Hajj or pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah is the fifth and final pillar, and the finest institutions of Islam. It is a commemoration of the divine rituals observed by Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) and Ishmael (Ismail), who are well-known to have been the first pilgrims to the first house of God Almighty on earth, i.e, the Ka’bah (Bacca) at Makkah. The performance of the Hajj is obligatory, at least once in a lifetime, upon every Muslim, male or female, who is mentally, financially and physically fit.
By Moulana Ilyaas McAlan Sa’eed
Hajj is the largest annual convention of faith where Muslims from various corners of the world meet to know one another, study their common affairs and promote their general welfare. Around three million Muslims from around the world are beginning the five-day Hajj pilgrimage, starting August 30 until September 3 2017. They will circle Islam’s most sacred site, the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, and take part in a series of rituals intended to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims. It is also the greatest regular conference of peace known in the history of mankind. In the course of Hajj, peace is the dominant theme: peace with Allaah (God) Almighty and one’s soul, peace with one another and with animals, peace with birds and even with insects. To disturb the peace of anyone or any creatures in any shape or form is strictly prohibited.
It is a wholesome demonstration of the universality of Islam and the brotherhood and equality of the Muslims. Whether ruler or the ruled, the president or the slave, the business class or the lower class, all dress in the same simple way, observe the same regulations, utter the same supplications at the same time in the same way, for the same end. There is no royalty, but loyalty of all to Allah Almighty. There is no aristocracy, but humility and devotion.
Hajj is to confirm the commitment of the Muslims to Allah Almighty and their readiness to forsake the material interests in His service. It is also to acquaint the pilgrims with the spiritual and historical environment of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), so that they may derive warm inspirations and strengthen their faith.
Hajj is a course of spiritual enrichment and moral rearmament, a course of intensified devotion and disciplinary experience, a course of humanitarian interests and inspiring knowledge — all put together in one single institution of Islam. The Hajj is seen as a chance to wipe, clean past sins and start fresh.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims arrive in Mecca ahead of the five-day pilgrimage. Young Muslims will be experiencing Hajj in a very different way this year. Despite the physical challenges of the hajj, many people rely on canes or crutches and insist on walking the routes. Those who cannot afford the Hajj are sometimes financed by charities or community leaders. Others save their entire lives to make the journey. A few even walk thousands of kilometres by foot to Saudi Arabia, taking months to arrive. A team of cyclists arrived safely in Makkah from London for the great worship of Hajj on Monday. While following a route the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once walked, the rites of Hajj are believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the Prophets Ibrahim (PBUH) and Ismail (PBUH), or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible. Muslims believe Ibrahim (PBUH)’s faith was tested when God Almighty commanded him to sacrifice his only son Ismail (PBUH). Ibrahim (PBUH) was prepared to submit to the command, but then God Almighty stayed his hand, sparing his son. In the Christian and Jewish version of the story, Abraham (PBUH) is ordered to kill his other son, Isaac (PBUH). But He was ransomed after he (Ismail) and his father (Ibrahim) were ready to obey Allah’s ordinance.
Pilgrims also trace the path of Ibrahim’s wife, Hagar, who Muslims believe ran between two hills (i.e Swafah and Marwah) seven times searching for water for her dying son. Tradition holds that God Almighty then brought forth a spring that runs to this day. That spring, known as the sacred well of Zamzam, is believed to possess healing powers and pilgrims often return from the Hajj with bottles of its water as gifts.
Islamic tradition holds that the Ka’abah was built by Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail as a house of monotheistic worship thousands of years ago. Over the years, the Ka’abah was reconstructed and attracted different kinds of pilgrims, including early Christians who once lived in the Arabian Peninsula. In pre-Islamic times, the Ka’abah was used to house pagan idols worshipped by local tribes. Muslims do not worship the Ka’abah, but it is Islam’s most sacred site because it represents the metaphorical house of God Almighty and the oneness of God in Islam. Observant Muslims around the world face towards the Kaaba during the five daily prayers.
Pilgrims enter into a state of spiritual purity known as Ihraam that is aimed at shedding symbols of materialism, giving up worldly pleasures and focusing on the inner self over outward appearance. Women forgo make-up and perfume and wear loose-fitting clothing and a head covering, while men dress in seamless, white terrycloth garments. The white garments should not have any stitching — a restriction meant to emphasise the equality of all Muslims and prevent wealthier pilgrims from differentiating themselves with more elaborate garments.
Muslims are forbidden from engaging in sexual intercourse, cutting their hair or trimming nails while in Ihraam. It is also forbidden for pilgrims to argue, fight or lose their tempers during the hajj. Inevitably, though, the massive crowds and physical exhaustion of the journey test pilgrims’ patience and tolerance.
*TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
Elias McAlan is a Zimbabwean Muslim. Feedback on WhatsApp number: 0773704715