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Three months after Ramadan comes the season of the great Pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj), 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 Fifth Pillar of Islam, dates back to the Prophet Ibrahim (AS) 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 also a symbolic act representing the spirit's return to its homeland-one of the central elements of the Muslim life. Hajj is an imperative duty (fard) for all Muslims physically and financially able to perform it.
" In it are Signs Manifest; (for example), the Station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security; Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah,- those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures <Qur'an Al-Imran 3:97>
The rites begin and end at the Ka'ba the square 'House' built as Muslims believe, by Adam (AS) and restored by Ibrahim (AS) and his elder son Ismael (AS). 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
God has prescribed certain rites that a pilgrim should observe properly for his pilgrimage to be accepted.
To perform the pilgrimage means to leave all worldly activities aside and to proceed to meet the Lord. 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 sexual relationships, not to kill insects or animals, and not to remove any hair from the body
Tawaf al-qudum. Upon arriving in Makkah, pilgrims perform the initial
tawaf, which is a circular, counter- clockwise procession around the Ka'ba.
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.the Qur'an says about Safa and
Marwa: "Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those
who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round,
it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to good,- be sure
that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth. <Qur'an Al Baqara 2:158>
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 verse from the Qur'an from God "Today I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My grace upon you, and approved Islam as your religion."<Qur'an, The Table Spread 5:3>
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 Ibrahim's throwing stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Ibrahim (AS) from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, re-enacting the story of Ibrahim (AS), who, in place of Ismael (AS), sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. Pilgrims shave their head or trim it and take off Ihram garments. All Ihram restrictions are lifted except for the ban on sexual intercourse.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. After Tawaf al-Ifada (final tawaf) , all restrictions are lifted."Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House." <Qur'an Al-Hajj 22:29>
8) They should also drink from the water of ZamZam and perform two rakahs of Prayer at the place known as Maqam Ibrahim (AS), the place where Ibrahim (AS) and his son Ismael (AS) stood and prayed after building the Ka'ba.
10) Once the Hajj has been performed, Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Adha, three days of celebration throughout the Muslim world.
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 (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 colours, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together.