Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the house of Allah i.e. Ka’bah in the city of Makkah. Ka’bah is the holiest site for all Muslims. It is the first house built on earth for all mankind to worship One God.“Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.” [Quran 3:96]. Some reports from hadith literature point out that Ka’bah was built by Prophet Adam (A.S.). Books of ahadith indicate that Prophet Adam (A.S.) did 40 Hajj travelling on foot from India. Later, it was rebuilt by Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) along with Prophet Ismael (A.S.). “And [mention] when Abraham was raising the foundations of the House and [with him] Ishmael, [saying], “Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”[Quran 2:127]. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It has been made obligatory once in a lifetime on all Muslim adults who can afford to undertake the journey physically and financially.“…And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way…” [Quran 3:97]. Hajj occurs from the 8th to the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. It involves performing a number of rites on particular days starting from the 8th to the 12th/13th of Dhul Hijjah. Each of these rites is not merely a ritual but is a commemoration of events significant for the spiritual development of mankind from the time of Adam (A.S.). In these times of material pursuance, non-stop action and emotional chaos, people seldom take a pause to reflect upon the real purpose, inner dimensions and broader perspectives of these rites of Hajj. However, if one truly wants to undertake the journey of Hajj in all earnestness, it is important to understand the historical significance, spiritual dimensions and impact on mankind of each of the rites of Hajj.
Understanding the Rites of Hajj and their Purpose:
Hajj has been made obligatory in all Shari’ah from Adam (A.S.) to Muhammad (S.A.W.) just like Salah and Zakah. However, like Salaah, Hajj has also become just a set of rituals which are performed by millions of people each year without realizing their meaning and spirit. The outer form of the worship remains while the soul has slipped away. Many camps are organized all over the Muslim world where training is imparted on how to do Hajj perfectly, which is no doubt essential, however, they lack in giving instructions on the real purpose of Hajj.
Hajj comprises of the following acts to be performed from the 8th to the 12th or 13th of Dhul Hijjah:
- Getting into the state of Ihram from the Miqat. Proclaiming Talbiyah
- Making circumambulation (Tawaf ) round the Ka’bah (of Umrah or separately).
- Heading to Mina on 8th Dhul Hijjah and spending the night there.
- On 9th Dhul Hijjah reaching Arafah and spending the day there.
- Spending the night of 9th at Muzdalifah
- On 10th throwing pebbles (Ramy) at Jamarat at Mina, doing animal sacrifice (Qurbani) and cutting/shaving the hair.
- Making return circumambulation (Tawaf-e-Ifadah)
- Traveling back and forth between As-Safa and Al-Marwa ( Sa’ey).
- Getting out of the state of Ihram.
- Heading back to Mina and staying for two or three days i.e. 11th & 12th or 11th -13th, throwing pebbles at Jamarat at Mina
- Making farewell circumambulation (Tawaf-e-Wada).
Ihram: Ihram is an Arabic word meaning ‘prohibition’. When one enters the state of Ihram a number of things that are not prohibited normally, become prohibited. The word Ihram has also become synonymous to the attire that is worn when entering the sacred state of Ihram. The attire is two pieces of white unstitched cloth, which are to be worn when one intends to perform Hajj after cleaning oneself through ghusl or wudu. For women, it is any simple dress that covers her completely except for her face and hands. Getting into Ihram prepares the mindset of the pilgrim for performing Hajj. It looks very similar to the Kafan or shroud in which a Muslim is draped upon death. Thus when people wear Ihram it symbolizes that they have disconnected themselves from all the worldly matters, left behind everything and have come to the house of Allah, their Lord, penitent and asking for forgiveness, hoping to have His mercy. Ihram is a great leveler; all Muslims regardless of their financial status, race, color, country of origin and language have to be in the same dress. It signifies that in the sight of Allah, all people are equal and that He only sees the state of their hearts and deeds.
After entering into the state of Ihram, Muslims pronounce Talbiyah:
“Labbayka Allaahumma labbayk, labbayka laa shareeka laka labbayk. Inna al-hamd wa’l-ni’mata laka wa’l-mulk, laa shareeka lak (Here I am, O Allaah, here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am. Verily all praise and blessings are Yours, and all sovereignty, You have no partner)” .
Tawaf: It is important to understand the meaning and purpose of Talbiyah as it is the proclamation of Tawheed or Oneness of Allah. It is the realization that all the devotion, acts of worship, feelings of repentance, hopes and prayers are all due towards Allah. He alone is the focal point of our whole being and to Him belongs all power, majesty and sovereignty. Reciting Talbiyah while understanding its meaning helps us to draw closer to Allah and reaffirms our continuous servitude to Allah alone.
