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Call to Prayer

Hajj - Rites and Significance

When Prophet Abraham built the house, Kab’ah, Allah ordained upon him to proclaim to people to come on pilgrimage to which they responded then and now on foot and on all sorts of transportation. This proclamation was made over three thousand years ago but it was just over fourteen hundred years ago that Prophet Muhammad established pilgrimage in the format we see today. Muslims from all over the world come to perform Hajj and it is a reflection of devotion to Allah, an enactment of the frequent journeys and travels of Prophet Abraham in his efforts to establish the true faith on Tawheed, the oneness of God. It also reminds us that our entire life is nothing other than a journey - one which may be short or long – only God knows, but what is clear is that whatever the duration its ultimate goal is to take us back to God, our Creator and Sustainer.

Pilgrimage is in two forms – Umrah which can be performed at any time during the year except during the Hajj season and its immediate aftermath. Some Muslims go and perform Umrah specially, while others drop in while in transit and perform their Umrah, which only takes a couple of hours and is well worth the stopover if it is possible to arrange. Hajj is the greater pilgrimage and is mandatory on every Muslim at least once in a lifetime and if they have the resources to do so. Its duration is about one week from the 8th to the 13th of the month of Dhul Hijjah which is the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. In total the performance of Hajj is about six days. Both pilgrimages start with the intention to perform it for the sake and glory of God and the pilgrim enters into a state of Ihram which marks its start. Scholars are of different opinions as to where the state of Ihtram should start. Some suggest it should be in the air as one flies over the point of Miqat – where one should put on the attire and enter the state of Ihram, or having landed in Jeddah airport can travel to that point and adopt Ihram there.

Entering the state of Ihram firstly demands the correct and sincere intention, since for the Muslim, every action is by intention. In this instance one would have the clear intention that this action is an act of worship undertaken out of obedience and submission to God and in the pursuit of His pleasure. In addition to this it is desirable to take a bath first and put aside all regular clothing except that which he or she is going to wear during the pilgrimage. For women they select a few garments which are clean and appropriate and may change them during the course of the pilgrimage according to their requirements. Men’s clothing is replaced by two, what can only be described as, large white bath towels! One is wrapped from the waist and secured by a belt and reaches the shin bone while the other is slung around the shoulders and covers, in part, the upper body. Footwear comprises of sandals, flip flops and such like and for the men the head is kept uncovered.

Clothing can symbolise many things including grandeur, arrogance, individuality, personal ego and even authority, power and wealth depending circumstances of the wearer.  When a person is going on pilgrimage, which is considered a pure act of devotion and submission to God, these kinds of egotistical expressions are put aside both as a training and a reminder to the individual that, while we may be rich or poor,  kings or commoners, what cannot be forgotten is the fact that we are all human beings and above all a creation of Allah, so the symbols or expressions of superiority are cast aside in a bid to bring unity and equality to this spiritual observance.

During the period of Hajj each pilgrim, according to the Qur’an, should be mindful of their behaviour taking care not to involve themselves in argument, or disagreement of any kind, not to use bad language or harbour any ill feelings or resentments against another and refrain from any indecency both verbal and by action. It is about knowing and observing throughout how to relate to the whole of creation in a peaceful and harmonious way. During the period of pilgrimage you are not allowed to kill anything or harm the environment in any way, attend to personal requirements like cutting the nails or hair, applying perfume and for those who are married not to indulge in marital relations. All these worldly masks and situations, which draw us away from focussing ourselves on God alone, are removed for this brief but very spiritual and meaningful period.

The pilgrims, as soon as they enter into the start of Ihram, are encouraged to chant a prayer of submission and service to God. It is a response to the call of God – the response called out by Prophet Abraham when he first built the Kab’ah in honour of God and a bid to remind future generations of Muslims how they should respect and sanctify this house of God until the day of Judgement. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) began chanting this prayer when he rode out from Madinah at the head of the procession of pilgrims who accompanied him on his only Hajj performed just prior to his death. It is referred to as the talbiyah and in English translates as ‘I respond to Your call, my Lord, I respond to You. There is no deity other than You. All praise, grace and sovereignty belong to You. You have no partners.’ This declaration of answering God’s call is repeated time and time again throughout the journey to and during the performance of Hajj.

