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Sat 25 November 2017

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  • Fifth Pillar (Al-Hajj) [Pilgrimage]

Three months after Ramadan comes the season of the great Pilgrimage to Makkah, the birthplace of Islam, where an ever-increasing number of men and women converge each year, from every possible corner of the earth. The origin of the Hajj, the Final Pillar, and a central duty of Islam, dates back to the Prophet Abraham and brings together Muslims of all races and tongues to don two simple white cloths in an impressive display of Islam's disregard for racial or national divisions. Each year nearly several million people make the pilgrimage, making it the largest temporary gathering on the globe. It is an act of recollection and worship, but it is also a symbolic act representing the spirit's return to its homeland-one of the central elements of the Muslim life.

The rites begin and end at the Ka'aba the square 'House' built as Muslims believe, by Abraham and his elder son Ishmael. However, the culminating moment unfolds eight miles away, where Muslims stand and pray near the Mount of Mercy, a desert place where the Prophet (PBUH) used to preach. The pilgrimage is regarded as worship of a lifetime, and in being the Final Pillar of Islam, the seal of consummation, the completion of surrender and the perfection of religion. It was during the Pilgrimage that God sent down His revelation:

"Today I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My grace upon you, and approved Islam as your religion."
<Quran, The Table Spread 5:3>

Muslims trace the recorded origins of the divinely prescribed pilgrimage to the Prophet Abraham, or Ibrahim, as he is called in Arabic. According to the Qur'an, it was Abraham who, together with his son Ishmael (Isma'il), built the Ka'bah, "the House of God," the focal point toward which Muslims turn in their worship five times each day. It was Abraham, too - known as Khalil Allah, "the friend of God" - who established the rituals of the hajj, which recall events or practices in his life and that of Hagar (Hajar) and their son Ishmael. In the chapter entitled "The Pilgrimage," the Qur'an speaks of the divine command to perform the hajj and prophesies the permanence of this institution:

"And when We assigned for Abraham the place of the House, saying 'Do not associate Anything with Me, and sanctify My House for those who go around it and for those who stand and bow and prostrate themselves in worship. And proclaim the Pilgrimage among humankind: They will come to you on foot and on every camel made lean by travelling deep, distant ravines"
<Quran, The Pilgrimage 22:26-27>

  • The conduct of Hajj

In commemoration of the trials of Abraham and his family in Makkah, which include Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in response to God's command, Muslims make a pilgrimage to the sacred city at least once in their lifetime. The Pilgrimage to Makkah is prescribed for all Muslims who can physically and financially perform it. God has prescribed certain rites that a pilgrim should observe properly. If he does not do so, his pilgrimage is not accepted.

To perform the pilgrimage means to leave all worldly activities aside and to proceed to meet the Lord, thus as in the case of all other Pillars of Islam, the primary condition is purity of intention (niyyah). The other obligatory rites are:

1) Ihram. Before arriving in the holy city, Muslims enter a state of consecration (dedication) known as ihram, by removing their worldly clothes and donning the humble attire of pilgrims, two seamless white sheets for men, and simple white dresses and scarves for women. The white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God, since all the pilgrims are dressed similarly. Money and status no longer are a factor for the pilgrims - the equality of each person in the eyes of God becomes paramount. They are also expected to observe the rules of ihram, which are not to have a sexual relationship, not to kill insects or animals, and not to remove any hair from the body

2) Tawaf al-qudum. Upon arriving in Makkah, pilgrims perform the initial tawaf, which is a circular, counter- clockwise procession around the Ka'bah. All the while, they state "Labbayka Allahumma Labbayk," which means, "Here I am at your service, O God, Here I am!" The tawaf is meant to awaken each Muslim's consciousness that God is the centre 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'i, which is hurrying seven times between the small hills named Safa and Marwah, re-enacting the Biblical and Quranic story of Hajar's desperate search for lifegiving water and food.

3) Next, on the first official day of Hajj (8th of Dhul-Hijjah), 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. It is said that when God forgives a sin for one servant at the place-of-standing (the plain of Arafat), He forgives it for everyone there who is guilty of it. It was also on such a day that the Prophet (pbuh) received the revelation from God "Today I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My grace upon you, and approved Islam as your religion."

4) 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.

5) Then the pilgrims return to Mina on the 10th, and throw seven pebbles at a stone pillar that represents the devil. This symbolises Abraham's throwing stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, re-enacting the story of Abraham, who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute.

6) Thus the slaughtering of a sheep is another obligation, the meat of which is distributed among family, friends, and the poor and needy in the community.

7) After the sacrifice, the pilgrims return to Makkah to end the formal rites of Hajj by performing a final tawaf and sa'i.

8) They should also drink from the water of ZamZam

9) And perform two rakahs of Prayer at the place known as Maqam Ibrahim, the place where Abraham and his son stood and prayed after building the Ka'aba.

If the rites (1), (2), (3) and (7) have been performed, then the basic rites are said to have been observed. Even if the other rites are not performed properly, the pilgrimage is said to have been performed. Muslims believe the rites of the Hajj were designed by God and taught through the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The Hajj is designed to develop God consciousness and a sense of spiritual upliftment. It is also believed to be an opportunity to seek forgiveness of sins accumulated throughout life. Prophet Muhammad 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 colours, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together.

For a more detailed guide to the Hajj click here.

  • The inner significance of the Hajj

To understand the inner significance of the Hajj ceremonies it is necessary to remember that Makkah is in many respects a town apart from all others. Good actions and bad are more clearly discerned, and the reward or punishment for them is held to be proportionately greater. Within the limits of the city, fighting and all aggressiveness are forbidden. No pilgrim is allowed for any reason to harm a human being or an animal during his sojourn in the city. In the state of ihram, the pilgrim feels that he is ridding himself for a while of all that linked him to his former life, with its desires and enmities, and can now devote his attention wholeheartedly to his Creator.

The circuits around the Ka'bah themselves symbolise the circulation of the heart around the holiness of God. In entering Makkah, and to perform tawaf where the first holy house of God was established, is to circumambulate the house that is a reflection of that Divine House in the Seventh Heaven, above and beyond which stands the glorified Throne of God, around which all the angels and the entire creation are constantly rotating. In the same vein, the running between the two hills of Safa and Marwa in the great hall now built to enclose them, suggest moving between the two aspects of God's mercy, compassion and acceptance.

The culminating point of the Hajj is the most simple rite of all. Here millions of people stand together in a scene of great beauty, surrounded by mountains on all sides. As the hours pass, one's thoughts already focussed on God by days of uninterrupted worship, have time to look deeply into one's life. And at the same time another symbolism inherent in the psychology of the Hajj becomes clear. Standing on the Plain of Arafat, we cannot but remember the day on which God will resurrect us together with all mankind, when the time of repentance will be irrevocably past. Now, however, there still remains a path back to the world, for soon we will be going home: an opportunity to set our lives right before we die to await the Day of Judgement.

The Hajj ends with the second of the great festivals, the Eid al-Adha, which last three days. Returning to our homes after days of physical exhaustion and spiritual uplift we are radically transfigured. The overpowering sense of contrition and repentance, which we bring back with us, is visible.

Pillars : 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

(Source: Abdul Wadod Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life; Imam al-Ghazali, The Inner Dimesions of Islamic Worship; website - IslamiCity)

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