Al-Hajj is the last of several rituals performed by every Muslim once a year to honor Allah. A person who has ever performed this ritual is referred to as Hajj. Though hardly more than ten percent of Muslims manage to complete the Hajj, it is still the most celebrated event of the Islamic pillars. These are the core pillars because, in a believer’s life, one should perform them in honor of Allah. However, mentally disturbed persons, workers/slaves, and ladies lacking company are not allowed in the ritual. “Other pillars include the Shahada, a statement of belief stating that there is only one God, and that Muhammad was his messenger. The Salat, which involves bending and uttering phrases from the Koran (performed while facing Mecca, the holy city)” (Peters, 52). This is conducted five times a day every day. Sawm is the month preceding Al-Hajj. In the Muslim world, Hajj is marked by fasting. This fast lasts from daybreak till sunset. In this ritual, people break the fast at night by eating, celebrating, sleeping, and carrying out other religious duties. It is at the peak of sawm when the Muslims celebrate Al hajj. Therefore this paper will explain the rituals performed in Al hajj.
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Al hajj is performed between the eighth and the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. This period is called Dhu al-Hijjah. “The pilgrimage in this ceremony begins with the donning of the Ihram” (Hirashima, 81). The ihram is often donned to bring out the inner self of a pilgrims’ quest for purity through denouncing unholy practices and sins. This ushers the pilgrim into a graceful and pure season. At this time, they avoid fighting, any squabbles with anybody, and they don’t do sex. They also say a prayer of commitment called the Talbiyah (Doubly at your service, oh God). As a sign of acceptance of God’s call to make this pilgrimage, they will say this prayer several times.
After donning the ihram, the pilgrims enter the Haram. This is an area surrounding Mecca. It is considered a holy site, and while at this site, any sinful act is forbidden. Non-Muslims, too, are forbidden to enter the site. The pilgrims stay at Dhu al-Hijjah for eight days, then begin the Hajj by making a 5-mile journey to Mina, located on the Eastern side of Mecca (Peters, 69). They spend the night here in prayers and meditation in preparation for Wuquf (standing), which will do the following day.
On the morning of the ninth day, pilgrims move in large masses from mina for the standing at Arafat. During the standing, the pilgrims meditate and pray while facing Mecca, their holy city. The sunset is indicated by Cannon fire. This makes pilgrims who had gathered themselves at Arafat advance on to Muzdali. In Muzdali, they sleep under the stars.
After Muzdali, they proceed with their journey to Mina. There they throw seven stones collected earlier on at Muzdalifah at one of the pillars. The pillar they stone on this occasion represents the devil. Throwing stones at it is a symbol of their repudiation of evil. Afterward, they conduct the actual ceremony, ‘Eid al-Adha.’ It involves sacrificing an animal and giving a portion of the meat to the poor. This sacrifice is a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son. It is a sign of thanksgiving to God and also a symbol of unity among the faithful Muslims worldwide.
After this, the pilgrims shave their heads to mark their transition from total holiness to their usual lives. Sexual acts are, however, still prohibited since pilgrimage is not yet over. “The pilgrims then proceed to the sacred mosque at Mecca where they perform Tawaf (circling the Ka’bah) seven times while uttering prayers” (Hirashima, 89). This is to signify mans’ unity with God. While circling the Ka’bah, they kiss or touch the black stone (Hajar al-Aswad). If anyone fails either of these actions, they simply salute the stone (Hirashima, 86).
The last part of the ritual involves stepping into an octagonal metal structure. This structure is believed to be the point at which Abraham offered his prayers and sacrifices to God. This is the last ritual, and the pilgrims are now called Hajjs. Therefore as shown in this paper, Al-Hajj is important in a Muslim’s life as it not only shows his/her commitment to God but also signifies the purity of the faithful.
Peters, Ephraim. The Hajj: The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and holy places. Sydney: Princeton university press, 2004. Print.
Hirashima Hussein. The road to holy Mecca: Kodansha international publishers 2002. Print.