by Taj Siddiqui
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca and Muslims are obligated to make it at least once in their lifetime, if they are healthy and can financially afford to do so. It represents a very high religious attainment and the spiritual apex of a Muslimâ€™s life, and to be the pilgrim of God is the dream of every Muslim. Over three million Muslim men and women, old and young, rich and poor, travel to Saudi Arabia each year to attend this annual congregation. This 5-day global assembly of Muslims is named Hajj and this year it will take place in October.
Diversity, Equality and Unity
The most magnificent characteristics of Hajj are the diversity, equality, and uniformity in Islam. All races and nationalities come together with tolerance and respect in a demonstration of fairness and harmony. Islam has no place for discrimination and Hajj provides a vivid display of this essential code.
Malcolm X, an American human rights activist, describes the sociological atmosphere he experienced at Hajj as follows:
â€œThere were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood â€¦â€¦. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.â€
Unity and oneness is the fundamental principle of Islam. Once a year millions of Muslims elevate themselves from the differences of financial status, color of skin, ethnicity, country of origin, social rank, and cultural pride. To show that all men are created equal, they stand together praising God, wearing only two pieces of unstitched white cloth, eliminating any obvious distinction. Their goal is to set aside their political, social, and other disagreements and endeavor for the spiritual unity of Islam. Muslims try to experience the significance of life on this planet, and attempt to focus on the life after death.
In addition, Hajj is a great opportunity to mingle with other Muslims from various parts of the world. You can experience their traditions, admire their clothing, and enjoy their food. The tent next to yours may occupy Muslims from a small village in Turkey, from a remote town in Sudan, or from a big city in Australia.
The Impact of Hajj
Hajj is a spiritual journey in which the man tries to make a passionate and humble connection with God. From the moment you make the intention to go to Hajj, an unseen bond is established between yourself and God. This bond reaches its peak in the enormous valley of Arafat on the second day of the 5-day event. The love for God inside you has become dormant over a life time of worldly trapping. When you start preparing for your journey this love takes over your heart and your eyes sparkle and your face glows with its intensity. Your thoughts and actions are changing. You seek forgiveness for the past mistakes and ask for Godâ€™s refuge. You contact your family members, friends, and loved ones, and ask for their forgiveness, if you have offended anyone.
Leaving behind your assets, your family, your business, your job, and the comfort of your home, you are now on your way to walk on the grounds where prophets have walked before and you are going to be face to face and literally touching the Kaaba, the House of God. On this journey, you do not want to abuse anyone, and stay away from back-biting, rage, indecency, and arguments. You have been invited to the House of God, and only the chosen ones receive this honour. You are becoming a different person, peaceful, calm, and nice, who wants to do good to others and stay away from bad deeds. You are a pilgrim to God.
On the second day of Hajj, when you stand together with three million other Muslims in the valley of Arafat, by your own self, without any worldly attachment, with your hands spread above your head, asking for the forgiveness of God, the Creator connects with His creation and shower you with His blessings. You do not care for how big your house is or how much is your bank account. You are only crying for His mercy.
At the end of the Hajj, you become a different person, with new set of values, goals, and morals. You have just experienced a once in a life-time transformation, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You are proud to be a human being, and a devoted Muslim, who has just been in the attendance of God. You are humble, compassionate, helping others and your view of the worldly assets and pleasures has changed. The pilgrimage to Mecca will make you a better practicing Muslim, devoted to the prayers, fasting and other exercises of Islam.
â€œA 2008 study on the longer-term effect of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslimsâ€™ communities become more open after the Hajj experience. Entitled Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islamâ€™s Global Gathering, a study conducted in conjunction with Harvard Universityâ€™s John F. Kennedy School of Government found that the Hajj experience promotes peaceful coexistence, equality, and harmony. Specifically, the report states that the Hajj increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic community and that â€œHajjis (those who have performed the Hajj) show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religionsâ€
The Rites of Hajj
Hajj is associated with the life of Prophet Ibraheem, peace be upon him, and was reinstituted for Muslims by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The following is just a brief synopsis and omits several crucial details.
The Kaaba is in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and is the most sacred site in Islam. All Muslims around the world face towards the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. It is a cuboid-shaped stone structure consisting of a single room, and stands close to 60 feet high and each side is about 60 feet in length. It is the center for spreading the universal movement of Islam, and a world-wide gathering point for Muslims.
Hajj is a 5-day spiritual mission, however travelling, glitches, and the visit to Medina makes the total duration to be two to four weeks, and requires months of preparations. The journey begins outside Mecca, where pilgrims bath, put on the Ehram, and make the intention. For men, Ehram consists of two unstitched sheets of white cloths. Women are allowed to wear proper stitched Islamic dress. During Hajj, you must obey the following restrictions: No sexual activity, cannot cut hair or nails, can not use perfume, can not kill animals, can not fight or be angry.
First Day : Pilgrims walk seven times round the Kaaba at the Great Mosque in Mecca, in a counter-clockwise direction, known as Tawaaf. After completing the Tawaaf the pilgrims go to the Zamzam well, which is inside the Great Mosque, and drink water coming out of this well. Muslims believe this is where God provided water for Hajera, and her son, Ismail, peace be upon them, when they were wandering in the desert. Following this, the pilgrims slowly run or walk seven times along a passageway in the Great Mosque, between the mounts of Safaa and Marwah, commemorating a search for water by Hajera, wife of the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon them. From Mecca the pilgrims travel 5 miles to Mina and offer prayers, and spend the night in the tents.
Second Day :This is the main event and a mandatory step of the Hajj. When the sun rises, the pilgrims go to Arafat, a plain about 9 miles from Mina. They may listen to a sermon delivered from Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad gave his final sermon. They remain in Arafat until sunset. The entire day is spent remembering and addressing God and deeply and profoundly engaging in intense prayers and supplications as the supplication on the day of Arafat are the best. This is the day of Hajj, and pilgrims must attain this once in a life-time opportunity.
At sunset the pilgrims start moving from Arafat and travel 4-1/2 miles to the open field of Muzdalifah and spend the night there on the ground and under the sky, without any comforts, offering prayers, making supplications and remembering God till dawn.
Third, Fourth & Fifth Day : Upon sunrise, the pilgrims go from Muzdalifah to the temporary make-shift tent city of Mina where they spend the next three days without worldly comforts, and perform the following rituals.
â€¢ They perform stoning of the devil by throwing seven pebbles at each of the three monuments representing the devils. These are three spots where devil is believed to have tempted Prophet Ismail, peace be upon him.
â€¢ They offer the sacrifice of an animal, usually a goat or sheep. This commemorates the incident when Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, was about to sacrifice his son and God substituted and accepted a sheep. The meat is not wasted, it is frozen and donated to many countries.
â€¢ Men shave their heads or clip the hair, women clip their hair. The pilgrims then remove the Ehram, take shower, and wear normal cloths.
Prior to leaving Mecca, the pilgrims make the farewell Tawaf, which is walking seven times around the Kaaba. Congratulations, the pilgrims have completed their Hajj. After this, most of them will go to the City of Medina, about 210 miles from Mecca, and pay attendance to the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. This is the second most sacred holy site in Islam.
Prophetâ€™s (s) Last Sermon
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, delivered his farewell sermon on the second day of Hajj in the valley of mount Arafat. It is a very renowned address to the humanity and highlights the fundamental guidelines of Islam. Following is the English translation of a portion of this sermon.
â€œO People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds.
Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligations shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has Judged that there shall be no interest and that all the interest due shall henceforth be waivedâ€¦
O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allahâ€™s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. â€¦.
O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.â€