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The meaning of Pilgrimage(Hajj)
A introduction for Non-Muslims
What does it mean?
Meaning "visit to the revered place," the pilgrimage to Mecca(Makkah), is the the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world. For those Muslims who 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 Mecca(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, was commanded by God to take Hagar and their son Ismail to 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, Muhammad was born in the year 570 C.E. His father died before he was born, and his mother in his early childhood. Muhammad 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). Muhammad 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 Muhammad and his followers were persecuted, until they emigrated to their base in Madinah and permitted (by the Quran) to hit back. Eventually Muhammad'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.
Rituals include worship at the Mosque of Abraham and circumambulating the Kaaba, several to-and-fro walks between the hills of Safa and Marwa 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.
The Hajj and the Eid of Sacrifice
It's that time of the year, Muslims all over the world are getting restless. Their Home in the heart of the planet beckons them. It's time to pay homage to the Beloved God in the House. It's time to come Home. It's time to come Home to the Holy Sanctuary of Ka'aba. It's time to leave all and follow Him. It's time to abandon this illusory world and come to the House of God. It's time for Hajj--the Pilgrimage. Those who can go will head to Mecca, those who can't will join in the festivities wherever they may be by celebrating the Eid of Sacrifice.
Hajj is a commemoration of love and celebration of faith. We commemorate Abraham's Supreme Sacrifice in love of his Beloved in Minna. We celebrate his wife Hagar's display of unprecedented love for the infant Ishmael and her unflinching trust in the Providence in the lonely desert around the Twin Peaks. We venerate God's Greatest Gift, the Quran by spending a day in Arafat where the final revelation was sent. We celebrate faith by coming face-to-face to the Qiblah(direction) of our prayers.
Hajj is also an act of renunciation. Muslims from every corner of the globe don their coffins--two cotton sheets--to represent their deaths to this life and head to their Primordial Home. They pay their debts, ask forgiveness of everyone, bid farewell to one and all and prepare to die to this world to live in Him. We are now ready for Hajj to the Ka'aba-a very special place.
Ka'aba is a special place. It was the first house of worship built by the first man. God commanded Adam to make a journey. He walked umpteen months until he arrived guided by God to Mecca. Here, he was instructed to build Him a House. This was mankind's first House of Worship. This is where we first learned to mourn our separation from our Beloved. This is where Adam shed countless tears to lament loss of paradisiacal glory. This is where we sought to seek His nearness. This is where we sought to experience His intimacy. This House is the Archetype which basks under another House situated far beyond the realm of the Visible Universe and the prison of space and serial time. This is the first act of reconciliation with our Paradisiacal Destiny in the Home of our Beloved inspite of our terrestrial sojourn.
Ka'aba is a special place. It was once lost to us but our Beloved led His Friend Abraham (God's Peace be upon him) to this Sanctuary and gave him the task of restoring this House. Our father Abraham (God's blessings be upon him) recruited his son Ishmael for the Holy Task. For months at end, father and son toiled under the searing desert sun sustained only by their burning love for the Eternal God. This choice was no random choice. Every year, when men and women were to come to this blessed House, they were to come on 10th of the month of Zilhijj. This auspicious day God asked Abraham to make the Supreme Sacrifice and Abraham delivered. Allah asked His Friend to sacrifice his son Ishmael and he obliged.
Ka'aba is a special place. Its foundations have been fortified by love and faith of Abraham's family. We go there to commemorate love. We go there to celebrate faith. Abraham lived the true meaning of Surrender. He loved God, his Friend, above all. God gave him a dream where he saw himself sacrificing his son. Persistence of the dream convinced him that it wasn't just a dream but an allusion from the Infinite. He intimated the dream to his son who readily concurred. Once it was known to be God's Will, the son didn't offer any excuses. It was a foregone conclusion that His Will be done. Father and son set off to the designated place. When they reached their destination, son suggested that the father cover his eyes so his love does not overwhelm him into disobeying His master. At the very moment that Abraham let loose his knife, the son was substituted with a lamb. This time and this day was made sacred. Every year, millions come this very day.
Millions retrace the steps of these two in the valley of Mina, they stop where they stopped, walk where they walked and finally arrive where the Supreme Sacrifice was offered. Here, everyone offers a sacrifice in His Love and then gives it to the impoverished people of the land all the while marveling at Abraham's burning love and faith in God that he was willing to sacrifice his most precious love. Those who can't be here, celebrate this wonderful sacrifice wherever they may be in any part of the world. For indeed, love of God must be celebrated.
Ka'aba is a special place. We commemorate Abraham and his son's faith and surrender. We also celebrate Hagar's love. A Mother's love is the highest form of selfless human love. Hagar typified this love so well. She combined this love with her unshakable trust in God. Abraham was instructed to bring her and her infant son Ishmael near the mound that was once the Ka'aba. In this desolate place with nary a single soul and nary a water source, he left them with a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward. Ishmael's mother followed him saying, "O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?" She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him, "Has Allah ordered you to do so?" He said, "Yes." She said, "Then He will not neglect us." What an exemplary Trust in their Beloved God! They knew that the Causer of all Causes will provide. He is Eminently Resourceful. Ishmael's mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had). When all water ran out, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at Ishmael tossing in agony; she left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwa) seven times. God loved this selfless display of motherly love so much that every pilgrim to His Holy House must run 7 times between the Twin Peaks of Safa and Marwa. When she reached the Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said, 'O, (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?" And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam-Zam, digging the earth with his heel till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it. This wonderful gift of God hasn't stopped yet. Hundreds of Millions come every year and take gallons and gallons of the Holy Water with them and still the small well never goes dry. Mecca is a special place.
In celebration of the two momentous events in Abraham's family, we are reminded that Allah's Will always work for our highest good. In the end, it all worked out for Abraham's family and in the end if we trust Him everything will work out for us too. From Him have we come and to Him shall we return!
Ka'aba is a special place. It is overwhelming to be in company of 3 million brothers and sisters in faith, all enshrouded in humble whites. The highest king to the humble laborer are both dressed alike. They stand shoulder to shoulder, they run side by side and they greet each other the greeting of peace. People of all races intermingle as co-equals. Black, white, yellow and brown all come together in harmony before their Beloved. Men and women all stand together. Veils are lifted off women's faces. In this searing passion for the Loved One, there is no distraction. He Alone Matters! It is wonderful to lift one's face and see one's Qiblah face-to-face. All their lives 5 times a day they turned their faces to their Qiblah--the Holy Ka'aba and now they see it right in front of them in all its majesty and glory. They savor the sweetness of coming Home all the while exclaiming "Labbaik Allahuma labbaik, la sharika laka labbaik, Labbaik Allahuma labbaik: I have come, my Lord, I have come. No one participates in Your Divinity (so I have nowhere to come but You). I have come." I have come, my Beloved. I have come.
We circulate around the Holy Ka'aba proclaiming all the while our Arrival. Circling around the earthly shadow of the Pole, we are reminded to keep our Beloved at the Center of our lives. We are reminded to keep Him in front of our lives and in center of our existence. Whenever we pray, this circulation is affixed and imprinted in our consciousness. We stand in awe of His Presence as if we are circling non-stop in ecstasy round and round our Beloved.
Source of article "The Hajj--The Pilgrimage"
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