What is Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) in Islam

What is Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) in Islam

The fifth pillar of Islam is Hajj, which translates to mean ‘the pilgrimage to the Holy city of Makkah’ The Arabic word Hajj, linguistically, means ‘heading to a place for the sake of visiting’; in Islamic terminology, it describes the act of heading to Makkah to observe specific acts and rituals. Hajj, or the pilgrimage, is a 5-6-day journey to this sacred place between the 8th and 13th day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Dhul-Hijjah. The Hajj journey is obligatory for every Muslim, male or female, to complete at least once in a lifetime; providing that they are mentally, physically and financially capable of making the trip. God states:

“…And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way…” (Quran 3:97)

The Hajj includes detailed reenactments of certain symbolic rituals performed by great Prophets and righteous individuals in the past. The Hajj Pilgrimage and its symbolic rituals commemorate the legacy of Prophet Abraham peace be upon him, so one needs to learn about Prophet Abraham to understand the reasoning behind individual acts performed as a part of Hajj.

Integral to Hajj is the Kaaba, a Holy Shrine, a black silk-clad cube stone structure at the heart of the Grand Mosque in the modern-day city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Kaaba is at the center of the Earth, built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ismael peace be upon them. Upon completion, God the Almighty Commanded Prophet Abraham to relay the Message amongst the people that they would be required to make a pilgrimage to this House. Prophet Abraham peace be upon him replied, ‘O Allah, with no one here, how will they hear my Message?’ God then answered, ‘Upon you is the proclamation, and upon me, is to see who responds.’ Prophet Abraham peace be upon him went on top of the Kaaba and also climbed Mount Safa and called out, ‘O People, Allah has built a house for himself on this Earth, and he has legislated upon you to perform pilgrimage, so come and perform pilgrim to this house!’

“And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass” (Quran 22:27)

By performing Hajj, Muslims are answering the command of Allah. Over 4000 years later, to this day, millions upon millions of Muslims continue to answer the call of Prophet Ibrahim peace be upon him from every corner of the globe. You find Muslims from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and all over the world making this pilgrimage every year. It is the largest annual convention of faith on Earth, where Muslims gather to commemorate the rituals observed by Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael peace be upon them. Muslims celebrate the legacy of Prophet Ibrahim and the many sacrifices he has made for the sake of God.

When Muslims enter the scared Makkan territory during Hajj, they bathe themselves and enter a ritually purified state called Ahram. In this state, pilgrims are forbidden to perform typical actions that are otherwise permissible, such as covering one’s head for males, clipping their fingernails, cutting their hair, hunting animals, picking plants, engaging in sexual activity, and wearing traditional clothing for men.

Male Pilgrims wear two white seamless lyon sheets with no stitching by hand, that are wrapped around the body. No belts, no rings, no perfumes, no jewelry, or any accessories or garish clothing, may be worn. The simple garb worn represents complete impoverishment and humility and signifies the equality of humanity—as everyone comes before God the same. No one is better than the other among the pilgrims of Hajj. Muslims are all united in their devotion to God. Every human being is displayed equally, as we are all equal in the eyes of Allah regardless of our color or race. The black man stands next to the white man, and they call on Allah with one voice. The King stands beside a peasant; the businessman stands beside the politician, the doctor beside the engineer, and they declare their submission to the will of Allah using the same words. Several Millions of people are dressed the same way and look the same; no one can tell the rich from the poor; all fulfill the same rituals with the utmost humility. This is to remind pilgrims of the coming Day of Judgment when all people will be stripped of their clothes and displayed before their God. The pilgrims show a sense of poverty with their appearance, as the pilgrims acknowledge that they are the ones in need, and God is the one that owns and has everything they require.

Pilgrims start to perform their tawaf from the black stone corner. Tawaf is the act of circulating the Kaaba counterclockwise. Pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba seven times while they recite prayers during each circuit. Pilgrims perform the tawaf (circumambulation) to follow the suit of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as has been ordained in the Qur’an. As Pilgrims circulate the Kaaba, they disconnect themselves from worldly attachments and focus upon the presence of the Divine. As Pilgrims circumambulate the Kabah, they chant: ‘Here I am, O Allah, Here I am, you have no partner; indeed, all praise, favor, and dominion belong to you, you have no partner.’

Since Prophet Abraham and his wife Sara could not bear any children, Sara asked her husband to marry their servant so they could beget a child before they were too old to raise offspring. Later, Prophet Abraham was commanded by God to take both his second wife Hagar and their son Ismael and leave them in a barren desert valley in modern-day Mecca. As soon as Prophet Abraham peace be upon him started to leave, Hagar cried out, ‘Where are you going? Why are you leaving us?’ Abraham did not respond. After a few more attempts to find answers, Hagar then asked if this action was a commandment from God. He responded, ‘Yes.’ Then she replied, ‘if God commanded you to leave us, then leave us, because God never will leave us to perish.” She was sure that God would not abandon her and her child, despite their presence at the center of a Desert Valley. He left them with little water and some dates.

Later, Hagar ran out of food and water and started to worry for her child. She then fell into a state of anxiety and climbed a hillock called Mount Safa, crying out, ‘is anyone there?’  Then she ran to another hillock—Mount Marwa—again crying out, ‘Is anyone there?’ Then she paced back and forth to each mountain, seven times.