It is the circumambulation of the Ka’bah 7 times, starting from the Black Stone (Hajar-e-Aswad) in a counterclockwise direction. This is not some meaningless routine. It is an act that connects the hearts of the pilgrims to Allah. When anything revolves around something, a connection is established between the thing that is revolving and the centre around which it is revolving. Forces develop that keep the body connected to the centre as long as there is movement. As soon as the motion stops, the connection breaks and things that were earlier under the influence of a set of forces no longer experience those forces which connected them to the centre. This circumambulation around the Ka’bah establishes a connection between the believers’ hearts and Ka’bah in a way that no other motion can do. Initially this earth was in a gaseous state, then it cooled to a liquid state and then finally it solidified. Ka’bah is the point of inception of the earth from its beginning. It is from Ka’bah that the earth has been expanded in all directions. Thus, Ka’bah is not only the house of Allah but also the centre from where the whole earth came into existence. So, once the pilgrims are gathered around the house of Allah at the centre of the earth, the circumambulation around the Ka’bah connects them to Allah and reminds them that they have to always maintain a connection with this centre. The act reorients their focus back to Allah.
An important rite during Tawaf is to kiss/touch or raise hand towards the Black Stone (Hajar-al-Aswad) at the start/end of each circumambulation. The books of ahadith tell that the Black Stone was sent on earth from paradise. Also, that it was initially purely milk white and completely spotless. However, the sins of human beings made it black.
The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When the Black Stone came down from Paradise, it was whiter than milk, but the sins of the sons of Adam made it black.” (Tirmidhi, 877)
If it was white, how did it turn black with the sins of human beings? The Black Stone is not an ordinary stone, it is actually a kind of recorder like the computer chips of our times. It is a record of the covenant that all human beings made to Allah when they were asked by Allah “… “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” …”( Quran 7:172). When we arrive here on this earth we are expected to fulfill this covenant we made to Allah of acknowledging Him as our Lord and thus obeying Him in every matter, surrendering our will completely to His. However, most of us get distracted and fall into error, forgetting the solemn oath we made. Here, we give precedence to our desires, to the customs of our ancestors or to the laws of the government over the guidance of Allah, which we had promised to follow and thus we keep committing ‘shirk’. The Black Stone is recording all our transgressions and sins since the very beginning, becoming black in the process. The act of kissing or touching or raising hands towards the Black Stone is in fact the renewal of our pledge to Allah that we will take Him alone as our Lord.
Yaum-e-Arafah: After reaching Mina on 8th Dhul Hijjah and spending the night there, all the pilgrims gather together on 9th to spend a day on the plains and hillside of Arafah. This congregation is the key rite of Hajj. It started from the time of Prophet Adam (A.S.). Other ‘waajibaat’ were introduced as a commemoration of the lives of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.), Prophet Ismael (A.S.) and his mother Hajra (A.S.), after the time of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.). The word Arafah has its root in the Arabic letter group – Ain, Ra, Fa, which means ‘to know’ or ‘to recognize’. Prophet Adam (A.S.) and mother Hawwa (A.S.) were sent on earth at different locations. Prophet Adam (A.S.) was sent to India while mother Hawwa (A.S.) came down in Jeddah. They kept searching for each other and it was on the plains of Arafah that they found and recognized each other. Adam (A.S.) was made for earth, after spending a brief training period in paradise, he and Hawwa (A.S.) were sent to earth for a limited time, where they were promised provisions and guidance from Allah and also that whoever will follow the guidance will have nothing to fear (Quran 2:36-38). The congregation of all pilgrims on a single day is the recognition and remembrance of the original mission entrusted to Prophet Adam (A.S.) and there on upon the whole mankind proceeding from the first man and woman that they have a limited time on this earth and during it they need to identify the guidance of Allah and follow it to attain the ultimate success in this world and the hereafter. The day of Arafah is the reminder and renewal of the purpose of mankind on this earth – submission to Allah and to follow the guidance from Allah in all aspects of leading our lives. The reminder of how one man and woman were sent here and from them today stand a multitude of men & women renewing their faith and pledge towards Allah. This is the place of remembering our real purpose on earth.
