Hajj is one act of worship that everyone is familiar with, as every year there are millions of pilgrims coming to the Holy Land to fulfill their need and submit their dedications to Allah. But not much people know the real extensive story of Hajj. Read more to discover and learn more about the Hajj!
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What is Hajj?
With a gathering of more than 2 million Muslims in most years, Hajj
is the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah (Mecca)
, the ultimate congregation of Muslims. Completing hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam
, a journey that is required by every Muslim who is financially and physically capable to abide. Pilgrims wear simple white garment known as the Ihram
, which is intended to strip away distinction of wealth and status. The white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God since all the pilgrims are dressed similarly. Worshipers from all faiths travel to marvel at the site.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) (PBUH)
led a group of Muslims there in the first official Hajj, destroying the idols placed there by polytheistic worshipers (belief in many gods) and re-dedicating the site in the name of Allah (SWT).
The path that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) (PBUH) and his followers traveled is retraced as part of the Hajj rituals.
The rituals performed during Hajj
Image Credits: Aiman titi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
During the Hajj, pilgrims perform the initial Tawaf, which vast swells of worshippers seeking forgiveness circle the Kaaba (the black cube, spiritually considered by Muslims to be the center of the world, and literally located in the center of the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca), counterclockwise, seven times. Completion of all of the mandated rituals is believed to guarantee the pilgrim a place in heaven as well as the title of Hajji (literally, one who has performed the Hajj). The tawaf is meant to awaken each Muslim's consciousness that God is the center of their reality and the source of all meaning in life, and that each person's higher self-identity derives from being part of the community of Muslim believers, known as the ummah.
Pilgrims also perform the Sa'ee
, which is hurrying seven times between the small hills named Safa and Marwah
, re-enacting the Biblical and Quranic story of Ibrahim's
(AS) wife, Hajar's
desperate search for water and food for her son Isma'il
Next, the two million pilgrims travel a few miles to the plain of Mina
and camp there. From Mina, pilgrims travel the following morning to the plain of Arafat
where they spend the entire day in earnest supplication and devotion. That evening, the pilgrims move and camp at Muzdalifa
, which is a site between Mina and Arafat. Muslims stay overnight and offer various prayers there.
Then, the pilgrims return to Mina and throw seven pebbles at the three stone pillars that represent the devil. This symbolizes Ibrahim's throwing stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Ibrahim from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, re-enacting the story of Ibrahim, who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. The meat from the slaughtered sheep is distributed for consumption to family, friends, and poor and needy people in the community. After the sacrifice, the pilgrims return to Mecca to end the formal rites of Hajj by performing a final Tawaf and Sa'ee.
Why do we perform Hajj?
The Hajj is designed to develop consciousness of God and a sense of spiritual upliftment. It is also believed to be an opportunity to seek forgiveness of sins throughout life. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) (PBUH) had said that a person who performs Hajj properly "will return as a newly born baby (free of all sins)." The pilgrimage also enables Muslims from all around the world, of different colors, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together.
Consequences of not performing Hajj
Image Credit: Fahad Faisal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Not performing Hajj by deeming it insignificant or not giving it importance is considered as the Thirty-eighth greatest sin. Since Hajj is also an obligatory article of faith, a person who refuses to acknowledge it as an obligatory duty is a Kafir
(he who does not believe in Allah (SWT)) and the one who does not fulfill this duty, due to laziness, carelessness or excessive involvement in worldly affairs has committed a great sin. Hajj is from those obligatory duties that must be performed immediately if it is possible to do so. Delaying it when you have the opportunity and means of performing it, is considered Haram.
The Almighty Allah (SWT) has made Hajj incumbent on those who are capable. That is, if they do not perform Hajj in the year of capability, the omitted Hajj will become incumbent on them every year until the end of their lives. A person who delays Hajj intentionally till such a time that he dies will be raised by Allah (SWT) on the day of Qiyama
as a Kafir.
What lead to the obligation of Hajj? (a brief history of Hajj)
The city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia
has always been the spiritual center of the Islamic faith: the millions of Muslims in the world genuflect in its direction during prayers. The story of the history of Hajj begins with the story of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) (PBUH). Ibrahim (AS) is a figure, loved and revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike as a righteous person who lived about four thousand years ago. His story is written in the Qur'an and also the Holy Bible.
Ibrahim is considered as a patriarch of monotheism
, which is "belief in one God". He left his native City of Ur in Mesopotamia
and eventually settle in Egypt
with his family. Later, he escorted one of his wives, Hajar and their infant son Isma'il, to a desolated valley in Arabia and left them there, trusting in God to take care of them. Hajar, concerned about feeding her young baby, ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa looking for water. According to the Qur'an, in response to Hajar's prayers, the angel Jibril (AS) (PBUH)
, touched down to earth and created a spring of fresh water for the baby, known as the Well of Zamzam
. Hajar climbed nearby hills searching for food and looking for caravans on the horizon.
Eventually, some passing traders stopped in the valley and asked Hajar's permission to water their camels. In time, the traders decided to settle in the little valley, and eventually, the settlement grew into the city of Mecca. Ibrahim returned from time to time to visit, and when Isma'il was about thirteen years old, following the orders of God, he and Isma'il constructed the Kaabah, as a place dedicated to the worship of the One God. Eventually, Mecca became an important trading post by the time of Prophet Muhammad, twenty-five hundred years later.
Though only a fraction of Muslims is capable of making the pilgrimage, the huge crowds of worshipers that descend upon Mecca every year continually test the site's ability to accommodate their number. Overcrowding and occasional stampedes have led to the deaths by trampling of thousands of worshippers over the years, but the tenacity of the pilgrims has shown that there is little that will keep them away from the spiritual experience.