Hajj, Pilgrimage.

What does it mean
Meaning "visit to the revered place," the pilgrimage to Makkah, is the the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world. For those Muslims are able to make the journey to Makkah, the hajj is the peak of their religious life.

Who is it applicable to?
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah -- the Hajj -- is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it.

Worlds largest display of Unity
About two and half million people (1989) go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors. Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God. A person who has successfully performed the Haj is then called a Haji (for males) and Hajjah (for females)

The actual rites and prayers take place at the sacred Ka'ba in Mecca and at nearby locations. Muslims associate the origin of the Hajj and the founding of the Ka'ba with the prophet Abraham.

Peace is the dominant theme. Peace with Allah, with one's soul, with one another, with all living creatures. To disturb the peace of anyone or any creature in any shape or form is strictly prohibited.

Muslims from all walks of life, from every corner of the globe assemble in in response to the call of Allah. There is no royalty, but there is loyalty of all to Allah, the Creator. It is to commemorate the Divine rituals observed by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, who were the first pilgrims to the house of Allah on earth: the Ka'bah. It is also to remember the great assembly of the Day of Judgement when people will stand equal before Allah.

When is it?
The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter).

What does it relate to?
Islam relates so profoundly to the monotheistic mission of Abraham that its fifth pillar (Hajj) is none but a ritualistic commemoration of the Patriarch. Throughout his belief in the One True God and submission (islam) only to His will, Abraham stood the test of confronting authority (King Nemrod who argued that like Abraham's God, he could give and take life by ordering a prisoner killed and another spared. When Abraham retorted that God brings the sun from the East and challenged him to bring the sun from the West, the King was just confounded), and confronting public opinion and their religious leaders when he destroyed their idols, was arrested and condemned to die by fire, but God saved him "We said O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham." (21:69) A more taxing test, however, was when Abraham, upon the nagging of his wife Sarah agreed to take Hagar and their son Ismail and banish them in the desert, "and the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son." (Genesis 21:11) When Abraham abandoned them at the site of the future city of Makkah, their provisions became nearly depleted and the mother went through the ordeal of fetching for water in panic and near despair, until the Well of Zam-Zam unexpectedly erupted. Abraham periodically came to visit, and on one of those visits he was ordained by God to build, with the assistance of Ismail, the first mosque for the worship of God, and to call the believers on an annual season of pilgrimage (hajj) to visit that mosque in worship. The most strenuous test for Abraham was no doubt the divine command to slay his own son, that he finally brought himself together to obey, followed by God's will to spare the boy and ransom him with the ram.

The pilgrimage therefore started with Abraham and Ismail and continued unbroken ever since. Unfortunately, however, the people after many generations slipped again into paganism, and transformed the House of God into a house for idols. Each tribe of those pagan Arabs took an idol, gave it a name, and placed it in the Kaaba. The pilgrimage season remained in observance, but instead of worshipping God it became a season of merriment and festivities, booze and vice, and new rituals were improvised like encircling the Kaaba in the nude while clapping, singing and whistling. It was a great financial bonanza for the people of Makkah, whose economy was based on the season and on two annual caravan journeys for transit trade between East (Africa and Asia) and West (Syria and beyond to the Byzantian Empire). A clergy arose to speak on behalf of the god's and accept offerings and pledges.

For thousands of years that state of affairs continued on this (Ismail's) side of the seed of Abraham. Out of the distant progeny of Ismail, from the powerful tribe of Qureish, Mohammad was born in the year 570 C.E. His father died before he was borne, and his mother in his early childhood. Mohammad was raised by his grandfather, and when the latter died, by one of his uncles. As he grew up he became the focus of respect and admiration of all the community, and at quite an early age he was nicknamed "the honest." At the age of twenty five he married a wealthy widow, Khadija, whom he had worked for as caravan trade manager and who valued his character. She was fifteen years his elder, but they lived happily in monogamous marriage for the next twenty eight years until she died. He never shared with his people the worship of the idols or the various wrongs or ineptitudes that were the very life of those pre-Islamic (jahiliyya ie. taken to ignorance) Arabs.

He habitually visited a cave at the top of a mountain near Makkah to reflect and meditate, and during one of those visits the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and conveyed the divine assignment of prophethood, and gave him the first revelation ever from the Quran that read: "Read! In the name of thy Lord who created.. created man out of a leech-like clot. Read; and thy Lord is the Most Bountiful. He who taught with (the use of ) the Pen. Taught man what man knew-not." (96:1-5) The month was Ramadan, and the night was the Night of Power (Qadr). Mohammad was over-awed, and hurried home shivering and trembling, where his wife comforted and tranquilled him saying: "By Him who dominates Khadija's soul, I pray that you will be the prophet of this nation. You are kind to your kin, generous to the guest, helpful to the needy and truthful in your speech, so God will not let you down."

The angel visited again, and again until Mohammad went about his ministry. Although it was the truth and the turning from polytheistic idolatry back to the pure monotheism of Abraham, nothing could be more threatening to the alliance between the rich and powerful and the clergy, whose very existence depended on the status quo. For thirteen years Mohammad and his followers were persecuted, until they emigrated to their base in Madinah and permitted (by the Quran) to hit back. Eventually Mohammad's army conquered Makkah, declaring general amnesty, but they destroyed the idols, purifying the shrine of Abraham from paganism and restoring the religion to its pure source. Pilgrimage went on at its specified season, and the fifth pillar of Islam was decreed upon every Muslim man and woman once in a life time for those who are physically and financially able to afford it. After this lengthy explanation, is it not reason enough for a heart to ache on reading some of those specialists, experts and scholars (clergy and orientalist) who described pilgrimage simply as "a pagan ritual incorporated by Islam"? The pilgrimage season comes with the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, which is called the month of the hajj (Zul Hijja), already known when Islam came, since it was an Abrahamic event. Men have to wear a pair of white unsewn body garbs, without any other (under) clothing except perhaps sandals and a (pocketed) belt. It is a universal dress and they all look alike without any class distinctions and mingle together in full brotherhood and prompt eagerness to offer help to one another whenever possible, transcending all differences in colour, language, race, ethnicity, degree of education.. .. only the goodness of humanity shows and the purity of the belief that humanity is ONE family worshipping ONE GOD. The women wear ordinary clothes that cover the whole body except the face and hands. There is no segregation, and families and other groupings try to stick together so none would drift and be lost amongst the millions.

Rituals include worship at the Mosque of Abraham and circumambulating the Kaaba, several to-and-fro walks between the hills of Safa and Marwat where Hagar had frantically ran in search of water for her son, the pligrims stand together on the wide plain of Mount Arafat and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, stopping at the three sites where the devil tried to tempt Abraham against slaying his son and throwing pebbles at them symbolic of conquering the temptation. The highlight is the collective prayer and sermon of the Eid (of sacrifice) followed by sacrificial slaughter of a ram (donated to the poor but part goes to family and friends) following upon the tradition of Abraham. Muslims who are not in hajj also celebrate the Eid by the collective prayer (and sermon) and the sacrificial offering of a sheep, and the Eid lunch is a happy occasion to rejoice in. In view of the large number of animals sacrificed at the hajj near Makkah, that cannot be possibly consumed there and then, the authorities established a meat packaging plant to preserve and can the meet for leisurely shipment to the poor and needy in the Islamic world.

What happens at the close of Hajj

The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.

 Source:University of Northumbria at Newcastle. Islamic Society.