Hajj—Pilgrimage to the House of God

ihram
Male pilgrims drape themselves in two unsewn white sheets, symbolizing purity and equality.
© Fadi El Binni | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0

Malik Jamil R. Rafiq, Rabwah, Pakistan
Summarised by Hajra Ahmad, Oshkosh, USA

Religious expeditions have existed since the dawn of mankind but no pilgrimage comes close to the scale and universality of Hajj. The fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj is an obligatory pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, that every able-bodied Muslim with the means must make at least once in his life. Performed on set dates of the Islamic calendar, it commences from the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, last month of the lunar calendar, until the 12th or 13th of the same month. With its intricate blend of deeply symbolic rituals, Hajj is the ultimate source of spiritual rebirth for Muslim pilgrims. Millions of Muslims make this significant journey from all corners of the Earth to unite at the Ka’bah and shun base desires in favour of a more spiritual state of absolute love and gratitude for Almighty Allah.

Ihram – a State of Sanctity

Before Hajj starts, pilgrims enter a spiritual state of purity called Ihram. They recite a prayer to internally reinstate the conviction that they intend to perform Hajj only for the sake of Allah: “Here am I, at your service, O God. All praise belongs to Thee, all beneficence is from Thee. Thine is the Kingdom; Thou Hast no partner.” This prayer, called the talbiyah, is frequently recited throughout the first leg of Hajj.

Pilgrims must also physically manifest this mental state of purity by performing ablution or taking a bath, and draping their bodies in a garment consisting of two white sheets, one each to cover the upper and lower body. These shroud-like unsewn sheets symbolise the death of worldly desires whereas the universal dress code is meant to display the equality of humans in the eyes of God. In the state of Ihram, pilgrims are prohibited from shaving or trimming their hair, clipping their nails, wearing perfume, hunting and conjugal relations, etc. Thus their journey begins with the pure intention of gaining Allah’s pleasure.

The pilgrims must be in Ihram before they proceed into an area called Haram, the Islamic concept of a sacred sanctuary that stretches beyond the borders of Makkah. Everyone must be protected from harm within this area under Islamic teachings; hunting and cutting down trees here is also forbidden. The concept behind Haram is to guarantee a peaceful surrounding, so pilgrims can enter Makkah in peace without any fear.

Tawaf-e-Qudum – Circumambulation of Arrival

The tawaf is seven circuits around the Ka’bah. Here, pilgrims can be seen in front of the door of the Ka’bah while performing the tawaf. Omar Chatriwala | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0
The tawaf is seven circuits around the Ka’bah. Here, pilgrims can be seen in front of the door of the Ka’bah while performing the tawaf.
Omar Chatriwala | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0

Once in Makkah, pilgrims perform a tawaf, or circumambulation of the Ka’bah—a cuboid building located at the heart of Masjid Al-Haram, the most sacred mosque Muslims around the globe face when performing their salat, or the formal prayer. Pilgrims begin Tawaf-e-Qudum from the location of the Black Stone, an unshaped stone fixed in the southeast corner of the Ka’bah. Historically, the Ka’bah has existed since the time of Abrahamas who built it with his son Ishmaelas. The Black Stone is the only remaining stone preserved from the original Ka’bah building. In the times of idol worship, unshaped stones were considered symbols of the Oneness of God because stones were usually carved into idols. Muslims do not associate any supernatural powers with the Black Stone but take it as a symbol of God’s Unity. They consider it a huge privilege to kiss the stone to express their love for the One True Creator, Allah.

At the beginning of each circuit of the tawaf, pilgrims first face the stone and recite, “In the name of Allah, Allah is Great. All praise belongs to Allah,” and with the Ka’bah to their left, they go around the Ka’bah counterclockwise, performing seven circuits of the building. The Ka’bah is kept on the left side of pilgrims to symbolise the purpose behind the building: to worship. In Islamic teaching, when there are two worshippers praying in congregation, the Imam or leader of the prayer is always to the left. Thus they continue to recite the talbiyah and to glorify God and supplicate to Him, asking His forgiveness. The pace is faster in the first three circuits, resuming to a normal speed in the last four.

There lies a deep significance behind the choice of seven circuits. In the Arabic language, the number seven means completion. According to the Holy Qur’an, there are seven heavens in the entire universe.1 The first chapter of the Holy Qur’an is considered to be the complete essence of the entire Islamic teaching and it also contains seven verses. There are seven days in a week. Additionally, there are seven gates of hell. By completing each circuit with pure intentions, pilgrims symbolically close the gates of hell one by one and shun all forms of evil. The seven gates of Hell may also be seen as the seven senses through which a person perceives worldly impressions: vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, pain and temperature.

