THE HAJJ: PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA
One of a Muslim's duties, as described in the Five Pillars of Islam, is to go on Hajj at least once during his or her lifetime. This is a pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia. Approximately two million Muslims went in 1999, of which about one million were from Saudi Arabia, and 6,000 were from the U.S. 1 Council on American-Islamic Relations estimated in 2006 that "some 10,000 American Muslims go on Hajj each year." 7 The number of American pilgrims is increasing yearly. Followers of Islam who cannot go on a Hajj because of ill health or lack of money are excused from the obligation. If one assumes that Muslims go on Hajj a maximum of once during their lifetime, that the number of Muslims in America are about 6.5 million, and that the typical age span for pilgrims is 60 years, then fewer than 10% of American Muslims take part in the pilgrimage.
The Council on Islamic Education states:
"The Hajj consists of several ceremonies, meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of prophet Abraham and his family...Prophet Muhammad had said that a person who performs Hajj properly 'will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].' The pilgrimage also enables Muslims from all around the world, of different colors, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together." 2
Preparation for the Hajj
Each pilgrim first enters into ihram. This is a spiritual state of purity during which the person must not quarrel, commit any act of violence or engage in sexual activity. Men signify the state of ihram by bathing, and wearing two pieces of unsewn white cloth: "one covers the body from waist to ankle and the other is thrown over the shoulder." 4 Women usually wear a simple white dress and "a head covering, but not a veil." 4 "The white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God, since all the pilgrims are dressed similarly." 2 The pilgrim will then repeat the Talbiyah (Talbeeyah) prayer. One English translation is:
"Here I am, O God, at Thy Command! Here I am at Thy Command! Thou art without associate; Here I am at Thy Command! Thine are praise and grace and dominion! Thou art without associate."
The pilgrim enters the Holy Mosque at Mecca, right foot first, and recites the prayer: "In the name of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah. Oh Allah, forgive me my sins and open to me the doors of Your mercy. I seek refuge in Allah the Almighty and in His Eminent Face and in His Eternal Dominion from the accursed Satan." The pilgrim performs the tawaf. This is a counter-clockwise procession which circles, "the Ka'aba, the [cube-shaped] stone building Muslims believe was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael... It is a symbol of unity for Muslims because all prayers, wherever they are performed, are oriented in the direction of the Ka'aba." 4,6
The pilgrim then performs the sa'i. He hurries seven times between two small hills near the Ka'aba, called Safa and Marwah. This commemorates the desperate search for water and food by Hagar, one of Abraham's wives.
The Hajj formally begins on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah (Zul-Hijjah) - the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar. Dr. Monzur Ahmed writes:
"Islamic months begin at sunset on the day of visual sighting of the lunar crescent [following the new moon]... Although it is possible to calculate the position of the moon in the sky with high precision, it is often difficult to predict if a crescent will be visible from a particular location... Usually the moon has to be at least 15 hours old before it can be seen from somewhere on earth." 3
On this first day of the Hajj, the pilgrims walk a few miles to Mina and camp there overnight. This will occur about 2000-MAR-14. It falls on a date about 11 days earlier each year.
The pilgrims spend the "Day of Arafah" (ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah) in Arafah, an empty plain. They commit the entire day to supplication and devotion. In the evening, they move to Muzdalifa. They camp there overnight and offer various prayers.
On the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, they return to Mina and throw seven pebbles at a pillar that symbolizes Satan's temptation of Abraham. (The Qur'an describes how Satan tried to persuade Abraham to not ritually murder his son Ishmael, as commanded by God). The pilgrims then sacrifice a sheep, recalling how Abraham sacrificed a sheep that God had provided in place of his son. The meat is distributed to friends, relative and the poor. Afterwards, they return to Mecca and perform a final tawaf and sa'i. They symbolize the completion of the Hajj by cutting their hair.
Muslims worldwide gather for communal prayers on the first day of Id al-Adha (Eid-ul-Adha) -- the Feast of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice. The first day of this celebration is held on the 10th day of Duhl-Hijja, the last month of the Muslim year. This is the second of the two major Muslim annual holidays. In most areas, this event is celebrated over several days.