Hajar al Aswad (The Black Stone � a religious relic), drinking from the spring of Zamzam, visiting the Prophet's mosque in Madinah, visiting the grave of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and the graves of the martyrs (AS/RA) in the Baqi' graveyard and elsewhere.
Pilgrims who have completed the hajj are often called a Hajji (if male) or Hijjiyyah (female). Hajj is a life-changing experience that raises the soul and I have personally noticed that people who have returned from the hajj return relaxed with a warm glow on their faces and are revitalized and purified both physically and spiritually. This is something we all personally desire and indeed we should make every effort to go on the pilgrimage as soon as we can.