A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
The Saudi Arabian city of Makkah will soon be abuzz with the excitement and bustle of the arrival of pilgrims from around the world. By air, land, and sea, Muslims have descended on this city to perform the annual pilgrimage of Hajj. Over two million Muslims will converge in Makkah this year. The largest annual gathering on earth, this pilgrimage begins on the 8th of Zilhajj the last month of the Islamic Calendar, and ends on the 13th of Zilhajj.
The rituals of Hajj are a commemoration of the trials of Abraham and his family. The pilgrims re-enact the actions of Abraham, and Hajar his wife, as they obeyed the commands of God. This creates a spirit of sacrifice and submission to the will of God. The Hajj is designed to develop God consciousness and spiritual inspiration. It also enables Muslims from different parts of the world to gather together and worship in unity.
Upon entering the holy city pilgrims don a special cloth known as the Ihram. This is two white seamless pieces of cloth for men, and a simple white outfit for women. All pilgrims, regardless of their nationality and financial status dress in the Ihram, creating a sea of white figures as they move through the rituals of Hajj. The first ritual the pilgrims perform is the Tawaf, or the circling around the Ka’bah. For mUslims the Ka’bah is the house of God, built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmail. They chant prayers as they move, and invoke God to bless them and forgive their sins. Then they walk between the two hills of Safa and Marwa, re-enacting the search of Hajar for water for her infant son.
The 8th of Dhilhajj is the first official day of Hajj. The two million pilgrims will then move from Makkah to the plains of Arafah, and then to Muzdalifa and Mina. In Arafah they spend the day in prayer and worship. From there they go to Muzdalifa to spend a night in worship, and pick pebbles to throw at the pillars in Mina. On the 10th of Dhilhajj, the day of the Festival, they throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. These pillars represent the three places where Satan came to Abraham to dissuade him from sacrificing his son. The pilgrims then sacrifice a sheep, re-enacting the story of Abraham, who sacrificed a sheep that God substituted in place of his son. The meat from the sacrifice is distributed to family, friends and the poor and the needy in the community. After the sacrifice the pilgrims return to Makkah to perform the final rites of Hajj.
For many Muslims Hajj is the dream of a lifetime. Some spend years saving up for it and their trip is a cause of celebration, not only for themselves but also for those who love them.