On the seventh round, Hajar saw Angel Gabriel descend from the sky and strike the ground with his wing, causing water to gush upward from the Earth. Angel Gabriel declared, ‘Zam, Zam,’ meaning ‘Stop, Stop,’ commanding the water to stop. This water is now referred to as Zam Zam Water. This well to this today nourishes pilgrims of Mecca every day.

Passersby rescued Hagar and her child. Years later, when Ismael was growing to become a man, his father Prophet Abraham returned and built with him the house in Mecca, called the Kabah.

In commemoration of this great sacrifice from Hagar, Muslim pilgrims in Hajj progress in a quicker pace going back and forth between the two hillocks (which are 300-400 yards apart) seven times, reenacting Hagar’s movements when attempting to find aid. This action is symbolic of Hagar’s search for water and the miracle of the well of Zam Zam.

Then the pilgrims depart Mecca toward the valley of Minna, which is about 3-4 miles outside of Makkah. During Hajj season, Minna is full of over 100,000 air-conditioned tents that cover every open space as far as the eye can see, row after row, where pilgrims stay overnight. The tents accommodate roughly 2-3 million people performing Hajj. Pilgrims spend their time in prayer, worship, and meditation, asking for forgiveness on the night known as Layali Al-Tashreeq.

After spending the night at the village of Mina, pilgrims take the next step and proceed to a large plain about 7-8 miles from Mecca called Arafat, a large plain surrounded by bare mountains. Forming the center is a hill known as Mount Mercy (Gabal Al-Rahma), where Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him delivered his memorable Farewell Sermon. This is the central rite of the entire Hajj. Pilgrims stand from noon to sunset praying quietly before God, begging for mercy and forgiveness and asking their wishes. Many pilgrims shed tears as they ask the Al-Mighty to forgive them their sins in this very emotional day of standing. Standing, reflecting, considering their actions, and begging and pleading to God is often thought of as a preview and representation of the great assembly of the upcoming Day of Judgment. It is to remind people of the fateful day where everyone will stand before their Lord begging for mercy.

Then pilgrims spend the night at Muzdalifah, an open plain about halfway between Arafat and Mina where pilgrims pray, then go back to Mina.

At 95, Prophet Abraham peace be upon him saw himself slaughtering his son in a dream; interpreting the vision to mean that he needed to slaughter his son for the sake of God. He was to lay his son on to the sand and raise a knife to sacrifice him. Islam doesn’t allow this act; the dream was only a way for God to test Prophet Abraham. But Prophet Abraham didn’t know that this was only a test to see who he loved and was devoted to the most; his Lord or his son. Ismael was his only progeny at the time. His son looked at his father and said, ‘if God commanded you to do this, do as you were commanded as I too am submissive to God.’

As Prophet Abraham peace be upon him raised his sword, Satan appeared in front of him and stated, ‘that’s your only son, what are you doing? How can you kill him?’ Prophet Abraham, recognizing Satan the cursed, started to pelt him with seven stones until he went away. After that, Prophet Abraham moved to another place, where Satan once again returned and was pelted again by Prophet Abraham; then again, the action was repeated in another place. Satan always tries to separate people from their Lord. Eventually, when Prophet Abraham was poised to kill his son, his son was replaced with a Ram sent down by God. Prophet Abraham immediately realized that this was only a test from the Almighty.

At Minna, pilgrims take part in a ritual known as the ramy, which is the throwing of seven stones at three monuments called Al-Jamarāt. Until today, millions of Muslims pass by three monuments and throw pebbles as a ritual, which symbolizes the reenactment of the actions of Prophet Ibrahim when he faced the trial of sacrificing his son. The three monuments or pillars in Mina represent the three places that the Devil tempted Prophet Abraham to forego the sacrifice. The throwing of the pebbles is purely symbolic. To this day, at the end of Hajj, Muslims annually sacrifice sheep, cows, camels, and goats in the millions; commemorating the spirit of Prophet Abraham peace be upon him, his intention, his sincerity, and his passion. The meat from the sacrifice is then given to the needy.

During Hajj, Muslims also kiss a black stone, symbolizing their apperception of being invited to the house of the King of all Kings— our Lord, our Creator. Muslims also kiss the black stone in tradition of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. If they cannot kiss it, they can touch it or point in its direction. This stone was sent down from Heaven for Prophet Abraham peace be upon him, to be used for the construction of the sacred house. Buildings in ancient times often had cornerstones, and Prophet Abraham wanted a cornerstone for this house. Narrations describe the stone as being whiter than milk darkening slowly from the sins of humans until it morphed into a black stone. The black stone is the starting-point for tawaf — the circling of the Kabah.

Hajj is completed by the act of men either shaving their heads or clipping their hair, and women cutting off a fingertip’s length of their hair, to mark their partial deconsecration; a symbol of humility.

Apart from Hajj, a minor pilgrimage known as Umrah is performed in the year’s remainder.  The completion of Umrah does not fulfill the obligation of Hajj. Umrah is much shorter, lasting a few hours which entail the seven circumambulations of the Kabah and the light jogging between Mount Safa and Mount Mara.

This spiritual journey known as Hajj boasts many benefits, including a powerful positive transformation that makes pilgrims more spiritual, righteous, softer, and better human beings overall. Pilgrims who embark on the journey of Hajj faithfully and sincerely are cleansed of all their previous sins, leaving them with a fresh start.

Upon completion of Hajj, Muslims celebrate one of two Muslim Holidays called Eid Al-Adha. Muslims celebrate by praying to God and visiting family and friends to thank and praise God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon them.

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