After spending the whole day at Arafah, pilgrims reach Muzdalifah at night. By this time people are so tired that even those who intend to stay awake the night to pray, find it difficult and go to sleep. It seems that this must have been the night which the first couple spent together and the foundation of mankind were laid. In the morning of 10th Dhul Hijjah, pilgrims make their way to Al Mash’ar al Haram, which is the valley between Muzdalifah and Mina, where pilgrims should make a Du’a after they have slept in Muzdalifah while they are going to Makkah to throw stones at Jamrat al-Aqabah. “… But when you depart from ‘Arafat, remember Allah at al- Mash’ar al-Haram. And remember Him, as He has guided you, for indeed, you were before that among those astray.” (Quran 2:198). The important point to remember is that it is only through and according to Allah’s guidance that we come to know how to remember Allah and that before the guidance came to us we were indeed ignorant.
Ramy at Jamarat: Rami is the stoning of Satan at three places. It is a symbolic practice of shunning away the evil whisperings of Satan from our lives. Not knowing the actual incident behind this rite and the significance of remembering it merely fills people with an uncalled for fervor as they believe they are somehow physically stoning/punishing the Satan. However, the truth is that when Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) was taking Prophet Ismael (A.S.) to sacrifice, recognizing it to be Allah’s command as seen in his dream, Satan tried to stop Prophet Ismael (A.S.) from complying with his father’s wishes three times. But each time, Prophet Ismael (A.S.) rejected the evil whisperings of the Satan as he knew that whatever his father, Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) intended to do must be the command of Allah. So, he was ready to go to any lengths to fulfill it even if it meant sacrificing his own life. It is therefore, in remembrance of this event that pilgrims are asked to stone the Satan at the places where Prophet Ismael (A.S.) was stopped by him from following the command of Allah. The rite of Ramy is meaningless if this determination of Prophet Ismael (A.S.) is not remembered with the resolve to emulate him in his dutifulness towards Allah. It symbolizes that we all should be as steadfast as Prophet Ismael (A.S.) in dispelling the whisperings of Satan from our hearts while following the guidance of Allah in our daily lives.
Qurbani: Later on 10th Dhul Hijjah itself an animal sacrifice is made and the pilgrims cut their hair partially or completely (the details of this rite have been dealt in separate lectures/articles.). Animal sacrifice is done in commemoration of the supreme sacrifice made by Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) when he was ready to slaughter Prophet Ismael (A.S.). At the very moment, Allah informed that the dream of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) was a great trial for him and that Allah is appreciative of his piety. A ram was sent to be offered as sacrifice in place of Prophet Ismael (A.S.). The rite of Qurbani is therefore, the reminder that we should be resolutely ready always to sacrifice in the way of Allah any or everything from our lives and property that we hold dear in this life.
Tawaf-e-Ifadah: The next step is to do the return circumambulation at Makkah. The significance of going around the Kaba’h has already been discussed above.
Sa’ey: Sa’ey means ‘seeking. In practical terms, it means walking back and forth seven times between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah which are to the south and north of the Ka’bah, respectively. This is again not just a senseless walk between the two mountains. It is part of the Hajj rites as a remembrance of the exemplary devotion and faith of Hajra (A.S.). When Prophet Ismael (A.S.) was still a baby, Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) was commanded by Allah to leave both the mother and son in the valley of Makkah. At that time, Makkah had no civilization. It was a barren desert where nobody lived. Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) left Hajar (A.S.) and baby Ismael in the middle of the desert and left without saying a single word. She called upon Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) twice to ask him the reason of leaving them behind. When Prophet Ibrahim did not turn to answer her, she enquired whether it was Allah’s command that they were being abandoned there in the middle of the desert where there was no source of survival in sight. On being thus enquired Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) simply nodded his head without turning to answer. This simple gesture was enough for Hajar (A.S.) to put her entire trust in Allah and she replied that if it was Allah’s command Allah would not let any harm come to them. This was a great trial for her as not only her own life was at stake but the life of her baby was also at risk. For a mother, it is a greater horror to see her child in distress than to bear that trouble herself. Here was Hajra (A.S.) faced with certain death with starvation and thirst in an uninhabited desert but the same fate seemed certain for her child too and in front of her very eyes. But upon learning that it was a command from Allah, her heart grew calm instantly and she put her entire trust in Him, knowing He who has given the command would certainly help her through the ordeal. She did not run after Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) or begged him to take her along or implored on behalf of their baby to not leave them alone. She braced herself for the ordeal alone and stayed where she was left with faith in her heart. When the water she had finished and baby Ismael began to cry with thirst, she did not just sit there thinking there was no hope of finding any water in this desert where there was not a green tree in sight all around. She patiently persevered with hope in her heart, she jumped into action and searched for water from one place to another. She ran between the mountains of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah once, twice, thrice but did not give up and continued with the search as she had hope in her heart that Allah would not forsake her, so she searched relentlessly running from one side to the other till Allah’s succor came in the form of a spring of fresh water right at the feet of the crying baby Ismael. By that time it was her seventh run between the mountains. Allah liked her perseverance and trust in Allah to such an extent that He made her effort, coupled with the strong faith and trust in Allah, part of the Hajj rites. When pilgrims run 7 times between the two mountains, they need to remember the exemplary steadfastness and unshakeable faith of Hajra (A.S.) in following the command of Allah.
