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Hajj is the fifth and final Pillar of Islam. Every year, countless Muslims from around the world descend on Mecca to fulfill it by circling the Kaaba and completing the other rituals established by Muhammad (PBUH) almost 1500 years ago. But just what are these rituals and what do they represent? We're going to be answering these questions and more in today's article.
Here is everything you need to know about Hajj.
The origins of the Hajj are murky, with the lines of what we absolutely know to be true being blurred by Islamic tradition. According to longstanding Islamic teaching, both the Hajj and the Kaaba were first established by the prophet Abraham (PBUH). Abraham (PBUH) was commanded by God to build the Kaaba, a cube-like building of worship in Mecca. Despite Abraham's belief in a single God, the Kaaba quickly became a popular site among the pagan pilgrims of his time.
Although the historical accuracy of this story is certainly debatable, we do know that the Kaaba was an important place of worship in pre-Islamic Arabia. It played a vital role in Meccan society, even as Muhammad (PBUH) was growing up. In fact, Muhammad (PBUH) himself is known to have spent much time in the years before his prophethood worshipping and studying at the Kaaba.
Around the year 622, Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers became the subject of much persecution in Mecca. In fact, the pagans of Mecca held Islam in such disdain that he had no choice but to take his followers and flee to Medina. Unfortunately, Muslims were not free to practice their faith even after leaving Mecca. Throughout their time in Medina, they were forced to do battle against the Meccans who continued to seek to destroy them.
It was during this period that Muhammad (PBUH) received a revelation in which he was informed that Muslims should face Mecca while they pray. This was significant as up to this point they had been facing Jerusalem. It also firmly cemented Mecca as the center of Islam, meaning Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers would one day have to work their way back there, even if it meant risking death.
For a brief period, however, it looked as though the Muslims wouldn't have to risk death to return to Mecca, if only for a quick visit. In March of 628 CE, Muhammad (PBUH) represented the people of Medina in a discussion with the Quraysh, the ruling tribe of Mecca. After years of bloodshed, a fragile peace was declared between the Muslims and the Meccans. On the promise of ten years of peace, Muhammad's followers were permitted to return to Mecca to worship at the Kaaba in 629 CE. Today, this first pilgrimage back to Mecca is known as the Umrah of Dhu'l-Qada. It is not, however, considered to be the first Hajj.
While the Umrah of Dhu'l-Qada was undoubtedly a pivotal event in the development of Islam, it cannot be considered the first Hajj. This is because Muhammad (PBUH) and the early Muslims made the pilgrimage during Dhu'l-Wada, which is the 11th month in the Islamic calendar. The Hajj can only be made during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the final month of the calendar. In most cases, the Hajj occurs between from the 8th to the 12th of the month. Under certain circumstances, however, it may be extended to the 13th. Unlike the Hajj, Umrah is a pilgrimage that can be made outside of Dhu al-Hijjah. Umrah shows great devotion to God and his Prophet and certainly brings many unique rewards upon those who complete it. However, it simply cannot replicate the spiritual gifts of the Hajj and certainly does not eradicate the requirement of Hajj from the Five Pillars of Islam.
So if the Umrah of Dhu'l-Qada wasn't the first Hajj completed by Muhammad (PBUH), what was? To answer that question, let's revisit the strained relationship between the people of Medina and the people of Mecca in the early 600s. Although both sides managed to reach an agreement that was intended to create a ten-year truce, they struggled to remain cordial towards one another. Ultimately, their truce lasted just two years. It came to an end when the Banu Bakr, a tribe aligned with the Meccans, slaughtered members of the Banu Khuza'a, a tribe aligned with the Muslims. In retaliation, Muhammad (PBUH) began preparing for what has since become known as the Conquest of Mecca.
With more than 10,000 Muslims in tow, Muhammad (PBUH) marched to Mecca, where he reclaimed the city and the Kaaba. Upon their arrival in Mecca, Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers quickly began destroying the pagan statues which the city's residents had placed around the Kaaba. Anything which symbolized the Arabian gods or in any way contradicted the central Muslim teaching of one supreme being was destroyed, thus cleansing the Kaaba and restoring it to its monotheistic roots.
The Conquest of Mecca proved a pivotal point in the development of the Hajj as we know it today. In 631 CE, one year after the event, Muhammad (PBUH) instructed Abu Bakr to lead 300 Muslims to Mecca, further cementing traveling to Mecca - and more specifically the Kaaba - as a crucial part of Muslim life. This pilgrimage was topped off by a sermon from Ali ibn Abi Talib, who took the opportunity to outline a set of rules to be followed by those journeying to the Kaaba in the future. Among the first batch of Muslims to journey to the Kaaba after this pilgrimage was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself.
In the years proceeding the Conquest of Mecca, Muhammad (PBUH) focused on spreading the message of Islam throughout greater Arabia. Unfortunately, he didn't get a whole lot of time to dedicate to this mission. In early 632, Muhammad (PBUH) was in his sixth decade and beginning to feel the effects of his age. Recognizing that his health was failing - and perhaps even expecting his own demise - he elected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca one last time.
