Ertan Karpazli / World Bulletin
Approximately 3 million Muslims are gathered in the city of Mecca to perform one of the biggest congregational rituals ever known in human history.
The hajj pilgrimage is performed every year between the 8th and the 12th of Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This year the event falls on the 13th to the 17th of October according to the Gregorian calendar.
As well as being one of the biggest gatherings of people in the world, it is also one of the oldest. The hajj pilgrimage even predates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) and can be traced all the way back to the Prophet Abraham not only in Islamic scripture, but also in Christian and Jewish texts too.
Mecca is important to Muslims as it is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) and also the direction they face when they pray. The Ka’bah, a cube shaped building in the center of Mecca, is known to be the first place of worship ever built solely for God, and now stands as a symbol representing the direction all Muslims must face when they pray.
The ground upon which the Ka’bah was built has been sacred since the beginning of time, with the first man Adam laying its foundations to mark its location. The Prophet Abraham, who would occasionally come to Arabia to visit his son Ishmael, later completed the construction of the building and established it as a house of worship.
For many generations afterwards, the Ka’bah was a place of worship and pilgrimage for people seeking the pleasure of God. However, it soon became a place of paganism and polytheism when the Arabs of Mecca introduced statues and idols to the vicinity. Nonetheless, the tradition of pilgrimage continued, with people from all over Arabia coming to venerate their idol-gods.
However, when Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) was blessed with prophethood in the seventh century, he started to call the people of Mecca back to the monotheistic faith of their forefathers Abraham and Ishmael. He and his followers continued to visit and worship God at the Ka’bah until the idol-worshippers expelled the believers from the city.
After finding a safe haven in Medina, just north of Mecca, the message of monotheism and spiritual brotherhood preached by the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) reached all four corners of Arabia. Once the Arab pagans of Mecca breached a peace treaty brokered between themselves and the growing community of believers, Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) led his followers who had previously been exiled from their city back home, along with the support of thousands of people who had joined their ranks.
Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) broke the idols in the Ka’bah and returned the building back to its original purpose. After his death shortly afterwards, his companions spread his message across the world. Since then, millions of Muslims from all four corners of the Earth have been coming to this location every year to fulfill this once-in-a-lifetime pillar of Islam.
As Islam, which simply means ‘the path of submission to God’, is not a race-specific religion, the message was accepted by communities from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This diversity is still seen today, as Muslim men, women and children from all over the world stand side by side in rows, all facing the same direction and praying together to one God. The simple, white, ihram garb worn by Muslims during their pilgrimage represents their oneness and equality before God, no matter what their race, culture or financial well-being.
Together, they all circumambulate the Ka’bah and then walk seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, in imitation of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, who also ran from hill to hill looking for help when she and her son became stranded in the Arabian Desert. After that they gather on Mount Arafat, where they stand in silence supplication of God, asking for forgiveness and blessings in this life and the hereafter. Last but not least, they stone the devil at the pillar of Jamarat.
Following these rituals, they sacrifice a lamb or a cow and share the meat with the poor. This is done out of respect to Abraham who was given a lamb to sacrifice instead of his son after God tested his loyalty. Even Muslims who don’t attend the hajj pilgrimage partake in this deed either by sacrificing an animal at home and sharing the meat with their family, neighbors and community, or by donating the money for an animal to be sacrificed elsewhere to feed a poor family.
The general increase of wealth around the world and developments in technology for transportation, as well as a general increase the global population has made what was already one of the biggest gatherings in the world that much more crowded. The Saudi Arabian authorities who are responsible for the pilgrims have been struggling to cope with this sudden jump in numbers, and are continuously having to redevelop the vicinity of the Ka’bah to cater for more people.
This often leaves them in a dilemma, as expanding the grounds of the mosque often means having to demolish historical sites such as the homes of prominent companions of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.). Currently redevelopment projects are underway, and pilgrims are having to move around while construction works continue. For this reason, they have had to drastically limit the number of visas avaiable for the pilgrimage.
Indeed the demolition of Islamic heritage has left many Muslims upset with the Saudi government, especially since not all demolitions are done in the name of catering for the pilgrims. In the past, sites have been destroyed to make way for fancy hotels and shopping centers. Even sites far from the Ka’bah have been desecrated, such as the gravestones of the Prophet’s companions and the caves in which Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) once hid when on the run from those who wanted to assassinate him.
Nonetheless, Muslims still continue to rush in their millions to perform this pillar of Islam, which is compulsory on all who are financially and physically in shape to do so at least once in their lives.
The hajj comes in a time where sectarian tensions are rising all over the Muslim world, especially because of the battles taking place between Sunnis and Shiites in Syria and Iraq. However, the pilgrimage provides Muslims with a chance to put aside their differences and unite as equals in the worship of God. It is also a demonstration of commonality between Muslims, Jews and Christians, as many of the rituals are based on the acts of the common ancestor of these three paths of God, the Prophet Abraham. It is an opportunity for not just Muslims, but all of mankind to come together and contemplate on their relationship with God and with each other.
After returning from the hajj, the late American activist Malcolm X said: ‘There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.’
His words ring true for many people, as Islam continues to be the fast growing religion in the world, providing an alternative path for a world wrangled in division and bickering over petty differences.Last Mod: 04 Ekim 2014, 12:34