Maqam-e-Ibrahim and Sa’yi

Once the tawaf is completed, pilgrims go to Maqam-e-Ibrahim, or the place Abrahamas, an area on the eastern part of the Ka’bah where they perform two units, or rak’at, of prayer and drink water from the spring called Zamzam. Then they run between the two hills of Safa and Marwah, situated near the Ka’bah, in a Hajj rite called Sa’yi. Centuries ago, Hazrat Hajrara, wife of Abrahamas ran between these two hills in desperation to find water for her thirsty son Ishmaelas, which resulted in the sudden gush of water from the newly appeared Zamzam spring near the crying infant. Hence, pilgrims reenact Hazrat Hajra’sra frantic run back and forth between the two spots until the seventh round is completed at Marwah. During this ritual, pilgrims focus on glorifying Allah and supplicating to His Will.

First Day of Hajj

A view of the tents pitched at Mina, where those performing Hajj stay the night. Fadi El Binni | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0
A view of the tents pitched at Mina, where those performing Hajj stay the night.
Fadi El Binni | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0

On 8th Dhul-Hijjah, still in the state of Ihram, pilgrims proceed to Mina, some seven kilometers from the Ka’bah. They perform all five prayers at Mina and camp there overnight. Most of their night is spent praying further and supplicating to Allah.

Second Day of Hajj

Pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah near sunset. Omar Chatriwala | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0
Pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah near sunset.
Omar Chatriwala | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0

On 9th Dhul-Hijjah after the Fajr, or pre-dawn, prayers, pilgrims leave Mina for Arafat, a place northeast of Makkah, about 22 kilometers away. In Arafat, there is a famous mound called Jabal-e-Rehmat, where the Holy Prophetsa delivered his very last sermon. Thus, the Imam of Hajj delivers his sermon at the same spot. This day is known as Yaum-ul-Hajj, or the Pilgrimage Day and pilgrims must reach this area on this day for their Hajj to count. The word Arafat literally means ‘awareness’ and pilgrims feel the tremendous presence of God Almighty there. They keep to themselves, seeking forgiveness for their sins and supplicating to Allah.

After sundown, they leave for Muzdalifah, a place that lies between Mina and Arafat, taking a different route. At Muzdalifah, there is a knoll called Al-Mash’arul-Haram, meaning sacred consciousness, where the Holy Prophetsa once combined his evening (Maghrib and Isha) prayers, and spent the entire night supplicating to Allah. Pilgrims also combine both prayers at this spot and spend their night meditating and praying. The word Muzdalifah means “become near” and at this juncture whoever prays more fervently draws closer to God and strives to achieve a sacred awareness of Him.

Third Day of Hajj

An aerial view of pilgrims performing the circuits of the nal tawaf around the Ka’bah, which marks the completion of Hajj. © Fadi El Binni | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0
An aerial view of pilgrims performing the circuits of the nal tawaf around the Ka’bah, which marks the completion of Hajj.
© Fadi El Binni | Al Jazeera English | Released under CC BY-SA 2.0

On 10th Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims leave for Mina after Fajr prayers. According to historical narrations when Abrahamas was about to sacrifice his first-born Ishmaelas, Satan tempted him at Mina to abandon his intentions but Abrahamas remained steadfast and rejected him. Satan tried to tempt him twice more into not sacrificing his child but failed miserably. These three spots have been marked by pillars on single road. The distance between the first and last pillar is around 400 metres. Pilgrims pelt these pillars, called Jamarat, with the pebbles they have collected the night before at Muzdalifah to mark the defeat of Satan despite his attempts to sway Abrahamas. Pilgrims must pick at least 49 pebbles and carry them to Mina for this ceremony. However, on this day they only throw seven stones at the biggest pillar out of the three called Jamrah Aqabah.

Having three posts represents Satan’s gradual increase in intensity to tempt men to commit sin. If he fails to sway them in a minor first attempt, he comes back more forcefully and attacks with much more rigour, to further test their steadfastness. Thus, pelting the biggest pillar depicts rejection of Satan’s highest forms of temptation.

After pelting the big pillar, pilgrims slaughter a sacrificial animal. This is followed by trimming or shaving of heads and all restrictions except the one on conjugal relations are lifted. Pilgrims then take a shower and return to their normal attire. At this juncture, the recitation of the talbiyah comes to an end. Pilgrims proceed to the Ka’bah the same day and perform seven circuits called Tawaf-e-Ziayart or circumambulation of visitation just as they did in the Tawaf-e-Qudum. They return to Mina and spend their time seeking forgiveness of Allah.

Fourth Day of Hajj

On 11th Dhul-Hijjah, the pelting ritual is performed again but this time pilgrims target all three posts. The Jamarat are pelted in a sequence. Pilgrims start from the first post, then proceed to the central one and finally reach the last post.

Fifth Day of Hajj

On 12th Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims leave for Makkah and perform Tawaf-e-Wada or Tawaf-e-Ifadah, the farewell Tawaf of the Ka’bah. This circumambulation marks the completion of Hajj and the remaining restrictions are lifted. Now pilgrims may proceed to Madinah and leave for their homes. However, they may stay in Mina on the 13th Dhul-Hijjah to continue the pelting ritual in the same manner and then proceed to Makkah afterwards for the farewell Tawaf.

About the Author: Malik Jamil R. Rafiq currently serves as director of the Publications department in Rabwah, Pakistan.

endnotes

  1. The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 30.

 

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