By Sadia Dehlvi
Oct 14, 2013
In this month of Zilhijj, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar, millions of people from different nationalities would have performed the Haj pilgrimage. Haj is an invitation from God to liberate the soul by submission to Him alone.
Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, literally means, “To set out for a higher destination”. A whole chapter of the Quran devoted to Haj warns of the Day of Judgment, where each soul will have to account for its deeds. Haj is a spiritual awakening where pilgrims renew their covenant with Allah. It is intended to make one move away from the involvement of this world to an engagement with the Almighty.
The two unstitched pieces of white cloth that men wear during the Haj, strips them of clothes that could reveal worldly status. This ihram, that male pilgrims wear, resembles the shroud in which the body is wrapped before being lowered into its grave — a reminder of death and the afterlife.
Muslims believe that God instructed Adam to build the Kaaba, directly beneath His throne in the Heavens. Adam became the first to perform circumambulations around the House of God. Then called, “Bait al Mamur”, the Kaaba remained in Mecca till it was raised to the celestial world during Noah’s flood. Then, God called upon Abraham to rebuild the Kaaba and establish the Haj rites. Later, when Mecca fell to paganism, Prophet Mohammad re-established the Haj rites after cleansing the Kaaba of false idols. A simple cube like structure, the Kaaba symbolises that the finite cannot contain the infinite and that our knowledge of God is our inability to comprehend or conceptualise the Divine.
One of the rituals during Haj is running seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, following the footsteps of Hajar, Abraham’s wife and mother of Ishmael, his first-born son. Abraham was commanded by God to leave mother and son in the barren valley near the Kaaba. When provisions ran out, Hajar became desperate for water to quench the infant’s thirst. Invoking God’s mercy, Hajar ran between the two hills. On her seventh round, water sprang from the ground where the baby kicked. This water source came to be known as the well of Zam Zam.
The most important of the Haj rites is on the 9th day of Zilhijj when pilgrims travel from Mecca to the grounds of Mount Arafat. This gathering symbolises the Judgment Day in the Hereafter, where all of humanity will be resurrected on one ground. Pilgrims spend the afternoon standing in earnest supplication and devotion, seeking forgiveness by invoking God’s abundant mercy. Sincere pilgrims are absolved of sins on this day of forgiveness and given a second chance to stay on the righteous path.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.