Hajj a gathering of humanity -Abu Tahir Mustakim
Belief in the Oneness of God is the most fundamental principle of Islam; Prayer-regulates the believer’s relationship with God; Zakah-controls his relations with society; fasting-exercises and strengthens his will: the Hajj- offers Muslims, as one nation, the opportunity to exercise the high principles, values and objectives upon which Islam bases the shaping of the individual and the nation.
The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and of supporting their family during their absence from home.
History of the Hajj
The present pattern of Hajj was established by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, according to the Quran, elements of Hajj trace back to the time of the Prophet Abraham. According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Abraham was ordered by Allah to leave his wife Hajar and his son Ishmael alone in the desert of ancient Mecca. In search of water, Hajar desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah but found none. Returning in despair to Ishmael, she saw the baby scratching the ground with his leg and a water fountain sprang forth underneath his foot. Later, Prophet Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, which he did with the help of Ishmael, and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there. The Quran refers to these incidents in verses 2:124–127 and 22:27–30. It is said that the archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from Heaven to be attached to the Kaaba.
Timing of the Hajj
Every year, the events of Hajj take place in a ten-day period, starting on 1 and ending on 10 Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth and last month of the Islamic calendar. Among these ten days, the 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as the Day of Arafah, and this day is called the day of Hajj.
The rites of Hajj
During Hajj, pilgrims join processions of millions of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, walks briskly back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times, then drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa, and performs symbolic Stoning of the Devil by throwing stones at three pillars. After the sacrifice of an animal, the Pilgrims then are required to either shave or trim their heads for males or trim the ends of their hair for females. A celebration of the three-day global festival of Eid al-Adha proceeds afterward.
Muslims may also undertake an Umrah or “lesser pilgrimage” to Mecca at other times of the year. However, the Umrah is not a substitute for the Hajj, and Muslims are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.
Differences between the Hajj and Umrah
Both are Islamic pilgrimages, the main difference is their level of importance and the method of observance.
Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It is obligatory for every Muslim once in their lifetime, provided they are physically fit and financially capable.
Hajj is performed over specific days during a designated Islamic month. However, Umrah can be performed at any time.
Although they share common rites, Umrah can be performed in less than a few hours while Hajj is more time-consuming, and involves more rituals.
On average, 22 lakh (2.2 million) to 32 lakh (3.2 million) people take part in Hajj every year. Giving comfort to a large number of these people is a great task. So, the Saudi government often sets quotas for various countries to keep the pilgrims’ number at a manageable level and deploys huge security forces and CCTV cameras to maintain overall safety during Hajj.
To enter Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj as a Muslim, visa requirements have to be satisfied. Most of the Hajj-related issues are handled by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. Making necessary arrangements each year for the growing number of pilgrims poses a logistic challenge for the government of Saudi Arabia, which has, since the 1950s, spent more than $100 billion to increase pilgrimage facilities. Major issues like housing, transportation, sanitation, and healthcare have been addressed and improved greatly by the government by introducing various development programs, with the result that pilgrims now enjoy modern facilities and perform various rites at ease.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is planning to ease visa issuance by enabling Hajj and Umrah pilgrims to obtain e-visa within minutes through campaigns and companies. For the upcoming Umrah season, visas can be electronically issued within 24 hours via a special platform established by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
The Saudi government employs technology to protect the safety, and enhance the experience, of the pilgrim’s journey. Recently, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has introduced the Hajj pilgrims’ e-bracelet programmme that stores pilgrims’ essential data which helps to provide them with the necessary support.
In 2019, the “Fatwa Robot” service was launched to provide pilgrims with fatwas and other religious advice. Two interactive apps were launched by Hajj authorities to provide pilgrims with a range of services through their smartphones. The services, which are available in nine languages, help pilgrims in finding emergency service centers, holy sites, currency exchanges, restaurants, and accommodation.
Islamic Fiqh literature describes in detail the manners of carrying out the rites of Hajj.
Ihram : Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state, state of holiness, which marks the start of the ritual of Hajj for each person. Ihram is initiated upon the arrival at the Miqat.
When pilgrims enter the state of Ihram, they are required to abstain from certain actions. While in ihram, males are required to wear two white seamless cloths, with one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side. For females, this involves wearing the ordinary dress that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands and face uncovered. Other prohibitions include refraining from clipping nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering the head for men or the face and hands for women; getting married; or carrying weapons.
Tawaf and sa’ay : The ritual of Tawaf involves walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba. Upon arriving at Al-Masjid Al-?ar?m, pilgrims perform an arrival tawaf either as part of Umrah or as a welcome tawaf. During tawaf, pilgrims also include Hateem – an area on the north side of the Kaaba – inside their path. Each circuit starts with the kissing or touching of the Black Stone. Pilgrims also point to the stone and perform a prayer. The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of prophet Abraham or Muqam Ibrahim, a site near the Kaaba inside the mosque.
This rite is said to be the manifestation of Tawhid, the Oneness of God. The heart and soul of the pilgrim should move around Kaaba, the symbol of the House of God, in a way that no worldly attraction distracts him from this path.
Tawaf is followed by sa’ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba. After sa’ay, male pilgrims shave or trim their hair and women generally clip a portion of their hair, which completes the Umrah.
First day of Hajj: 8th Dhu al-Hijjah
On the 8th Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the Ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of Ihram start now.
