The annual event is an act of mass worship affirming unity before God
It's that time of the year again when some two million Muslims from across the globe converge on Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in the largest peaceful congregation in the world to engage in a potentially life-changing experience.
The highly spiritual event is aimed at facilitating durable intimacy with the Almighty through the performance and due reflection on a series of very meaningful rituals.
As one of the pillars of Islam, the pilgrimage is obligatory upon all Muslims who are physically and financially capable of making the trip and performing the rituals at least once in their lifetime as set forth in Islam's holy book of Quran:
"In it (the Hajj rituals) are manifest signs [and] Abraham’s Station, and whoever enters it shall be secure; and it is the mankind's obligation to God to make the pilgrimage to the House (Ka'aba) for those who can afford the [sacred] journey…" (3:97)
The brief explanation of some of the key rites and rules in performing the Hajj, as follows, may help to better understand this monumental Islamic event and its purpose.
Symbol of universal brotherhood
- -The hajj pilgrimage is the supreme symbol of universal brotherhood, where class, color, race, language and all other superficial differences give way to devotion to God, the one and only creator of the entire universe.
- -Since all pilgrims wear similar garments, no one can be distinguished among the crowds based on economic status, official position, or any other thing of worldly substance, facilitating interaction between participants merely based on common worship of the Lord.
- -The pilgrimage begins in the first week of the Lunar month of Dhil-Hijja, when Muslim pilgrims converge at the ancient, simple cube-shaped structure called Ka’aba, which is referred to in Islam’s holy book of Qur’an as “the House of God,” rebuilt by Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael, for communities of Muslims to congregate at for the sole worship of the creator.
- -The pilgrims come chanting in unison the glory of God, testifying total submission to the Lord and that he has no partner and all the praise and bounties belong to him.
What does the plain, white garment symbolize?
- -Before they perform the rituals, all pilgrims are required to uniformly put on the simplest of clothing – two-piece, white and unsown cloth called Ihram – that resembles the shroud that all Muslims will eventually be wrapped into at the time of their burial when they pass away.
- -Hajj is only obligatory for those who can afford to make the journey with legitimately-earned personal funds. Attempting to perform the rituals even with borrowed money is not permissible.
- -Other than its ritualistic significance, the pilgrimage also provides a unique opportunity for Muslims from diverse cultures and regions of the world to mingle together and exchange views and ideas on ways to learn about and improve the state of affairs of Muslim communities across the globe.
Re-enactment of hardship endured by Prophet Abraham, his family
- -It is essentially a re-enactment of the hardship endured by Prophet Abraham, his wife Hajar and his son Ishmael in a bid to establish durable devotion and obedience to God in face of all the pressures from the ordinary idol-worshippers of their time.
- -The pilgrims also retrace the frantic footsteps of Hajar as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa in search of water for her thirsty infant Ishmael. As the exhausted Hajar tried to avoid watching the moving spectacle of her thirsty child restlessly drubbing the earth with his legs, the elixir of life gushed forth from beneath his feet. It was not a mirage. It was precious water that continued to flow after quenching the thirst of the mother and child, until Hajar cried out, “Zam-Zam” (meaning "stop").
- -The Hajj pilgrims also commemorate the willingness of Prophet Abraham to sacrifice even his much beloved son to once again confirm his total obedience to the Lord, who later substituted a sheep for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son.
Etiquette of performing Hajj
- Making the pilgrimage entails profound responsibilities and clear rules of conduct on the part of the respective pilgrims as outlined below:
- 1. The pilgrim must perform all the rituals with sincere intentions, only with the objective of obeying the commandments of the creator.
- 2. The pilgrim has to prepare her/himself for the spiritual setting by repenting and meeting all prerequisites such as satisfying all financial obligations such as religiously mandatory alms, debt and other financial liabilities.
- 3. During Hajj, the pilgrim must avoid any worldly distractions and worries about things such as wealth or business interests. His sole focus should be reflecting on the rituals and connecting the Lord.
- 4. Participating worshippers must further make serious efforts to improve their conduct while interacting with those in their company, including people providing services during the holy event, and avoid inappropriate language or demeanor.
- 5. The pilgrim should also try to reasonably satisfy potential needs of fellow pilgrims in his or her company and enjoin what is right and discourage what is decadent.
- 6. The pilgrim must avert the urge of feeling arrogant or superior to others.