It's that time of the year, Muslims all over the world are coming to the Holy Sanctuary of Ka'aba. It's time to abandon this illusory world and come to the House of God. It's time for Hajj, the Pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam. Those who can go will head to Mecca, those who can't will join in the festivities of Homecoming wherever they may be by celebrating the Eid of Sacrifice (Kurban bayrami) by the end of Ramadan month.
Hajj is a commemoration of love and celebration of faith. We commemorate Abraham's Supreme Sacrifice in love of his Beloved in Minna. We celebrate his wife Hagar's display of unprecedented love for the infant Ishmael and her unflinching trust in the Providence in the lonely desert around the Twin Peaks. We venerate God's Greatest Gift, the Quran by spending a day in Arafat where the final revelation was sent. We celebrate faith by coming face- to- face to the Qiblah of our prayers.
Hajj is also an act of renunciation. Muslims from every corner of the globe wear their coffins - two cotton sheets - to represent their deaths to this life and head to their Primordial Home. They pay their debts, ask forgiveness of everyone, bid farewell to one and all and prepare to die to this world to live in Him.
Ka'aba is a special place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It was the first house of worship built by the first man. God commanded Adam to make a journey. He walked umpteen months until he arrived guided by God to Mecca. Here, he was instructed to build Him a House. This was mankind's first House of Worship. It was once lost to us but our Beloved led His Friend Abraham (God's Peace be upon him) to this Sanctuary and gave him the task of restoring this House. Abraham (GPBUH) recruited his son Ishmael for the Holy Task. For months at end, father and son toiled under the searing desert sun sustained only by their burning love for the Eternal God. This choice was no random choice. Abraham was *the* man for the job. Every year, when men and women were to come to this blessed House, they were to come on 10th of the month of Zilhijj. This auspicious day God asked Abraham to make the Supreme Sacrifice and Abraham delivered. Allah asked His Friend to sacrifice his son Ishmael and he obliged.
Ka'aba's foundations have been fortified by love and faith of Abraham's family. We go there to commemorate love. We go there to celebrate faith. Abraham lived the true meaning of Surrender. He loved God, his Friend, above all. God gave him a dream where he saw himself sacrificing his son. Persistence of the dream convinced him that it wasn't just a dream but an allusion from the Infinite. He intimated the dream to his son who readily concurred. Once it was known to be God's Will, the son didn't offer any excuses. It was a foregone conclusion that His Will be done. Father and son set off to the designated place. When they reached their destination, son suggested that the father cover his eyes so his love does not overwhelm him into disobeying His master. At the very moment that Abraham let loose his knife, the son was substituted with a lamb. This time and this day was made sacred. Every year, millions come this very day. Millions retrace the steps of these two in the valley of Mina, Saudi Arabia, they arrive where the Supreme Sacrifice was offered. Here, everyone offers a sacrifice in His Love and then gives it to the poor people. Those who can't be here, celebrate this wonderful sacrifice wherever they may be in any part of the world. For indeed, love of God must be celebrated.
We commemorate Abraham and his son's faith and surrender. We also celebrate Mother Hagar's love. Mother's love is the highest form of selfless human love. Hagar typified this love so well. She combined this love with her unshakable trust in God. Abraham was instructed to bring her and her infant son Ishmael near the mound that was once the Ka'aba. In this desolate place with nary a single soul and nary a water source, he left them with a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward. Ishmael's mother followed him saying;
O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?
She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him;
Has Allah ordered you to do so?
He said; Yes
She said; Then He will not neglect us.
What an exemplary Trust in their Beloved God! They knew that the Causer of all Causes will provide. He is Eminently Resourceful. Ishmael's mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had). When all water ran out, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at Ishmael tossing in agony; she left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwa) seven times. God loved this selfless display of motherly love so much that every pilgrim to His Holy House must run 7 times between the Twin Peaks of Safa and Marwa. When she reached the Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said;
O, (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?
And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam-Zam (Zemzem), digging the earth with his heel till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it. This wonderful gift of God hasn't stopped yet. Hundreds of Millions come every year and take gallons and gallons of the Holy Water (Zam-Zam) with them and still the small well never goes dry.
Ka'aba is overwhelming to be in company of 2 million brothers and sisters in faith every year, all enshrouded in humble whites. The highest king to the humble laborer are both dressed alike. They stand shoulder to shoulder, they run side by side and they greet each other the greeting of peace. People of all races intermingle as co-equals. Black, white, yellow and brown all come together in harmony before their Beloved. Men and women all stand together. All their lives 5 times a day they turned their faces to their Qiblah - the Holy Ka'aba and now they see it right in front of them in all its majesty and glory.
