Most religious faiths around the world have some version of pilgrimage made to the most holy shrine of their beliefs. But no sect can equal the magnitude of the Muslims in their quest for the fulfillment of one of the pillars of Islam, the Hajj – the pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.1
It is embodied in the Qur’an that as a true believer of the faith, a Muslim is obliged to join the pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime, although this is more customary than obligatory particularly to those who do not have the means or is not healthy enough to be on the journey. Even then, the last Hajj saw 3 million faithful in the sands of the Holy City.2
What is so significant about the pilgrimage to Mecca? Well, according to the Holy Book of Islam, the site is the original place where Abraham left his wife Hagar and son Ishmael as divinely directed by Allah. It is here that a spring of water gushed forth to relieve Ishmael of thirst after his long journey. And the Book further suggested that the first Ka’aba built by Abraham and Ishmael was on this particular site, to honor the only God of mankind Allah.3
This then became a Holy Place, as Abraham and Ishmael converged and prayed to Allah. This tradition came to be as generations followed the practice. This was further made significant when Muhammad performed this ritual following the conquest of Mecca, although his mythical and theological reasons were not properly documented. A person doing the Hajj is not only reenacting Prophet Muhammad’s ritual but at the same time giving credence to the acts of important people in Muslim history.4
It is further specified that the ritual of the Hajj is a cleansing process which suggests that individuals completing the pilgrimage is freed of all sins just like a new-born baby. The pilgrimage also serves as a gathering of all Muslims around the world, of different colors, languages, races, and ethnic denominations together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood with the sole intention of worshipping one God above all, Allah.5
II. The Hajj:
The Hajj is observed on the very first day of the Islamic month. It begins on the day of the visual sighting of the lunar crescent – following the lunar new moon. This normally falls on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah (Zul-Hijjah) – the twelfth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. This serves to fulfill one of the pillars of the Muslim faith.6
The five pillars of Islam include the acceptance of the One God and that of his greatest prophet Muhammad; to pray five times a day facing the direction of Mecca; give alms to the poor; observe religiously Ramadan – the season of fasting; and if health and wealth allow, a person must make the Hajj to Mecca and its holy sites.7
How do pilgrims prepare for the Hajj? As the pilgrim enters the threshold of Mecca, they are obliged to follow some rituals of spiritual cleansing – the ihram. At this state of purity a person must refrain from committing any form of acts of violence, quarrel or indulge in sexual activity. For men, the state of ihram is performed by bathing and wearing a garb of two pieces of unsown white cloth, “one covers the body from the waist to the ankle and the other is thrown over the shoulder”. For women, a simple white dress and a “head covering but not a veil” will suffice.8
The white garment symbolizes equality and unity before God, as all pilgrims are dressed similarly, where each prays the Talbiyah – or the English translation; “Here I am, Oh God, at Thy Command! Thou art without associate; Here I am at Thy Command! Thine are praise and grace and dominion! Thou art without associate”. 9
As the pilgrim enters the realm of the Holy Mosque at Mecca, they must commence entry with their right foot first, then recite the prayer invoking the name of Allah; peace and blessings on Muhammad, the messenger of Allah; for the forgiveness of sins, mercy and to be set free from the clutches of Satan. Then each pilgrim follows the tawaf – a clockwise procession (seven times) around the Ka’aba – the cube shaped stone building built by Abraham and Ishmael according to Muslim beliefs. A symbol of unity for the followers of the faith as all prayers, wherever they are conducted, are always oriented to face towards the Ka’aba.10
After the tawaf, the pilgrims must perform the symbolic gesture of the sa’i – he moves hurriedly between two small hills near the Ka’aba, the Safa and Marwah. This will reenact the desperate search of food and water by Hagar, one of Abraham’s wives as her son Ishmael lay dying from thirst and hunger. 11