There is yet another lesson that is to be drawn from the ordeal of Hajra (A.S.) in the search of water. She was searching for water because it is essential for life. No life is possible without water. When a determined and persistent search was made by Hajra (A.S.) for water for her thirsty child, the water was sent to them. Elixir of life was found. We too have to search for such an elixir. Entire nations are dead; it is the need of the hour to search for that source which will awaken them. Actually, we need to make this prayer at Safa and Marwah. Death is not only the leaving of soul from the body, death is having no purpose in life. Death is not recognizing the purpose for which life was given. People of the world are dead; we need to search for that elixir that may awaken them and guide them to their true purpose in life. And this can happen if only we bring that restlessness and longing in our search with which Hajra (A.S.) was searching for water. Our prayers will surely be answered then.
Heading back to Mina and staying for two or three days i.e. 11th & 12th or 11th -13th, throwing pebbles at Jamarat at Mina: At the end of the 10th day of Dhul Hijjah, when all the rites of Hajj get completed, pilgrims return back to Mina to spend the night and subsequent two or three days there. Allah commands in Quran: “And when you have completed your rites, remember Allah like your [previous] remembrance of your fathers or with [much] greater remembrance…” (2:200). “And remember Allah during [specific] numbered days. Then whoever hastens [his departure] in two days – there is no sin upon him; and whoever delays [until the third] – there is no sin upon him – for him who fears Allah .” (2:203). Thus pilgrims are free to either spend 11th and 12th Dhul Hijjah in Mina or an extra day of 13th as well. The point to ponder here is that why all the pilgrims were asked to gather again and spend two or three days together at Mina when all the rites of Hajj were complete. The Quran gives the answer as in above verses that it was for the purpose of ‘zikr’ or remembrance of Allah. But what is this remembrance that Allah wants us to contemplate upon specifically in these 2/3 days at Mina? After all, the entire time spent that far in completing the different rites of Hajj was spent in the zikr or remembrance of Allah.
Significance of Congregation of Pilgrims at Mina: Before understanding the remembrance due at Mina, we need to take a step back and look into the social structure of Islam. Islam lays great emphasis on community living. Allah is present everywhere, even at home, still salah/namaaz is to be offered at Masjid. It is to be offered in a congregation and not individually. Besides, one cannot come at any time for a particular salah. All Muslims of a community are supposed to gather together at a single time to offer salah at their masjid. Then they are required to stand in a unified fashion together shoulder to shoulder in neat rows and then they have to follow their Imam in a collective manner while offering the prayer. Such a high degree of collectiveness is expected at each salah/namaaz. This togetherness is further increased at the weekly Jum’ah salaah and still more on the occasion of two Eids each year. This same spirit of collectiveness, brotherhood and togetherness swells many folds at the congregation of Hajj once in a lifetime for every Muslim.
One of the many purposes of praying together five times a day in a congregation is to be aware of each other’s needs and well being. Masaajids were expected to act as community centers of the neighborhood where important issues of the community were to be resolved and religious matters needed to be discussed. They were to be the planning centers for the development of the community, library and focal points of religious education. In the same league but on a global scale, the first house of worship on Earth was made to act as the centre for world peace and development of all nations. The gathering of multitude of people from all over the world was with the purpose of gathering information about the respective problems of each nation in order that solutions could be reached upon through deliberation and discussion. Quran 2:197 is usually understood to mean that the months of Hajj are well known, however, it can also mean that the months of Hajj are for getting information of all people congregating for Hajj. Further, it says that those who undertake this journey are required to keep themselves pure from any kind of profanity, disobedience, dispute or sexual relations. Allah next guides to bring provisions for this arduous journey. However, we are not expected to bring provisions of food and clothes alone but the best provision of them all i.e. the consciousness of Allah (At-Taqwa). Only then can we be guided to fulfill the purpose of Ka’bah.