Almost everything Muhammad (PBUH) did during the Farewell Pilgrimage was documented and used to form the modern Hajj routine. Before arriving in Mecca, he stopped at one of the five miqats he appointed during his lifetime. There, he explained to his followers the importance of Ihram ahead of Hajj. The Prophet then proceeded to Mecca, where he completed his circumambulation of the Kaaba.
After praying behind the Station of Abraham, Muhammad (PBUH) drank from the Zamzam well and traveled to the hills of Safa and Marwah to complete Sa'ay. This was followed by a journey to Mina, where he paused at Mount Arafat to join pilgrims in the Talbiyah and the Takbir.
All of the above rituals were performed over the course of a couple of days. It was on the 9th of Dhu al-Hijjah that Muhammad (PBUH) delivered the Farewell Sermon, in which he discussed the social issues plaguing Muslims at the timeand elaborated further on certain laws and ordinances of Islam. Although the Farewell Sermon is considered by many to be Muhammad's (PBUH) final great act of prophethood, it did not mark the end of his Hajj. After completing his sermon, he rode on to Mash'ar al-Haramm, where he performed the Maghrib and Isha. This was followed by a visit to Mina's Jamrah of Aqaba and his sacrificing of 63 animals in thanks for the 63 years he had spent on Earth. After shaving his head, Muhammad (PBUH) returned to Mecca and circumambulated the Kaaba for the final time.
Ihram is the name given to the garment male Muslims are expected to wear for the duration of Hajj. It is also the word used to describe the state of spirituality in which believers should remain throughout the pilgrimage. To prepare oneself for Ihram, a Muslim should cut their nails, remove unwanted body hair, and take a full bath. Males should also trim their facial hair to ensure it is neat and tidy for the pilgrimage. Once in Ihram, a Muslim male must abide by the following rules:
●Avoid wearing stitched clothing
●Avoid cutting hair and nails until the appropriate point of Hajj
●Avoid covering the head
●Avoid wearing scented deodorant
●Avoid killing animals
●Abstain from sexual activity
Women are expected to follow many of these rules also. While they must go a little further and cover their faces as opposed to just their heads, they are permitted to wear stitched clothing.Enter your text here ...
Hajj follows a series of strict rituals which must be completed in order for a person to fulfill the fifth and final Pillar of Islam. You'll find the stages of Hajj, and what each entails, outlined below.
Tawaf is the Islamic name for the circumambulation of the Kaaba. Muslims are expected to perform Tawaf upon their initial arrival in Mecca. They must circle the Kaaba counterclockwise a total of seven times, all while praising God. Those who are capable of doing so are encouraged to make the first three circuits of the Kaaba at a hurried pace. However, they are allowed to slow down and circle the Kaaba at the pace needed to take in its sheer magnitude for their final four circuits. Upon completing their seven circuits, Muslims pray at the Station of Abraham and drink from the Well of Zamzam, just as Muhammad (PBUH) did.
Located within the Great Mosque of Mecca are the hills of Safa and Marwah. The second stage of Hajj requires Muslims to travel back and forth between these two hills a total of seven times (starting at the hill of Safa). The distance between the two hills is 450 meters. When traversed seven times, this is equal to a staggering 3.2 kilometers.Enter your text here ...
Muslims spend the first night of Hajj in Mina, which is a sprawling tent city situated about five kilometers east of Mecca. The following day, they journey to Mount Arafat, where they spend most of daylight in prayer and meditation. Those who are particularly lucky will manage to find a spot on Mount Arafat itself. Because crowds are so large, however, most people end up standing only in the vicinity of the mountain. Regardless of the spot one finds themselves in, this day is considered to be the most important part of Hajj.
The second night of Hajj is spent at Muzdalifah. There, Muslims perform their Maghrib and Isha prayers. They also collect pebbles from the ground to use the following day as part of Ramy al-Jamarat. Ramy al-Jamarat sees pilgrims throw their pebbles at Mina's three Jamarat pillars. These pillars represent the Devil, who made three attempts to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing Isaac even after God commanded him to do so. By participating in Ramy al-Jamarat, Muslims reject Satan and reaffirm their devotion to God.
Eid al Adha occurs on the third day of Hajj and celebrates the completion of the most vital stages of the pilgrimage. It is during Eid al Adha that an animal is slaughtered or commissioned to be slaughtered as an offering to God. Following this, all male pilgrims shave their heads to symbolize their spiritual rebirth. Women, meanwhile, cut off the tips of their hair.
Some Muslims return to Mecca as soon as they shave their heads. Others are a little more leisurely, but all begin their journey back to the Kaaba within a couple of hours of Eid al Adha. After completing Tawaf once again, pilgrims spend another night in Mina. The next day, believers revisit the Jamarat pillars and once again cast pebbles in their direction. Enter your text here ...
The final days of Hajj often pass as a blur for pilgrims. It is not uncommon to experience a sort of Hajj fatigued after the second visit to the Jamarat pillars. Some return to Mecca immediately after the second round of stoning, but those who do not manage to leave Mina before sunset must repeat the stoning ritual again the following day. Some particularly dedicated pilgrims willingly choose to do this in a remarkable feat of spiritual endurance. Whenever they arrive back in Mecca, pilgrims are expected to circle the Kaaba seven more times counterclockwise, in one final display of their devotion to God.
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