By Samar Yahya
September 19, 2014
Haj literally means ‘to set out for a place’, however it refers to the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Makkah with the intention of performing certain religious rites in accordance with the method prescribed by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is a religious duty which must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by every adult Muslim who is physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey.
Throughout the Haj, the largest annual gathering of people on earth, pilgrims must avoid getting involved in any disagreements or squabbles. Courtesy and helping others are the norm. Peace, serenity and piety pervade the entire Haj experience.
The Rites of Haj
Standing at Arafat:
After sunrise on the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah, pilgrims head towards Arafat. Approaching Arafat by midmorning, the vast plain of Arafat is covered by pilgrims. Spending the day in Arafat is considered an essential part of the Haj. Here, pilgrims visit the Mount of Mercy (Jabal Al-Rahmah) and ask for God’s forgiveness.
After sunset, all pilgrims retrace their steps back towards Makkah, but stop first at Muzdalifah and remain there until the brightness of day appears on the eastern horizon. At Muzdalifah, pilgrims collect seven pebbles and carry them to Mina to stone Satan (Ramy al-Jamarat). In Mina, the three stone pillars, called the Jamarat, are meant to represent Satan. The pilgrims cast the pebbles they have collected at the Stone Pillar of Aqabah, in a symbolic rejection of Satan, renewing one’s resolve to remain steadfast and stay away from evil doings, not literally throwing stones at Satan of course.
Tawaf and Sa’ee: After pelting the stones, pilgrims go to Makkah; where they perform Tawaf, circumambulate the Kaa’ba seven times counter clockwise. They then perform Saee, running or walking seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwa. This ritual is in commemoration of Hajar, wife of Prophet Ibrahim, in her search for water when she was left alone in Makkah with her infant son, Ismail.
Pilgrims sacrifice sheep to commemorate the action of Prophet Ibrahim and Ismail, donating its meat to the needy. Men and women pilgrims are then required to cut a lock of hair.
The rites of pilgrimage are now completed. Pilgrims can discard the Ihram, the specific garments required to be worn by all pilgrims, and can wear their normal clothes. The remaining two days of the Haj journey are spent in Mina, and at that time Muslims all over the world celebrate Eid Al-Adha. Over the next two days, pilgrims stone the three pillars. Before they leave the holy city, pilgrims perform one last farewell circumambulation of the Kaa’ba.
The Holy Sites
Kaa’ba: is a cuboid structure, which is made of granite quarried from nearby hills. Standing upon a 250 cm marble base that projects outwards about 35 cm, it is approximately 13.1 m high, with sides measuring 11.03 m by 12.86 m.
Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail laid the foundations of the Kaa’ba, the first house that was built for humanity to worship Allah. They used rocks from five mountains to build the structure. After that, all the rebuilding has been done only on the parts above the original foundations laid by Prophet Ibrahim.
Zamzam Well: is located approximately 20 m east of the Kaa’ba. Around 2000 years B.C., Allah created the well to provide Hajar and Ismail with water in the hot, dry valley they were in. In her desperate search for water, Hajar ran seven times back and forth in the burning heat between the two hills of Safa and Marwa searching for water for her baby. The name of the well comes from the phrase Zam Zam, meaning ‘stop flowing’, which was repeated by Hajar in her attempt to contain the spring water and collect it for her son.
The Black Stone: is situated on the south-eastern corner of Kaa’ba which marks the starting and finishing point for circling around Kaa’ba. Today, only parts of the stone are present; consisting of 8 pieces of varying sizes. These are affixed to a larger stone, encased in a silver frame and attached to the corner of the Kaa’ba about 1.5 meters above the ground. It is revered by Muslims because according to Islamic traditions, it is a stone descended from Heaven.
Mina: is the place where pilgrims perform the ritual stoning of the devil, in the low-lying Mina valley. The pilgrims denounce sin and stone these pillars, pledging allegiance to Allah and to live a life of virtue. Usually pilgrims spend their first night in Mina.
Mount Arafat: also known as Mountain of Mercy (Jabal Al-Rahmah), is a granite hill to the east of Makkah and stands about 70 meters high. Pilgrims leave Mina for Mount Arafat where they spend the 9th day of Dhul Hijjah, in a state of prayer, supplication, and recitation of the Holy Qur’an.
It was on this mountain, Jabal Al-Rahmah, that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave his last sermon in Makkah to the Muslims who had accompanied him for the Haj. The Haj is considered void if pilgrims fail to spend at least the latter part of the afternoon until just before sunset at Arafat.