“The pilgrimage takes place during the prescribed months. There should be no indecent speech, misbehaviour, or quarrelling for anyone undertaking the pilgrimage- whatever good you do, God is well aware of it. Provide well for yourselves: the best provision is to be mindful of God- always be mindful of Me, you who have understanding.”
The supreme objective of Ka’bah has been outlined in Quran 5:97 as:
“God has made the Ka’ba- the Sacred House- a means of establishment for people…”
The Arabic word used is Qayaam for people, which means Ka’bah was made to act as a source of peace and stability for all people of the world. When people from all over the world gather together at Mina in the biggest congregation of its kind, representatives of all nations were expected to bring the problems of their respective nations for consideration, to find solution for them. The needs of all people were to be discussed, conflicts between nations were to be resolved. It had to be seen that poor nations do not remain so and their needs be met by the entire brotherhood of Muslims congregating for Hajj.“Indeed, the first House established for mankind was that at Makkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.” (Quran 3:96). This was the principal objective of Ka’bah – to be a source of blessing and guidance for the entire mankind. The entire earth expanded from the Ka’bah. It is like a navel point of the whole world. Thus it was placed on earth as a centre for providing all forms of provisions that are needed for the development of humanity. Those who call themselves as the believers should have stood up for world peace, development and spiritual guidance of all mankind from this honorable center. Allah says that the believers have been raised as a just community for the benefit of all people, who will look after or witness the affairs of all humanity.“And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you…” (Quran 2:143). All the believers were therefore, exhorted to always have their entire beings and their attention to be focused towards the Ka’bah not just for the prayers and Hajj but focused towards it so as to never forget the paramount purpose for which it was established.“…So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you are, turn your faces toward it. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do. (Quran 2:144). Unfortunately, the Muslim world got divided into small bits of lands who have not only totally turned away from the main centre of the Muslim world but have also forgotten the original objective of the center of all mankind. Today, there are a number of small Islamic states, each of which passionately guards its boundaries and have their respective capitals but none realizes that for the purpose of fulfilling the responsibility entrusted on all believers they were to act as one nation with Ka’bah being its centre from where all commands should have issued for the establishment of all people and not just the Muslim world.
This central status of Ka’bah is recognized even by those to whom earlier scriptures were given. They have hidden it but they know it as clearly as they know their own sons. Quran gives indication of two types of people, the one who are called ‘the people of the book’ and the other ‘to whom the book was given’. The first is the class of people who received scripture and are associated with a messenger from Allah and the other is the class of people who have amidst them divine guidance in the form of excerpts in their holy books. In the latter category come people who call themselves Sanatan Dharmi, the Hindu of the Indian subcontinent. Their scholars confirm that the central status of Ka’bah is mentioned quite significantly in their scriptures and the traditions are also prevalent among the masses that point towards the fact that Ka’bah was marked out to all believers as the focal point of all good.“So from wherever you go out [O Muhammad] turn your face toward al- Masjid al-Haram, and indeed, it is the truth from your Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.”(Quran 2:149). Whatever might be our daily preoccupations of our lives, at no point are we supposed to forget that Ka’bah is the centre of all believers. The laws and rules for the establishment of peace and security the world over were to be drafted and issued from here and all believers were to work in a unified manner for carrying out those orders. Then people would have seen what benefit Hajj brings to them. Else, for what benefit it is that a multitude of people gather and spent two or three days at Mina aimlessly.
The congregation at Mina was the first concept of United Nations that was given to the people of the world. From here should have started every good for the whole mankind. It was the first League of Nations that was supposed to meet each year. But the believers forgot the true purpose and fell into following customs and rituals alone. Later in 1945, United Nations as we now know it, was founded for the establishment of peace and security of all nations. However, we see its role more in providing relief and aid but its powers of maintaining peace in the world have been appropriated by the more powerful nations who seldom act justly. The Congregation at Mina was to act justly as they were duty bound towards Allah to be witnesses over the affairs and wellfare of all nations. But the central status of Ka’bah and its supreme objectives have all been lost through the ages and today even with the UNO being there we are not able to resolve issues like food and water scarcity in the third world nations. However, these could have been easily addressed if the Congregation at Mina would have conscientiously did the ‘zikr’ or remembrance of Allah the way it was made obligatory.
It is the earnest need of the present times that all Muslims realize the true spirit and function of each of the rites of Hajj in order that the real purpose of Hajj could be established not only in the hearts and minds of people but in the entire world as the manifest source of guidance and beneficence – both material and spiritual. Let us once again reorient ourselves towards Ka’bah and keep its objectives as guiding principles of our lives, wherever we may be.