Summary of 5.10 "Hajj: History Continued"
The basic emphasis in the first two programs was on the historical aspect and the importance of the holy city of Mecca. We said that upon the command of God Abraham took his wife Hagar and her son Ishmael to the wilderness of Mecca where they dwelled. We compared the Islamic story with the Biblical story as we pointed out their similarities and differences. We tried to point out that is a very significant story in the sense that through Prophet Abraham came all monotheistic prophets that came after him. Through Abraham’s second son Isaac came all the Israelite prophets ending with Jesus (PBUH) and through Abraham’s first son Ishmael the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came. This is the connection that we find between the three major monotheistic religions.
We also described the different historic sites in Mecca, such as the well of Zamzam which gushed under Ishmael’s feet when his mother was looking for water. There are also the hills of Safa and Marwah in-between which Hagar ran in search of water. Most importantly there is the Ka’aba itself, the first house on earth to be build for the worship of the one God and is a monument of monotheism. The Ka’aba was built by Abraham with the help of his son Prophet Ishmael (PBUH).
In the last program we also touched briefly on the story of sacrifice which took place near Mecca where God directed Prophet Abraham to take his only son, Ishmael, and offer him in sacrifice. We compared this story with the Biblical story for the purpose of clarification.
5.11 Hajj: Rites and Significance
Host: People travel annually to make the pilgrimage in Mecca; what reflections can make regarding the travel associated with the pilgrimage?
When one reflects on it they see that this is a fulfillment of the prophecy made in the Quran. When Prophet Abraham built the Kaaba God ordained him “proclaim on people to come for pilgrimage and they will come t you on foot and every means of transportation.” This was about three thousand years ago. For the first 1600 years the notion of pilgrimage was not perfected, till Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came and the prophecy made by Prophet Abraham was finally fulfilled.
When people travel all the way from Indonesia, South Africa, Central Africa, Europe, United States, Canada and all parts of the world this in itself is a reflection of devotion to God. In a way it is a reenactment of the frequent journeys of Prophet Abraham. Prophet Abraham as the father of monotheism traveled to many places and experienced lots of trouble and difficulty in trying to spread the true faith in God. When the pilgrims come from all walks of life and all parts of the world they are following the steps of their father in faith Prophet Abraham in their devotion to God. The journey to the holy city is a reminder for us that our entire life is nothing but a journey. Our life is a journey that may be long or short, only God knows. We have to realize that we are passing through a journey in our life that has an end and that our ultimate destiny is to go back to God and stand accountable for our lives.
Host: When is Hajj or the pilgrimage made?
First we have to make a distinction between two aspects of pilgrimage. One pilgrimage is called Umrah which is translated as the lesser pilgrimage and can be preformed at any time year round. This however does not fulfill the full duty of making pilgrimage. This makes it easier for many people who are not available or unable to travel during the specific period of pilgrimage in one year or the other to visit at any time. I know people who live in America and when traveling to their home they make it a point to stop and make Umrah on their way back. This is a simple pilgrimage and can be fulfilled in a couple of hours no more.
The major pilgrimage, Hajj that is mandatory on every Muslim male and female to do it at least once in their lifetime must be preformed within a specified period. It usually takes about a week from the 8th day of the month of Dhul Hijjah to the 13th day. The month of Dhul Hijjah is the 12th month in the Islamic lunar calendar which is based on the moon and is about 11 days shorter than the solar year. This is why the pilgrimage keeps changing between different seasons just like the month of fasting.
In both cases, whether one is doing the lesser pilgrimage or the major pilgrimage, one always starts with the state of Ihram which is a state of intention and performance of special rites that mark the beginning of this pilgrimage. It is out of the compassion of God that He did not required one to begin the state of Ihram (at least the procedure and restrictions that must be followed) from the moment one leaves their home. Some people might be traveling for longer periods of time and the rules are quite restrictive as I will describe later as there are certain that should or should not be done. For that reason the stage when one should really be in the state of Ihram or intention begins in a specified location called the Mawakeet ranging from 100 to 500 kilometers outside of Mecca. Depending on the direction one is coming from one can’t pass this point, which is very close to Mecca, without wearing the attire and being fully in the state of intention to perform the pilgrimage. Some people start this in the plane or go to Jeddah which is far enough for them to begin after arriving.
Host: How does a person enter the stat of Ihram?
The most important thing is the intention. In Islam every deed should be preceded by intention. A person should always think of why he or she is doing something and put the intention in their heart (doesn’t utter anything). In this case one would have the intention that he is beginning to perform this required worship out of obedience and submission to the will of God and in the pursuit of his pleasure. It is also desirable for the person before putting on the Ihram clothing to take a bath and clean one’s self thoroughly. After this a person should put away all their regular clothing because during the pilgrimage, in the period of performing the rites, a Muslim is not supposed to wear their normal clothing.