Actually on the first day of the Hajj, pilgrims are required to walk a few miles to Mina and owing to the distance they camp there overnight. Normally, the start of Hajj transpires on a date that falls about 11 days earlier each year. During the day, the pilgrims spend the “Day of Arafah” (the ninth day Dhul-Hijjah) in Arafah in meditation and reflection. Then in the evening, the pilgrims move to Muzdalifa and everybody offers more prayers and they camp there overnight. 12
The pilgrims move back to Mina on the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, converge at the shrine and throw pebbles at the pillar that symbolizes the temptation of Abraham. This ritual is important since it signifies the devil’s temptation of Abraham not to follow Allah’s order to sacrifice Ishmael as a burnt offering. The pilgrims then sacrifice a sheep as an imitation of what Abraham did to the sheep provided by Allah instead of Ishmael. Everybody else including friends, relatives and particularly the poor partake of the meat from the slaughtered sheep. Then following the symbolic ritual, the pilgrims move to Mecca to perform the final rites called the tawaf and the sa’i. 13
Muslims around the world converge for communal prayers on the first day of Id al-Adha (Eid-ul-Adha) the Feast of Sacrifice or the Day of Sacrifice. This celebration normally lasts for several days but the first day falls on the 10th day of Dhul-Hijja which is the last month of the Muslim year. This celebration happens to be the second of two major Muslim annual holidays.
Men who have completed the Hajj symbolize it by cutting their hair and a new headdress is placed over their shaved heads. Normally the word Hajji is added to their name to identify those who have taken the pilgrimage to Mecca. 14
What preparations are made by Saudi Arabia as host to this annual pilgrimage? The Government of Saudi Arabia had made available significant resources to maintain the holy places apart from special manpower to manage the millions of pilgrims. In fact, the government has built infrastructure to support the pilgrim’s housing and hotel accommodations and created specially attuned dining facilities. But these still fall short since the number of pilgrims continues to increase annually. 15
Due to vast numbers of pilgrims, crowd control would sometimes fail to create other problems that lead to disaster. In July 31, 1987 for example, during the Iranian pilgrim’s riot, over 400 people died. In July 9, 1989 bombs exploded that killed a single pilgrim while wounding 16 others – 16 Kuwaiti Muslim Shiite were beheaded due to the bombings. In July 2, 1990, a stampede at the pedestrian tunnel leading to Mecca caused the death of some 1,402 pilgrims and still others. Saudi Arabia absorbed the brunt of criticisms from the Muslim world of its innate failure to react immediately and prevent these events from happening. 16
Problems like these are bound to happen and no amount of security precaution will be sufficient enough to restrain the multitude of pilgrims. But the majority would still choose to come, risking life and limb just to join the Hajj and fulfill their obligation to their faith. Those who braved the pilgrimage have stories to tell about patience as a virtue, waiting in lines just to enter the tawah and sa’i. And amidst all the people around, practically all nationalities around the world and the days of discomfort, to smile becomes a study in charity. 17
Looking at the 3 million Muslims around the world chanting prayers and raising their hand to heaven is indeed a spectacle, especially when they march through a desert valley outside Mecca on the first day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The multitude all garbed in white transcend differences but carries the torch of equality. The pilgrims walked through 8 miles to Mina and started the series of rituals to cleanse themselves of sin. 18
The march of the pilgrims occurs anyway amidst the increasing turmoil in the Islamic world – the war in Iraq and Somalia as well as violence in the Palestinian territories. But sectarian tensions never erupted during the Hajj pilgrimage – it being a purely a religious undertaking. Nor is it the place of raising banners and slogans to divide the Muslim world for Allah has instructed the faithful to unite. For once the Hajj is the crowning moment of the faith, that Muslims carry out and show the world the steadfast resolve to be united. 19
III. The influence of Hajj in the United States:
Majority of the Muslim population in the United States are immigrants evading the authoritarian regimes in their countries. Unlike back home where their human rights are thwarted by lightly learned fundamentalists, the atmosphere in the United States is different. Due to the freedom afforded to everybody, the Muslim minorities are able to express themselves and literally understand the teachings of the Qur’an.
