Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Holy Pilgrimage

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. As of November 2010, about three million Muslim pilgrims participate the Hajj pilgrimage. The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and a fundamental pillar of faith for Muslims, a duty that must be carried out once in the lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The pilgrimage is a demonstration of the unity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God All Mighty. Ihram is the word given to the special state in which Muslims live during the pilgrimage. The Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of All Mighty God be upon him), but the ritual of pilgrimage stretches back thousands of years to the time of Ibrahim/Abraham (may the peace and blessings of All Mighty God be upon him). Pilgrims join with hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals.

Rituals of Hajj.
Once in Mecca pilgrims enter the Great Mosque and walk seven times round the Kaaba which is regarded as the holiest building in Islam (the black cubed house in the centre of the mosque) in an anti-clockwise direction while supplicating to God "Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik(meaning, I am ready to obey Your orders, O Allah). This is known as Tawaf. Pilgrims also run seven times along a passageway in the Great Mosque, commemorating a search for water by Hajar, wife of the Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham (may the peace and blessings of All Mighty God be upon him).

Day 1
Pilgrims travel to Mina on 8 Dhul Hijjah (a date in the Islamic calendar) and remain there until dawn the next morning.
Day 2
Pilgrims then travel to the valley of Arafat and stand in the open praising Allah and meditating.
At the end of the day, pilgrims travel to Muzdalifa where they spend the night. Pilgrims gather up stones to use the next day.
Day 3
In the morning, pilgrims return to Mina and throw seven stones at pillars called Jamaraat. These represent the devil. The pillars stand at three spots where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham (may the peace and blessings of All Mighty God be upon him)Pilgrims sacrifice an animal (usually a sheep or goat). This commemorates the incident related when the Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham (may the peace and blessings of All Mighty God be upon him) was about to sacrifice his son and God accepted the sheep instead. However nowadays pilgrims tend pay someone to slaughter the animal on their behalf.
Pilgrims shave their heads or cut some hair from it and return to the Great Mosque at Mecca for a further Tawaf, walking around the Kaaba. They then return to Mina, where they spend the night.
Days 4 & 5
Pilgrims spend time in Mina in contemplation and reflection. If a pilgrim has been unable to return to Mecca to walk around the Kaaba, he or she does so on the fourth or fifth day.