Pilgrimage to the City of Makkah *
Every Muslim who is able must make the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the city of Makkah at least once in
his or her life. This pilgrimage occurs every year during Dhul Qadah and Dhul Hijjah, the 11th and 12th months of the Islamic lunar calendar. Those who make the pilgrimage follow in the footsteps of Abraham, “the father of the prophets.” Four thousand years ago, Abraham along with his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, set out on a vast journey wandering through Babylon, Syria, and Arabia. They crossed vast hills, rivers, and deserts until arriving in the land of Makkah where Abraham received a revelation from Allah. 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)
Abraham and Ishmael were instructed by Allah to raise the cubic
structure, the Ka’bah. According to the Quran, it is the, “First house made for mankind” (3:95). Its original foundation was built at the dawn of creation by Prophet Adam. Abraham was then ordered to proclaim the pilgrimage to humankind. Unconcerned as to who would hear his voice in the desert land of Mekkah. Abraham climbed atop 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 Allah’s call to make their pilgrimage.
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 Makkah, millions of 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 general public. All artificial or human-imposed distinctions among humankind are lifted, and people have, for the span of a few days, the opportunity to know each other solely as brothers and sisters of humanity.
The hajj also develops the human soul. Every human being (whether aware of it or not) is traveling toward Allah, and the essential part of the spiritual development in life is to recognize the returning journey. The hajj not only represents a physical journey, but also compels the pilgrim to demonstrate his or her willingness to leave behind everything in his or her life for Allah.
Allah has made it known that one of the ways to approach Him for forgiveness is to journey to His
house—the Ka’bah in Makkah. Once, Imam Ali was with a group of his followers in the vicinity of the Ka’bah when they saw a man holding the cloth cover of the Ka’bah 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 Allah 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. The person who has experienced the hajj ought to return home freed from the erroneous notions of race and class that often are prevalent in some societies. For many Muslims, the hajj serves as an enormous convention or conference in which information is exchanged and problems are solved.
Since the advent of Islam, the hajj has been one of the major unifying cultural factors for Muslims. This is based on the fact that every year Muslim delegates from every civilization meet in one place to discuss and solve Islamic matters.
The Rites of Hajj
The beginning of the pilgrimage is marked by proclaiming, “Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk” which
means “I am here, O Lord, I am here!” This should be 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, the millions of pilgrims present engage in circling the Ka’bah (a practice called tawaf). The pilgrim’s circling (tawaf) around Allah’s House symbolizes one’s dependence and needed assistance from Allah. The revolutions (tawaf) also illustrate how one’s ultimate being constantly revolves around Allah.
After tawaf, the pilgrims scamper between two small mountains called Safa and Marwa. This rite
reenacts 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 looking desperately for some hint of moisture in the desert sands. Seeing Hagar’s effort, Allah 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 Allah’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 Allah.
The most significant day of the pilgrimage is the Day of Arafat. Arafat is a desert outside the city of Makkah in which all the pilgrims must stand from noon to sunset and commune with Allah. The time spent in Arafat marks the real essence of the hajj; 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 born. The vast gathering consists of millions of people all dressed alike standing in the same place at the same time; this represents the true origin and fate of humanity. We are born from dust; we live for a short while, and then we are resurrected from dust again. The scene of Arafat resembles what the Day of Resurrection will be like; countless of individuals are pieced back together from dust to withstand judgment by Allah.
At a place called Mina, on the outskirts of Mekkah, the pilgrims throw pebbles at Satan. By stoning pillars, which are physical representations of Satan, pilgrims demonstrate their continuing struggle and treatment of fighting against Satan, who has sworn to be the enemy of humankind. Pebble throwing is also another historical reenactment of Prophet Abraham and Ishmael’s sacrifices for Allah. Abraham, along with his son Ishmael, were on their way to fulfill the command of Allah; the slaying of his son, Ishmael. Prophet Abraham encountered Satan three times disguised as a man. Satan attempted to discourage Abraham. Instead of listening to Satan’s
dissuasions, Abraham threw stones at him in each of these three areas.
At the end of the hajj, each pilgrim sacrifices an animal like Abraham did in lieu of his son. The
sacrifice denotes the pilgrim’s willingness to adhere to Allah’s commandments unconditionally. The meat of the animal must not be wasted; one-third may be kept for personal consumption, the other two-thirds should be divided equally among friends and the indigent.
For more information see the Hajj guidelines here.