The Hajj to Mecca is not only one of the pillars of the religion of Islam, but it has proved one of the strongest bonds of union between Muslims and has always exercised, a tremendous influence as a missionary agency. The Meccan pilgrimage is without rival. However, from an ethical standpoint it is a superstitious ritual – a blot upon Islam’s monotheism.
From all parts of the globe the faithful spread their prayer carpets, build their houses and bury their dead toward the meridian of Mecca. If the Muslim world could be viewed from an aeroplane, the observer would see concentric circles of living worshippers and also vast areas of Muslim cemeteries with every grave dug pointing toward the sacred city.
What is the pilgrimage?
The Pilgrimage or “Hajj” is the fifth pillar of Islam: “And proclaim the pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways” (Al Hajj 22:27)
According to Islamic law it is obligatory for every Muslim who is healthy in body and mind and who can afford it, to go on Pilgrimage to Mecca once in his lifetime (further visits are voluntary). He will visit the shrine called the Ka’aba, and perform prescribed rites.
Most Muslims also visit the tomb of Muhammad at Medina while the Shia Muslims visit Kabala where Ali and other of their martyred saints are buried.
One who has performed the pilgrimage is honoured with the title allhaji or alhajj; and if a woman, she is known as an allhaja. The title indicates the pilgrim’s prestige among fellow Muslims; he/she is presumed to be endowed with special blessings from God. But the alhaji has, as such, no special duty or office in the Muslim community.
How many pilgrims attend the annual Hajj?
Each year, about two million pilgrims, said to come from 178 countries, attend the Hajj. The million mark was first breached in the early 1970’s and attendance in the late 1990’s was around 2 million. In the next decade numbers are likely to exceed 3 million. The causes in the growth of attendance are 1) population growth in Muslim countries and 2) improved technological systems: the Saudi Arabian government have spent more than $14 billion (US) over the last 25 years on improving various Hajj services and projects.
Countries receive a national hajj visa quota, at a rough rate of about one per thousand Muslim citizens, So as a rough guide, Indonesia, with its 220 million people and 90 percent Muslim population will get about 210,000 hajj visas and Pakistan, with 165 million people will receive a quota of about 164,000 hajj visas.
What happens when the pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia?
The majority of pilgrims arrive by aeroplane at the King Abdul Aziz International airport in Jeddah; those living closer to Saudi Arabia, disembark from their ships at the Jeddah port. The sheer volume of organising such numbers is achieved through the means of American computer software along with Chinese telephone and computer technology, which coordinates plane travel and ensures security, hotel bookings, and regular food deliveries. The Saudi Government have provided more than 1200 buses (made by Germany’s Mercedes and Brazil’s Marcopolo – the leading global bus company) to transport the pilgrims to the major locations of the Hajj. There are more than 60,000 volunteers from the Ministry of Hajj available to assist pilgrims throughout the Hajj period. For those who can afford it, tents fully equipped with televisions, internet, computers, refrigerators, electric lighting and mobile phones are available.
The Saudi Government has spent millions on improving the safety of the Hajj in order to prevent a repetition of the stampedes that occurred in 1990, 1994 and 1998. Security guards, police helicopters and over 1,000 close-circuit television cameras are in position to assure the pilgrims that safety is taken seriously. During the busiest times, in some areas, additional escalators are brought into use alongside a number of fixed stairways.
How does such a desert place provide water for its pilgrims?
In order to cope with the 95 degree desert heat a cooled water factory churns out 50,000,000 bags of cooled water and ice packs every year, it is distributed from 20,000 water trucks located at strategic points around the city. The Hajj is said to require 33 million gallons of desalinated drinking water. Two gigantic desalination plants, designed by a branch of South Korea’s Doosan Group provides for this need. The main structure is cooled by one of the world’s largest air-conditioning units.
The time of the Hajj
The appropriate Islamic months for performing the Hajj are Sawwal, Zu’l-Qa’da and the first nine days of Zu’l Hijja. If attending at any other time it is classified as the minor pilgrimage, the ‘Umra.
What is the Ka’aba?
The Sacred Mosque, Masjid al Haram, has the Ka’aba as its centre. It is located in the middle of the city of Mecca. The Ka’aba or the House of God (Beit Allah), stands in an oblong space 250 paces long and 200 broad, surrounded by colonnades, which are used as schools and as a general meeting place for pilgrims. The outer enclosure has nineteen gates and six minarets; within the enclosure is the well of Zam Zam, the great pulpit, the staircase used to enter the Ka’aba door, which is high above the ground, and two small mosques called al Kubat-tain. The remainder of the space is occupied by pavements and gravel, where prayers are said by the four orthodox sects, each having its own allotted space.
