•To Complete Their Hajj Ritual
Every year, 1.5 million people from dozens of countries around the world are in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to perform the hajj, the Islamic religious pilgrimage. It’s a huge event in terms of both its significance in Islam and the massive logistical challenge of having that many people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe descend on one relatively small place all at once.
The hajj — Arabic for “pilgrimage” — is a five-day religious pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby holy sites in Saudi Arabia that all Muslims who are physically and financially able must perform at least once in their lives. It is one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam, along with the profession of faith in the one God and Mohammed as his prophet, prayer, charitable giving, and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
The hajj takes place only once a year, in the 12th and final month of the Islamic lunar calendar; pilgrimages to Mecca made at other times in the year are encouraged but do not count as the hajj. Because the Islamic lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the 365 days of the standard Gregorian calendar, the timing of the hajj moves backward each year.
Over the five days of the hajj, pilgrims perform a series of rituals meant to symbolize their unity with other believers and to pay tribute to God. On the last three days of the hajj, pilgrims — as well as all other Muslims around the world — celebrate Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice. This is one of the two major religious holidays Muslims celebrate every year. (The other is Eid al-Fitr, which comes at the end of Ramadan.) People may be surprised to learn that the hajj has very little to do with the Prophet Mohammed. Rather, it mostly commemorates events in the life of the Prophet Ibrahim — that is, Abraham. Yes, that Abraham.
If you’re from a non-Abrahamic faith tradition or if it’s just been a while since Sunday School, Abraham is a venerated patriarchal figure in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i faith. He is perhaps best known for being willing to personally kill his beloved son when God commanded him to do so. At the last minute, so the story goes, God stepped in and told Abraham to sacrifice an animal instead, rewarding Abraham’s unwavering faith.
In the Judeo-Christian narrative, the son Abraham almost sacrifices is Isaac. In Islam, however, it’s Abraham’s other son, Ismail (Ishmael), who is almost sacrificed. Muslims consider both Abraham and Ismail to be prophets of God, and Mohammed’s ancestry is said to be traced back to Ismail. There is another event involving Ismail and his mother, Hagar, which looms large in the hajj. The story goes like this: God commanded Abraham, as a test of faith, to take Hagar and the infant Ismail out to a barren desert area located between the two hills of Safa and Marwah in Mecca, and leave them there alone with only basic provisions. Eventually the water ran out, and the increasingly frantic Hagar ran back and forth from hill to hill seven times searching for water for her parched child.
Then a miracle occurred: A well, later called the Zamzam well, sprang from the ground, saving both of them. The story of how the well was discovered differs: Some accounts say it was the baby Ismail’s distressed kicking of his feet that scratched away the dirt and revealed the water source. Other accounts hold that the angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic) tipped his wing into the dirt to reveal the well.
Abraham and Ismail later went on to build the Kaaba, the black cuboid structure in Mecca that Muslims face when they pray, together, as a place of worship of the one God. (Abraham eventually came back and retrieved his family from the desert, evidently.) Soon after they built the Kaaba, tradition holds, God commanded Abraham to proclaim a pilgrimage to the site — in other words, the hajj — to all mankind (well, all monotheists) so that they can come together in one place to show their devotion to God.
Muslims around the world face the direction of the Kaaba — Arabic for “cube” — when they pray, but they don’t worship the Kaaba (or the Black Stone). Rather, it is a place of worship of the one God. It is also a focusing mechanism, a central point on the globe toward which all Muslims, in a symbol of unity, direct their thoughts and prayers to God.
According to Islamic tradition, the site of the Kaaba was originally a sacred place where angels would worship God in the days before man was created. Later, Adam (yes that Adam, partner to Eve) built a shrine to God on that spot, but it too was destroyed by the ravages of time. When Abraham came along, he and his son Ismail rebuilt the Kaaba on the foundations of Adam’s earlier shrine as a place of worship of the one God.
The structure consists of four walls and a roof, all made from stone from the hills surrounding Mecca. The four corners roughly face the four points of the compass. The building is often referred to as a “cube” (that’s where “Kaaba” comes from, after all), but this is not technically correct. To be a true geometric cube, all its edges must have the same length, and every corner in the cube must have an angle of 90 degrees.
The Kaaba’s edges are not all the same length, so therefore it is best described as a “cuboid,” not a “cube.” It is covered by a black silk cloth decorated with verses of the Quran in gold-embroidered Arabic calligraphy. This cloth is known as the kiswah, and it is replaced yearly, on the second day of the hajj. While Abraham was building the Kaaba, so the legend goes, the angel Gabriel came down and gave Abraham the famous Black Stone, which he placed in the eastern corner of the structure.
There is another squarish stone on the ground a few feet away from the Kaaba with what look like two footprints in it. This is known as the Station of Abraham and is said to be the stone where Abraham stood while watching over the construction of the Kaaba. Today it is encased in a beautifully ornate golden glass-and-metal structure.
There is a famous story in Islam about Mohammed and the Black Stone. By Mohammed’s time, the Kaaba had again been damaged and was being repaired (it has been damaged or destroyed and rebuilt or repaired numerous times over the centuries). The story goes that when construction was finished and it came time to place the Black Stone back in the eastern corner, the final step, the tribes of Mecca argued fiercely over who would get to do the honors.