Thus, they can freely practice their faith without anybody influencing them on the words of the prophet Muhammad. With the relevant message as expressed by the Muslim Qur’an and centered on peace among people of whatever creed and race, they can mingle with the general population. They learned to live and enjoy their lives based on the teachings of the Qur’an. 20
Whenever they join the Hajj annually to Mecca, they bring with them a positive disposition to influence the people they meet along the way. They try to foster camaraderie, brotherhood, friendship, love and establish peace in the world – where hostilities are temporarily removed. Moreover, these faithful broods recreate an environment for universal understanding and probably broadcast to the world that Muslims are not war freaks or terrorists.
When visiting their countries of origin, people of the Muslim faith can reveal what they have become as true believers of the faith. They can then educate their elders on the interpretation of the doctrines to ease the burden that most people are subjected to so that these can also enjoy the true meaning of the faith. These alone have helped their elders strengthen the age-old respect and traditional formation of their people.
Although in the United States, there are still pockets of racism but the general white population is starting to understand the true worth of Islam. With the relatively peaceful conduct of the Hajj in Mecca, the world has come to realize that brother Muslims are worth emulating and that only a few fundamentalists are on the wrong track to continue instilling fear among the population, so they can forever stay in power. These misguided elements continue to proclaim Jihad or holy war to foster their own corrupted ideas. 21
Incidentally the Muslims in the United States are slowly but steadily carving their mark on the Islamic world. Although they are still relatively small in numbers and a fledging organization at that, their influence though is beginning to be felt by the almost 1 billion Muslims around the world. The American Muslims have been cuddled by a free society, the most educated, more affluent and diverse in the world has provided an impact greater than their numbers. 22
Moreover, the swing of the pendulum is probably on their side; the guy with the turban and automatic rifle in hand is definitely out. In place is the guy drinking Starbucks coffee armed with a laptop computer reading the current update from the Internet. Aggressive Islamic thinkers are growing under an environment of America’s unsurpassed intellectual freedom. They are now deciphering the taboo associated with nearly 14 centuries of tradition on women’s human rights and democratic practices. 23
The modern day Hajj however is bordering more on consumerism with the pilgrimage now made to appear as products of tourist’s destinations where pilgrims are treated to a five-star deal or accommodations for those on a shoestring budget. Arguably the brisk business that foster during the Hajj season has now become part of pilgrim’s woes. A pragmatic example are the arrival of pilgrims at the Cairo airport, then and there you immediately realize that commerce is more important for several of the hujjai than the act of religious worship.
IV. Comparison/contrasts with Christianity:
For both the Islam and Christian faith, the point of similarity lies in the belief that all source of knowledge comes from Allah or the Lord God who created the universe and populates it with man. However the version of the Christian Bible according to the Book of Genesis is in contrast on how it appears with the Qur’an; although the mention of both Adam and Eve with Satan are present.
It could not be argued that both faiths consider Abraham as the father of Humanity; but again in the Book of Genesis, God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, totally in contrast to the Qur’an where Ishmael was sacrificed instead. But the end result was similar since a sheep was provided as the burnt offering.
Another striking contrast is the Divination of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Although in the Qur’an Jesus Christ is mentioned as coming from the lineage of Noah, Abraham and Moses as true prophets with Muhammad as the last and only messenger of Allah. Likewise, both Holy Books are correct in the assumption that Ishmael fathered the Muslim nations and Isaac the father of the Jewish nation.