The word Ka’aba signifies a cube, although the measurements, according to Ali Bey, one of the earliest writers who give us a scientific account of the pilgrim ceremonies, do not justify its being so called. Its height is thirty-four feet four inches, and the four side’s measure: thirty-eight feet four inches, thirty-seven feet two inches, thirty-one feet seven inches and twenty-nine feet. The cloth covering is renewed every year. Formerly, we are told the whole of the Quran text was woven into the Ka’aba covering. Now the inscription contains the words, “Verily, the first house founded for mankind to worship in is that of Mecca, a blessing and a direction to all believers.” Seven other short chapters of the Quran are also woven into this tapestry, namely the chapter of the Cave, Miriam, Al Amran, Repentance, T.H, Y.S. and Tabarak.
Going around the Ka’aba (3 times running, 4 times walking) is one of the most important rites of the Pilgrimage. Each time the pilgrim circles the Ka’aba he does his best to kiss it, or at least touch it with his fingers then touch his fingers to his lips. He feels he obtains divine blessing by doing this.
Christians are often disturbed, and some Muslims too, at the thought that people who worship one God should kiss a stone which was previously used in idolatry. It is untrue to suggest that Muslims worship this stone as a god. This is clearly shown by the saying of the Caliph ‘Umar “I know that you are a stone, which can neither help me nor harm me; if the Prophet had not kissed you, I would not have done so”.
Who built the Ka’aba?
Muslims say that Adam and Eve (Hawwa) first built the Ka’aba. Later, (Muslims believe) the shrine was restored by Abraham and Ishmael, and maintained by other prophets.
Non-Muslims presume the shrine to be an ancient place of worship no different in its origin from other shrines which existed in Arabia; they believe the traditions about its origin to be legendary.
What is the Black Stone (al-hajaru-l-aswad)?
Set into the south-eastern corner of the Ka’aba, at four or five feet above ground level, is a stone, reddish black with red and yellow particles. It seems to have been originally one stone, but to have been broken when it was once carried off. The three large pieces and several fragments are held together by a silver band. The stone so joined together is about 7 inches in diameter.
Traditions say that the stone came down from God, and was originally white, but was turned black because of man’s sin. According to Muslim belief Muhammad found the Meccans worshipping the stone as an idol and he restored it to the worship of the One God it had originally been dedicated.
What is the water which the pilgrims bring home from Mecca?
According to Tradition, when Abraham sent Hagar and her son Ishmael away, they lost their way in the desert and Hagar ran back and forth looking for water for her child to drink. God took pity on her and caused a spring to gush forth at Ishmael’s feet. The two hills Safa and Marwa are said to be the points between which Hagar ran back and forth so pilgrims run between them seven times. The spring Zamzam (now piped), which flows within the area surrounding the Ka’aba, is believed to be the spring which God created for Hagar. Many pilgrims bring home water from this spring.
In the world of Islam this spring is venerated, and its water is considered rich in blessings. According to widespread popular belief in Africa, the water has an almost magical power, and can wash away men’s sins. So some pilgrims bring back little bottles of the water which they intend to drink before they die. This belief is emphatically rejected by Muslim theologians; it is not derived from the Quran or from reliable Tradition, and it is opposed to the doctrine that only on the Last Day will God forgive or punish, according to His predestined decree.
Why do the pilgrims throw stones?
This is one of the obligatory rites of the pilgrimage. Five miles from Mecca, in the region of Mina there are three stone pillars, fairly broad and about five feet high. The Pilgrim must throw stones, especially at the one situated nearest to Mecca. He has collected seven pebbles that morning or the night before, and then he throws them a distance of a few yards from the pillars, flicking them with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand as he releases them. This ceremony is said to be in memory of Abraham who was tempted by Satan at this spot and drove him away with stones.
What are the various observances required by those performing the Hajj?
In 10 A.H. Muhammad made his pilgrimage to Mecca, the old shrine of his forefathers, and every detail of superstitious observance which he fulfilled has become the norm for pilgrims. It has been said “we now have the stations of a Calvary journey without the history of the Passion.”
Below we list main requirements of those performing the Hajj:
1. To wear no other garment but the ‘ihram,’ which consists of two seamless cloths each six feet long by three and a half feet wide. One is thrown over the back exposing the right arm and shoulder and knotted on the right side. The other is wrapped around the loins from the waist to the knees and knotted in the middle. Muhammad himself performed the Hajj wearing this clothing: “I heard that Allah’s Apostle assumed Ihram with his hair matted together.” (Bukhari Volume 2, Book 26, Number 613)
2. To stand on the mountain of Arafat
3. To perform the ‘tawaf’, – this is the ritual of making a circuit around the Ka’aba seven times.
4. To spend the night between the 9th and 10th Dhu al Hijja at Al Mudzdalifa, a place halfway between Mina and Arafat.
5. To run the distance between the mountains of As Safa and Al Marwa.
6. To perform the ’Rama ar-Rujam’ or the throwing of stones at the pillar representing Satan.
7. To make an extra circuit (‘tawaf’) around the Ka’aba if the pilgrim is a non-Meccan.
8. To shave the head after the pilgrimage is over.
Many Muslims engage a substitute to perform the pilgrimage on their behalf.