Every Muslim who is able, must make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the city of Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. This pilgrimage occurs every year during Dhul Hijjah the 11th and 12th months of the Islamic lunar calendar. Those who make the pilgrimage are following the footsteps of Prophet Abraham, who is known as “the father of the prophets.”
Four thousand years ago, Prophet Abraham along with his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael set out on a long journey wandering through Babylon, Syria, and Arabia. They crossed vast hills, rivers, and deserts until they arrived in the land of Mecca where Prophet Abraham received a revelation from God, as the Quran states, “And remember when we showed Abraham the site of the House saying … Do not associate with Me anything, and purify My house for those who circle around it and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves. And proclaim among the people the pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel from every remote path that they may witness the benefits for them and mention the name of Allah during the appointed days over what He has given them.” (22:26-28)
Prophets Abraham and Ishmael were instructed by God to raise the cubic structure called the Kabah. According to the Quran, it is the “First house (of worship) made for mankind.” (3:95) Its original foundation was built at the dawn of creation by Prophet Adam. Prophet Abraham was then ordered to proclaim the pilgrimage to mankind. Perplexed as to who would hear his voice in the desert land of Mecca, Abraham climbed to the top of a nearby mountain and proclaimed to humanity the Divine message of the Hajj. This call has passed through the distance of time, and it still reverberates to the millions of Muslims around the globe who answer God's call to make the pilgrimage every year.
Significance of the Hajj
The Hajj is the supreme symbol of universal brotherhood, and it is the greatest annual congregation in the world. Every year in Mecca, over two million Muslims from diverse origins stand shoulder-to-shoulder, clad in the barest of materials (two pieces of white cloth) and perform the same rituals. Not one person can be distinguished from another on the basis of wealth, lineage, or power. The most powerful leaders are on the same level as the poorest of men. All artificial or human-imposed distinctions among mankind are lifted, and for the span of a few days, people have the opportunity to know each other solely as brothers and sisters in humanity.
The Hajj also develops the human soul. Every human being (whether aware of it or not) is traveling towards God, and the essential part of this spiritual development in life is to recognize the returning journey. The Hajj not only represents a physical journey, but it also compels the pilgrim to demonstrate one's willingness to leave behind everything in his or her life for the sake of God.
God has made it known that one of the ways to approach Him for forgiveness is to journey to His emblematic house - the Kabah in Mecca.
Imam Ali was once was with a group of his followers in the vicinity of the Kabah when they saw a man holding the cloth cover of the Kabah while supplicating, “O Keeper of the House! This house is Your house, and this guest is Your guest. Each guest sees goodness from its host. Tonight, let Your goodness be the forgiving of my sins.” Imam Ali asked his followers, “Did you hear the words of this man?” They said, “Yes, we did.” Imam Ali replied, “Almighty God is more forgiving than to drive away His guests.”
The sense of equality and humanity that is present during the Hajj should be reflected in one's own everyday life. A person who has experienced the Hajj should return home freed from the erroneous notions of race and class distinction that are prevalent in some societies.
Since the advent of Islam, the Hajj has been one of the major unifying cultural factors for Muslims, and for many Muslims, the Hajj serves as an enormous convention or conference in which information is exchanged and problems are solved. This is based on the fact that every year Muslim delegates from every civilization meet in one place to discuss and try to solve the challenges facing the Muslims throughout the world.
The Rites of the Hajj
The beginning of the pilgrimage is marked by proclaiming, ”Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk,” which means, “I am here, O Lord, I am here!” This is then followed by, “You, Who have no partner - I am here! Surely all praise and blessings are Yours, and the Kingdom - I am here, O Lord, I am here!”
During the Hajj, millions of pilgrims who are present engage in circling the Kabah (tawaf). The pilgrim's circling (tawaf) around God's metaphorical house symbolizes one's dependence and needed assistance of the Almighty. The circumnavigating (tawaf) also illustrates how one's ultimate being constantly revolves around God.
After tawaf, the pilgrims hasten between two small mountains of Safa and Marwa. This rite re-enacts Hagar's search for water for her infant son Ishmael. Alone in the desert, Hagar and her baby were in desperate need for water. She ran back and forth seven times desperately looking for some hint of moisture in the desert sands. Seeing Hagar's effort, God produced for her the spring of Zam Zam - a spring of cool, pure water which gushed forth at Ishmael's feet and continues to flow until this very day. By imitating Hagar's search, the pilgrims remember her plight, but also assimilate a message within themselves that they cannot sit and wait for God's blessings to unfold magically upon them. Rather, if people are in need of something, they should work hard for it and hope for the munificence of God.
The most significant day of the pilgrimage is the Day of Arafat. Arafat is a desert outside the city of Mecca in which all the pilgrims must be present from noon to sunset to commune with God. The time spent in Arafat marks the real essence of the Hajj, just as Prophet Muhammad said, “The Hajj is Arafat.” In Arafat, pilgrims leave behind all material possessions except for the two pieces of cloth worn during their pilgrimage—a symbol of returning to the same condition in which one was wrapped in at birth and will be clothed in at the time of death.
The vast gathering consists of millions of people all dressed alike, standing in the same place, at the same time - this surely represents the true origin and fate of humanity! We are created from dust, then we live for a short while, we die and become dust and in the end we are resurrected from dust again.
The scene of Arafat resembles what the Day of Resurrection will be like - countless individuals will be pieced back together from dust to withstand the judgment of God.
Following Arafat, the pilgrims head to a place called Mina, which is on the outskirts of Mecca; and it is here that the pilgrims throw pebbles at three stone pillars symbolizing Satan.
For the pilgrims, this act demonstrates their continuous struggle of fighting against Satan, who is the sworn enemy of mankind. This act of the pebble throwing is also another historical re-enactment of Prophet Abraham and Ishmael's sacrifices for God.
Abraham, along with his son Ishmael were on their way to fulfill the command of God; namely the slaying of Ishmael by his father. Prophet Abraham encountered Satan three times disguised as a man, and attempted to discourage Prophet Abraham from carrying out God's orders. Instead of listening to Satan's dissuasions, Prophet Abraham threw stones at him three times at three different areas.
At the end of the Hajj, on Eid al-Adha, each pilgrim must sacrifice an animal similar to what Prophet Abraham did in lieu of his son. The sacrifice denotes the pilgrim's willingness to adhere to God's commandments unconditionally. The meat of the animal must not be wasted; one-third may be kept for personal consumption, and the other two-thirds should be divided equally among friends and the indigent.