The Qur’an is explicit in its hypothesis that they have the more accurate account of the events that took place, to argue that some scattered papyrus fragments found in Egypt are dated no later than the third century. While not a thing could be said of the Holy Bible because it has been translated from Greek into Latin where no writer’s name appear on the manuscript. 24
Furthermore, the Qur’an argues that the Holy Prophet Muhammad had memorized the whole text of the divine messages and ordered the writing of such by scribes of the revelation. Besides, many of the disciples of the prophet learned the entire text of the Qur’an by heart. Likewise, those with the prophet have memorized some of the verses since these are incanted during worship and several members of the entourage of the prophet are literate and have kept a private record of the text of the Qur’an. 25
Again another glaring misrepresentation in the Qur’an is the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Although they herald Christ as a prophet, all his teachings that were revealed to him by God were orally relayed to the people. His disciples too were instrumental in propagating the Word among the people through the spoken language. None of this material was however put into writing during the lifetime of Jesus Christ not even the period after him. There is then some misconception in the assumption that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was written by Greek authors none of which are considered prophets. 26
The Christian Holy Bible on the other hand did not literally fall from heaven. It is a continuous flow of data from centuries culled within the confines of the heart of Israel, the People of God. Thus, it is a sacred record involving 18 centuries of spiritual experiences by the community and the warnings of the prophets as Gods messengers. All these are somehow integrated by the religious leaders of Israel into the Holy Book.
The text of the Holy Scriptures were called the Old Testament, which compose of a series of books and happen to be the most precious inheritance of God to his chosen people. And when God wanted Israel to mature in Faith, He sent Jesus Christ – His teachings, His rejection, death, and resurrection are all poignantly recorded in the New Testament.
Thus it was the apostles who continued the preaching of the Gospel and the first communities of Christ’s Church was born. The Books of the New Covenant with the able help of the Holy Spirit instilled into the consciousness of the people the total unique truth that certainly is within us.
Certainly both the Christian Bible and the Qur’an share the same universal message of love, brotherhood, sisterhood, peace and equality regardless of color, race or creed. Except that the Qur’an has a provision to call for a Holy war when necessary. This gave Islam a bad name since extremists capitalize on it to declare Jihad rather than sit on the negotiating table. Although the Holy Bible has also this declaration but expressed in a more-subtler tone “there’s time for everything under the sun”.
1B.A. Robinson, About Islam: The Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca [Online] (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 13 December 2006, accessed 27 November 2007); available from http://www.religioustolerance.org/isla1.htm; Internet.
3Ahmed H. Makhdoom, Pilgrimage to Mecca: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful [Online] (1999, accessed 27 November 2007); available from http://www.religioustolerance.org/isla1.htm; Internet.
4Tore Kjeilin, Hajj [encyclopedia-online] (LexicOrient, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://i-cias.com/e.o/hajj.htm; Internet.
5Barbara Garisson, Pilgrimage to Mecca: The Hajj [Online] (Sweetwater Union High School District, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://www.suhsd.k12.ca.us/mvm/netlinks/1hajj/1hajj.html; Internet.
6Robinson, About Islam.
7 Patrick Totty, The Pilgrimage to Mecca [newsletter-online] (Sweetwater Union High School District, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007); available from http://www.suhsd.k12.ca.us/mvm/netlinks/1hajj/1hajj.html; Internet.
8Hajj:The Pilgrimage to Mecca [Online] (Religion Facts, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007); available from http://www.religionfacts.com/islam/practices/hajj-pilgrimage.htm; Internet.
11MohammedulBaquir Khanbhai, Meaning of Pilgrimage to Mecca [Online] (Shababul Ul Eidiz Zahabi, Dar es Saalam, 27 March 2005, accessed 28 November 2007); available from http://www.shababdar.org/mecca.html; Internet.
13Pilgrimage: Hajj [Online] (Public Broadcasting Service, 1995, accessed 29 November 2007); available from http://www.pbs.org/empires/islam/faithpilgrimage.html; Internet.
17Raja Abdulrahim, Mecca’s Lesson: A Smile is Charity and so is Patience [record-online] (Times Herald Record, 4 November 2005, accessed 28 November 2007); available from http://archive.recordonline.com/archive/2005/11/04/mecca04.htm; Internet.
18Millions Begin Pilgrimage to Mecca [news-online] (CNN International, 28 December 2006, accessed 28 November 2007); available from http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/12/28/hajj.firstday/index.html; Internet.