They decided to ask the next man who walked by to decide for them, and that man happened to be Mohammed. His solution was to put the stone on a large cloth and have each of the leaders of the four tribes hold a corner of the cloth and carry the stone to its place. Mohammed himself then placed the stone into its final position. This was back before Mohammed had received his first revelation from God. The next time Mohammed was involved with the Kaaba, though, would prove to be much less … harmonious.
Islamic tradition holds that although Abraham built the Kaaba to worship the one God, over time the Kaaba had been more or less co-opted by the various pagan tribes in the area, all of whom had placed idols to their preferred deity inside the Kaaba, thereby “corrupting” it.
One particularly popular idol was a figure of Hubal, a moon deity worshipped by many in Mecca at the time. Access to the Kaaba (and thus the idol) was controlled by the powerful Quraysh tribe, of which Mohammed was a member, and they basically capitalized on this to get rich, charging fees and selling wares to pilgrims coming to worship the idol.
When Mohammed began receiving revelations from God (he received his first one about five years after the incident with the Black Stone) and preaching his message of monotheism, the rich Qurayshi merchants started getting a little antsy. Worried that the growing popularity of his decidedly anti-idol worshiping message could potentially hurt business, they ran Mohammed and his small band of followers out of town.
Ten years later, Mohammed and his now much larger and more powerful army of followers defeated the Quraysh tribe and took control of Mecca. One of Mohammed’s first acts upon taking control of the city was to go into the Kaaba and smash the idol of Hubal and the hundreds of other idols to pieces, rededicating the shrine as a place of worship of the one God.
Today, the Kaaba is kept closed during the hajj because of the overwhelming number of people, but those who visit the Kaaba during other times of the year are sometimes allowed to go inside. It’s quite beautiful: The walls are white marble on the lower half and green cloth on the upper half. There is very little inside it, though — just three tall stone pillars, a small table, some hanging lamp–looking things, and a staircase to the roof.
The most well-known ritual is the tawaf (literally “circumambulation”), during which pilgrims circle the Kaaba counterclockwise seven times at both the very beginning and the very end of the hajj. Although it’s not entirely clear exactly why it’s seven specifically, many believe it has to do with the motion of celestial bodies. Seven is also a prominent number associated with the divine in many religions, including Christianity and Judaism.
Other rituals include a ceremony where pilgrims throw small pebbles at three large stone walls, called jamarat, to symbolize the stoning the devil that tempted Abraham to defy God, and the slaughtering of an animal (usually a sheep) to honor the animal Abraham slaughtered instead of his son. The meat is then given to feed the poor and needy. These days, pilgrims frequently elect to purchase tokens to have an animal slaughtered for them.
Muslim pilgrims perform the ritual stoning of the devil in Mina near the holy city of Mecca on November 27, 2009. MAHMUD HAMS There is also a ritual called Sa’ee, in which pilgrims walk back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwah seven times to commemorate Hagar’s frantic search for water for her infant son. Today, both hills are enclosed within the Masjid al-Haram (Sacred Mosque) complex (which also houses the Kaaba), and the path between the hills is a long, beautiful indoor gallery with marble floors and air conditioning. Many also drink from the Zamzam well located there.
The only ritual that is solely related to Mohammed is the climbing of Mount Arafat, which is where Mohammed preached his last sermon. On the second day of hajj, pilgrims wake at dawn and walk a short distance to Mount Arafat, where they spend the remainder of the day on or near the mountain in quiet worship and contemplation of God.
Stoning of the Satan (Arabic: Rami al-Jamarat) is one of the main rituals of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca during the month of Dhul Hijjah. During this ritual, Muslims throw pebbles at the three pillars called ‘jamarat’, located in the city of Mina, just east of Mecca. During the night spent in Muzdalifah, pilgrims gather 70 stones to pelt the three pillars representing Satan on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, i.e. the day of Hajj. Muslims perform the same ritual for the next three days before the concluding circumambulation of Ka’bah. Ibn Abbas (RA) narrated that:
“The Prophet (PBUH) seated al-Fadl behind him on his mount, and al-Fadl said that he did not stop reciting the Talbiyah until he stoned the Jamrah.” (Al-Bukhari: 1685 and Muslim: 1282). To complete the hajj rituals, the most important ritual for every pilgrims before they can be called Alhaja or Alhaji is Mount Arafat, it is a granite hill about 20 km east of central Mecca in the plain of Arafat. Mount Arafat reaches about 70 m (230 ft) in height. According to Islamic tradition, the hill is the place where the Prophet Muhammad stood and delivered the Farewell Sermon to the Muslims who had accompanied him for the Hajj towards the end of his life. It is also said that it is also the place where Adam and Hawa reunited on Earth after falling from Heaven, and where Adam was forgiven, hence it is known as the “Mount of Mercy”. A pillar is erected to show the place where the aforementioned took place.
On the 9th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah pilgrims go to Arafat from Mina, for the most important part of the Hajj. The Khutbah of Hajj is narrated and Zuhr and Asr prayers are prayed together. The pilgrims spend the whole day on the mountain to supplicate to Allah to forgive their sins and to pray for personal strength in the future. Arafah rituals end at sunset and pilgrims then move to Muzdalifah for Maghrib Prayer and a shortened Isha prayer and for a short rest.
The level area surrounding the hill is called the Plain of Arafat. The term Mount Arafah is sometimes applied to this entire area. It is an important place in Islam because during the Hajj, pilgrims spend the afternoon there on the ninth day of Dhul Hijjah. Failure to be present in the plain of Arafat on the required day invalidates the pilgrimage.
–BUNMI MUSTAPHA Z/0�XT�t`