Mina : After the morning prayer on the 8th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the whole day and offer noon, afternoon, evening, and night prayers. The next morning after morning prayer, they leave Mina to go to Arafat.
Second day: 9th Dhu al-Hijjah
The 9th Dhul-Hijjah is known as the Day of Arafah, and this day is called the Day of Hajj.
Arafat : On 9th Dhu al-Hijjah before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometers east of Mecca, where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, and seek the mercy of God, and listen to the sermon from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near Jabal al-Rahmah or The Mount of Mercy from where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered his last sermon. Lasting from noon through sunset, this is known as ‘standing before God’ or wuquf, one of the most significant rites of Hajj. At Masjid al-Namirah, pilgrims offer noon and afternoon prayers together at noontime. A pilgrim’s Hajj is considered invalid if he or she does not spend the afternoon on Arafat.
Muzdalifah : Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah after sunset without performing their Maghrib prayer at Arafat. Muzdalifah is an area between Arafat and Mina. Upon reaching there, pilgrims perform Maghrib and Isha prayers jointly, spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with an open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the stoning of the Devil.
Third day: 10th Dhu al-Hijjah
After the morning prayer, the Pilgrims move from Muzdalifah to Mina.
Ramy al-Jamarat : At Mina, the pilgrims perform the symbolic stoning of the Devil by throwing seven stones from sunrise to sunset at only the largest of the three pillars, known as Jamraat al-Aqabah. The remaining two pillars (jamarah) are not stoned on this day. These pillars are said to represent Satan. Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-leveled Jamaraat Bridge, from which they can throw their pebbles at the jamaraat. Because of safety reasons, in 2004 the pillars were replaced by long walls, with catch basins below to collect the pebbles.
Animal Sacrificing : After the stoning of the Devil, animals are sacrificed to commemorate the story of Ibrahim and Ismael. Modern abattoirs complete the processing of the meat, which is then sent as a charity to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
Hair removal : After sacrificing an animal, another important rite of Hajj is the shaving or trimming of head hair. All male pilgrims shave their heads or trim their hair on the day of Eid al Adha and female pilgrims cut the tips of their hair.
Tawaf Ziyarat : On the same or the following day, the pilgrims re-visit the Sacred Mosque in Mecca for another tawaf, known as Tawaf al-Ifadah, an essential part of Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
Fourth day: 11th Dhu al-Hijjah
Starting from noon to sunset on the 11 Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. This is commonly known as the “Stoning of the Devil”.
Fifth day: 12th Dhu al-Hijjah
On 12 Dhu al-Hijjah, the same process of the stoning of the pillars as on 11 Dhu al-Hijjah takes place. Pilgrims may leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th.
Last day at Mina: 13th Dhu al-Hijjah
If unable to leave on the 12th before sunset or opt to stay longer, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Tawaf al-Wadaa : Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wadaa. The pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the Kaaba.
Journey to Medina
During their journey for Hajj, pilgrims traditionally also travel to the city of Medina, approximately 450 kilometers to the northeast, in particular, to pray at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi or Mosque of the Prophet), which contains the tomb of Prophet Muhammad. The Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Qiblatayn are also usually visited.
Hajj has been interrupted at different times in the history of the last 1400 years. From the recent Corona epidemic to the plague or cholera and armed conflict or politics and religious beliefs etc. was the cause behind this.
One of the earliest significant interruptions of the hajj took place in A.D. 930 when a sect of Ismailis, a minority Shiite community, known as the Qarmatians raided Mecca because they believed the hajj to be a pagan ritual. Hajj was suspended until the Abbasids.
In A.D. 983, the rulers of Baghdad and Egypt were at war. The Fatimid rulers of Egypt claimed to be the true leaders of Islam and opposed the rule of the Abbasid dynasty in Iraq and Syria. Their political tug-of-war kept various pilgrims from Mecca and Medina for eight years, until A.D. 991. Many years later, Napoleon’s military incursions aimed at checking British colonial influence in the region prevented many pilgrims from hajj between A.D. 1798 and 1801.
Contemporary geopolitics and human rights issues have also played a role in who was able to perform the pilgrimage. In 2017, the 1.8 million Muslim citizens of Qatar were not able to perform the hajj following the decision by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations to sever diplomatic ties with the country over differences of opinion on various geopolitical issues.
Pilgrimage has not been cancelled since the founding of the Saudi Kingdom in 1932. But In 2012 and 2013 Saudi authorities encouraged the ill and the elderly not to undertake the pilgrimage amid concerns over Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, MERS.
Saudi Arabia effectively cancelled the hajj for most of the world’s Muslims in 2020, saying the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca will be “very limited” this year due to the coronavirus.
There are reports that the first time an epidemic of any kind caused hajj to be cancelled was an outbreak of plague in A.D. 967. Cholera outbreaks in multiple years throughout the 19th century claimed thousands of pilgrims’ lives during the hajj. One cholera outbreak in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1858 forced thousands of Egyptians to flee to Egypt’s Red Sea border, where they were quarantined before being allowed back in.
In fact, with many outbreaks in quick succession, the hajj was frequently interrupted throughout the mid-19th century.
Significance of Hajj
To Muslims, Hajj is associated with religious as well as social significance. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, the Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit that provides the Muslims with an opportunity for self-renewal. Hajj serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when Muslims believe people will stand before God. Hajj brings together and unites Muslims from different parts of the world irrespective of their race, color, and culture, which acts as a symbol of equality. n