20Sayyid Abdul A’lal Mawdud, Let Us Be Muslims [Online] (The Islamic Foundation, 1982, accessed 28 November 2007); available from http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/hajj/letsbemuslims.htm#intro4; Internet.
21Yusuf Siddiqui, Malcolm X:an Islamic Perspective [Online] (MSA.org, accessed 27 November 2007); available from http://www.colostate.edu/Orgs/MSA/find_more/m_x.html; Internet.
22 Teresa Watanabe, U.S. Freedoms Give American Muslims Influence Beyond Their Numbers [newspaper-online] (LA Times, 29 December 2000, accessed 28 November 2007); available from http://www.islamicity.com/recognitions/latimes/001229/default.htm; Internet.
24 Syed Abdul Ala’ Maududi, The Message of Prophet Mohammad [Online] (The Sabr Foundation, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007); available from http://muhammad.net/j/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=39&Itemid=1; Internet.
A’lal Mawdud, Sayyid Abdul. Let Us Be Muslims [Online]. The Islamic Foundation, 1982, accessed 28 November 2007; available from http://www.islamicity.com/mosque/hajj/letsbemuslims.htm#intro4; Internet.
Abdulrahim, Raja. Mecca’s Lesson: A Smile is Charity and so is Patience [record-online]. Times Herald Record, 4 November 2005, accessed 28 November 2007; available from http://archive.recordonline.com/archive/2005/11/04/mecca04.htm; Internet.
Ala’ Maududi, Syed Abdul. The Message of Prophet Mohammad [Online]. The Sabr Foundation, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://muhammad.net/j/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=39&Itemid=1; Internet.
Garisson, Barbara. Pilgrimage to Mecca: The Hajj [Online]. Sweetwater Union High School District, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://www.suhsd.k12.ca.us/mvm/netlinks/1hajj/1hajj.html; Internet.
Hajj:The Pilgrimage to Mecca [Online]. Religion Facts, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://www.religionfacts.com/islam/practices/hajj-pilgrimage.htm; Internet.
Khanbhai, MohammedulBaquir. Meaning of Pilgrimage to Mecca [Online]. Shababul Ul Eidiz Zahabi, Dar es Saalam, 27 March 2005, accessed 28 November 2007; available from http://www.shababdar.org/mecca.html; Internet.
Kjeilin, Tore. Hajj. [encyclopedia-online]. LexicOrient, 2007, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://i-cias.com/e.o/hajj.htm; Internet.
Makhdoom, Ahmed H. Pilgrimage to Mecca: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful [Online]. 1999, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://pachome1.pacific.net.sg/~makhdoom/; Internet.
Millions Begin Pilgrimage to Mecca [news-online]. CNN International, 28 December 2006, accessed 28 November 2007; available from http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/12/28/hajj.firstday/index.html; Internet.
Pilgrimage: Hajj [Online]. Public Broadcasting Service, 1995, accessed 29 November 2007; available from http://www.pbs.org/empires/islam/faithpilgrimage.html; Internet.
Robinson, B.A. About Islam: The Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca [Online]. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 13 December 2006, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://www.religioustolerance.org/isla1.htm; Internet.
Siddiqui, Yusuf. Malcolm X:an Islamic Perspective [Online]. MSA.org, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://www.colostate.edu/Orgs/MSA/find_more/m_x.html; Internet.
Totty, Patrick. The Pilgrimage to Mecca [newsletter-online]. The Cultural Traveler, 4 October 2002, accessed 27 November 2007; available from http://www.theculturedtraveler.com/Archives/OCT2002/Mecca.htm; Internet.
Watanabe, Teresa. U.S. Freedoms Give American Muslims Influence Beyond Their Numbers [newspaper-online]. LA Times, 29 December 2000, accessed 28 November 2007; available from http://www.islamicity.com/recognitions/latimes/001229/default.htm; Internet.