The male wears very simple attire during Hajj which is basically two towels; one can be wrapped around the waist a couple of times and twisted so that it holds (one can also use a belt if needed) the second piece is held on one side and placed above the right shoulder leaving the left shoulder exposed. In addition to this a person should not wear his regular shoes but rather a pair of sandals or something where the heel is exposed. Also a male is not supposed to cover his head unless he is sick or is in dyer need. None of the clothing worn is sewn, and nothing is worn under the towels/sheets.
Host: What do the women wear?
Women in Islam already dress more modestly than men. A Muslim woman is supposed to cover her body except for her face and hands. They are given a concession because if a woman were to have un-sewn clothing they can’t really have complete covering of the body. A woman who performs Hajj can wear anything but she should not cover her face or hands. In fact Islam does not make it a requirement in Hajj or otherwise that a woman covers her face or hands. But to keep in line with the spirit of simplicity it should not be clothing that shows off the body or wealth. In other words it has to be a simple garment that is loose and covers the entire body except for the face and hands. It is preferable that they wear simple white material so that a sense of equality is felt by all who are performing the pilgrimage.
Host: What is the significance of this attire?
Clothes are usually used as a symbol of our individuality, our ego, our authority, power and wealth. When a person performs the pilgrimage which is a very high and pure act of worship and devotion to God egotistical things should be forgotten. This reminds the individual that one could be a king or a common man, rich or poor, male or female but that they should not forget that the essence is a person is their humanity. So by casting away the normal clothing that one has and all the false symbols that express superiority they are able to just being humans. This way one finds the rich, the poor, and people form different professions all wearing the same thing. This is a practical manifestation of the true essence of human brotherhood and equality.
Host: Are there other things that have to be observed?
One should abstain from any disruptive act and they should always watch themselves. There is a verse in the Quran that describes that beautifully as it says that pilgrimage is done in appointed times and whoever goes to the pilgrimage should totally abstain from any indecency in words or deeds (which is also required outside of Hajj). One has to make be particularly careful not to get into arguments or partake in violent acts. This is not limited to how humans relate to one another but even how they relate to the environment and other creatures. On has to be at perfect peace. During the period that one starts the rites of the minor or major pilgrimage one is not supposed to hunt, one can’t kill an animal or even an insect with exceptions in life threatening situations. One must be at perfect peace with living and non-living things. One is not allowed to cut a tree or even the twig of a tree and there are penalties to atone for this if this is done. One is not allowed to trim their nails or cut their hair. In addition no marital relations are allowed. Also one can not put any perfumes. All the worldly masks and pleasures are put aside in order for us to go back to the basics and simplicity of humanity.
Host: What do people chant on their way to Mecca?
One of the highly encouraged acts during the pilgrimage, once one starts the state of Ihram outside of Mecca, is to repeat certain prayers or supplications to God. The rough translation in English is “Oh God here I stand, there is no partner with you here I stand, verily yours is the praise the blessing and the majesty, there is no partner with thee.” This is a kind of response to the call of God and to the call made 3000 years ago by Abraham that everybody should sanctify and purify this house and use it for the worship of the one God. This chanting usually has to stop once one enters the precincts of the Kaaba, holy house, where other proceedings are done.
Host: What is the Kaaba like and what is its significance?
In recent years about 2 million people make the pilgrimage annually. During the day or night there are always people in the Kaaba. The Kaaba itself is a very simple cubic structure that is covered with material (not required but has become tradition) and there is nothing inside of the Kaaba or any inscriptions on the walls. In Islam there is no Image that one should take for God physical or otherwise so the Kaaba is kept simple.
It is very difficult to describe the feeling and excitement that one feels when they go there and stand before the very first house on earth build to worship the one God in response to the call of God. One feels a sense of attachment to Prophet Abraham who originally built the Kaaba. When one is there they identify with the whole caravan of believers and monotheistic prophets who preached the word of God. Once one is at the Kaaba one has a very peculiar sense of tranquility and peace.
Host: When an individual pilgrim reaches the Kaaba what are they supposed to do?
Once one reaches the Kaaba first they stop the chanting then a person is required to circle the Kaaba seven times with the Kaaba on one’s left side. The circling starts at the corner in the Kaaba where the Black Stone is housed. While making the rounds one prays earnestly to God for guidance, support in one’s life and for salvation in the hereafter.
Host: What is the significance of circling around the Kaaba?
All the rites of pilgrimage are done out of full obedience and submission to God with the willingness to do it as He ordained and as He communicated through the last Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH). An Austrian, Dr. Muhammad Asad, who embraced Islam likened this circling of the Kaaba to the atom and how the electrons and neutrons circle around the center and like the solar system that always has a center and something rotates around it. He says that as human beings we keep moving, dynamic change, but we should always have one clear objective in life, one central focus and that is to worship God and seek His pleasure in this life and His felicity and reward in the hereafter.