Why perform Hajj?
Similar to pilgrimages carried out in other religions and beliefs, Hajj is also a spiritual journey, however it is also much more than a journey. It is an opportunity for seeking forgiveness for the mistakes of one’s past, and just as importantly, religious and general guidance for their future after Hajj. Completion of the pilgrimage, if carried out with the correct intentions and genuine repentance, is believed to be equal to a fresh start in one’s life. The Prophet [PBUH] said:
‘Whoever performs Hajj, while staying away from acts of lewdness, obscenities and wrangling, will come home like a new born!’
Whilst in Makkah, pilgrims will be surrounded by many, many people who are also there for forgiveness, hope for a righteous future, and expression of their religion. Therefore, pilgrims may be overcome with a strengthened desire to practice Islam to the best of their ability, and a greater appreciation for their cultures, traditions, family, friends and life.
A famous example of the effects of Hajj is Malcolm X (Al Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz, who was a Muslim, black rights figure and activist in 1950’s and 60’s America. Many white Americans considered him a black supremacist and anti-white, even though this was not the case, he was however very critical of whites due to their lack of pushing for change in attitude of the American government, and public, towards the rights and freedom of the Black community, this made him hesitant to work alongside them. During his pilgrimage to Makkah, he met many people from all backgrounds of life from throughout the world, all in one place as equals, praying to one God. His whole trip and experience was documented in his autobiography, and he accredited his pilgrimage for his change in belief and willingness to work with White Americans, as he learned in Makkah that colour and race should not be a barrier for humanity.
‘Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land’. (The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965)
He was assassinated in 1965, many believe due to his change in belief and his new found openness and acceptance that he obtained in Makkah during Hajj.
The Rites and Stages of Hajj
When the pilgrims reach the Makkah they enter into a state of holiness – known as Ihram – that consists of wearing two white seamless cloths for the male, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side. For the female, ordinary dress that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands or face uncovered (Mohamed, 1996)
They must then perform ablution and then declare their intention to perform Hajj, and to refrain from certain activities such as having sexual relations, using perfumes, shaving any body part, clipping the nails, damaging plants, harming any humans or animals, carrying weapons, or getting married, so as to remain in a state of holiness. (Nigosian, 2004)
The ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in front of God: there is no difference between the rich and the poor (Neusner, 2000)
Tawaf and Sa’ay
Tawaf involves walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba, performed upon arriving at Masjid al-Haram. Pilgrims are required to kiss or touch the Black Stone during the circumambulation, however, if kissing the stone is not possible because of crowd, they may simply point towards the stone. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a faster pace, known as Ramal, and the following four at a more leisurely pace.
The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqam Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba inside the mosque. After prayer, pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam well.
Tawaf is followed by Sa’ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba, which signifies the story of Prophet Abraham’s wife Hajar and her struggle to find water between these two hills.
The pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of ihram start now.
After the morning prayer on the 8th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the whole day and offer noon, afternoon, evening, and night prayers. The next morning after prayer, they leave Mina to go to Arafat.
Known as the Day of Arafah, pilgrims arrive at Arafat before noon, where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek mercy of God, and listen to sermon from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near Jabal al-Rahmah. (The Mount of Mercy) (Adelowo, 2014) It is believed this is where Prophet Mohammed [PBUH] performed his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset, this is known as ‘standing before God’ (wuquf), one of the most significant rites of Hajj.
Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah after sunset without praying Maghrib (evening) prayer at Arafat. Muzdalifah is an area between Arafat and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayer jointly, spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the symbolic stoning of the Devil (Shaitan) (Sahih Bukhari Hadith No: 732,733, and 734)
After returning from Muzdalifah, the Pilgrims spend the night at Mina.
Back at Mina, pilgrims perform symbolic stoning of the devil (Ramy al-Jamarat) by throwing seven stones at the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamrat al-Aqabah from sunrise to sunset. These pillars are said to represent Satan (Nigosian, 2004)
After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ishmael. Modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat, and then send it as charity to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Makkah, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
Removal of Hair
After sacrificing an animal, another important rite of Hajj is shaving head or trimming hair (known as Halak). All male pilgrims shave their head or trim their hair on the day of Eid al Adha and women pilgrims cut the tips of their hair.
On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram Mosque in Makkah for another Tawaf (the circling of the Kaaba), known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, an essential part of Hajj. It symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent again at Mina.
Starting from noon to sunset (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars, representing Satan, in Mina.
The stoning of the Devil is performed again. Pilgrims may leave Mina for Makkah before sunset on the 12th.
Finally, before leaving Makkah, pilgrims perform a farewell Tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wadaa. ‘Wadaa’ means ‘to bid farewell’.
After all the rites and rituals are completed, many pilgrims choose to travel to Medina, over 200 miles North from Makkah, to visit Al Masjid an-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains the tomb of Prophet Mohammed [PBUH], though this is not a compulsory part of Hajj.