We circulate around the Holy Ka'aba proclaiming all the while our Arrival. Circling around the earthly shadow of the Pole, we are reminded to keep our Beloved at the Center of our lives. We are reminded to keep Him in front of our lives and in center of our existence. Whenever we pray, this circulation is affixed and imprinted in our consciousness.
Hajj is the highest of all Muslim practices, even if less than 10% of all Muslim ever manage to perform it. In modern times about 2 million Muslims perform the hajj every year, and this number seems to be fairly close to the maximum. Saudi authorities have now put regulations on how many (1 out of 1000) can come from each country, so that want to perform the hajj, have to apply, and many are turned down. Hajj is important because it lets the believer come to the place that both is the centre of the world, as well as the place where the divine revelations of the Holy Koran started, and continued for about 12 years. But most important, but slightly less mentioned than the two first, is that hajj is a continuation of what is according to Islam one of the very oldest true and pure religious rituals.
What the believer does during hajj is recall what happened to Abraham and Isma'il, when they made the Ka'ba into the sacred place of worship and peace (2:119). Even if the theological background for some parts of hajj is unclear now, the running These are the ones that are not obliged to perform hajj at least once during their lifetime: Mentally ill people, women that are without traveling company (close relative or husband), people without the necessary funds. Most hajjiyys (Haci) arrive in Mecca few days before the hajj proper begins, while some see the opportunity of arriving in Ramadan, the month of sawm, an act which is seen as especially meritious. While it is recommended that the hajjiyys should robe himself in the ihram already at the beginning of the journey, the clear majority puts this on towards the end of the journey to Mecca. The first that the hajjiyy does is to perform the Umra, while the hajj proper starts on Dhu l-hijja. 7. But the Umra is by all means understood as a part of the hajj, and many of the symbols connected to hajj are as a matter of fact happenings during the Umra.
Dhu l-hijja. 7
This day is spent with praying in the Great Mosque in Mecca. This act is preparing the hajjiyys for the holy ceremonies.
Dhu l-hijja. 8
The hajjiyys now leave Mecca. Following the two casquets that are being brought every year to the hajj from Damascus and from Cairo, the hajjiyys reach the plain of Arafat, after passing through Mina and Muzdalifa. Many ascend the mountain Jabalu r-Rahma, but these days, only a small percentage has the chance of actually doing this. Up on the mountain the one small phrase, "Labbayka", is sung out over and over again.
Dhu l-hijja. 9
This is really the day that is meant to be spent out here, and the action during this day is simply called wuquuf, 'standing'.Two khutbas fill the day entirely. When the sun sets behind the Western hills, the idafa starts. The idafa is the running to Muzdalifa. The two last prayers are performed here, and the night spent.
Dhu l-hijja. 10
This morning starts with a khutba in Muzdalifa, before the hajjiyys goes to Mina. In Mina different duties awaites the hajjiyy. 7 stones, that have been gathered in Muzdalifa the day before, are thrown by each hajjiyy at the 3 jamra, pillars that shall represent the powers of Shaytan (devil). In this place, Shaytan appeared in front of Prophet Abraham and tried to dissuade him from obeying God's orders to slaughter his son. But Abraham stoned the devil and God gave Abraham a ram to slaughter instead. When the 7 stones have been thrown off, the hajj is more or less to an end, yet there are other ceremonies yet to be performed. The crying of "labbayka" comes to an end, around this time. At this time a sheep or a goat is sacrificed, but while this ends the hajj, it is another fiest, called Idu l-kabir. Many of the hajjiyys do not kill the animal themselves, but get professional butchers to do it. Parts of the meat are these days eaten, but most is taken care of by Saudi authorities, that make sure that nothing is lost, but distributed partly to the needing. Many pilgrims have their heads shaven at this moment. The shaving is done while turning towards the Qibla. When this is done, the ihram is left, and the hajjiyy is no longer a mihram, the one that had the holy purity of the ihram. It is now custom to return to Mecca, and perform the Tawaf, the circumambulation of the Ka'ba which is known as al-Masjid al-Haram, where pilgrims go around it seven times counter-clockwise with praises to Allah. Washing and bathing is done this same day, as this was prohibited during the ihram.
Dhu l-hijja. 11- 13
These last days of the extended hajj are spent in Mina, and are filled with eating, drinking and sensual pleasure. Every day seven stones are thrown on each of the 3 jamra. While the most correct is to stay at Mina until the 13., a large number of the hajjiyys return to Mecca on the 12. A last Umra has to be performed. Some days later, people set out for what has become an intrinsic part of the hajj, a visit to Madina and the tomb of Muhammad.