The Kab’ah, which symbolises the Oneness of Allah, is contained within the enormous Mosque in the heart of Makkah. It is also the direction to which all Muslims throughout the world pray and in that respect symbolises the unity of the Ummah or world of Muslims. While in the presence of the Ka’bah one feels a great sense of attachment and closeness to Prophet Abraham who rebuilt this temple for the glorification of God and identifies strongly with the caravan of believers and prophets who preached the word of God throughout history. Once you enter the Mosque and your eyes fall upon the Ka’bah itself you are overwhelmed with an indescribable feeling of tranquillity and peace which seems to pervade the entire time spent there in a way which takes you into another worldliness – that of being the guest of and growing closer to Allah.

Here all pilgrims are required to circumambulate the Ka’bah from the corner where the ‘black stone’ is housed and in an anticlockwise direction until you have completed seven rounds. Naturally people wonder and question the significance of this act. It is first important to establish that it is according to what God has ordained and in full obedience to Him as shown by the same act performed by His prophet Muhammed (pbuh). There have been many reflections about the nature of this act and a convert to Islam of Austrian origin, Muhammad Asad wrote that, in the same way that electrons and neutrons circle around the atom which is at the centre of this phenomena or like the solar system which rotates around a central axis as human beings we area always moving. There is always dynamic movement and change going on in our lives while the centre, pivot or core around which we revolve is Allah, our Creator and Sustainer.  Our objective in life is clearly to Worship Him, to seek His pleasure in this life and His felicity and reward in the hereafter.

After having performed two units of prayer and drank the Zam Zam water, before which one makes sincere supplication to Allah to give them strength and to purify their hearts and minds to be able to continue their service to and worship Him, the pilgrim moves to Saffa and Marwah. These are two small hills now encased in the Mosque itself about a quarter of a mile apart and with a marble runway between them. Starting at Saffa the pilgrim must walk from one to the other seven times making personal supplication thanking God, asking for His mercy and guidance eventually arriving at Marwah on the seventh walk and completes the ritual by symbolically cutting a lock of hair. The walk between Saffa and Marwah is a re-enactment of Hajar’s desperate attempts to find water for her son Ismael. When she returned to check her child she found a spring coming from the ground under his heel. Since this event millions of Muslim men and women have run between these two hills following the footsteps of this, believed to be, poor African bondwoman reflecting the profound respect for the sheer determination shown to survive the conditions she found herself and her child in.

This completes the Umrah of Hajj and now the Hajj itself, which starts on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah, commences. The pilgrims move first to Mina, which is about one and a half hours walk outside Makkah, where they spend one day and night. The next day is known as the day of Arafat, which is a flat plain with one feature, that of Jabal Rahmah or the ‘Mount of Mercy’ from which the Prophet (pbuh) gave his last memorable sermon. On that day he spoke to his people ensuring that they understood their religion while throughout his address he called on God to witness that he had delivered the message in its totality. He knew that his time was short since his mission was near completion. Those close to him wept with pain at the thought of what was clearly ahead of them. Arafat is the day when Allah’s Mercy and Forgiveness is in abundance. It is a day for cleansing hearts, unburdening oneself of the guilt of past misdemeanours, shortcomings and frailties and resolve for the future. It can be a life changing experience, a turning point if that is what each pilgrim wants it to be but the opportunity is for each to take or leave and all would be well advised to take full advantage of such a mercy to mankind. Seeing the day of Arafat slipping away is similar to seeing the approach of the end of Ramadan. It is a time which, if lost or squandered may not be seen again, for who knows whether we will live to see it just as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said in his address ‘I may never see this place again after this day’.

The pilgrims then ‘roll off the plains of Arafat’ as mentioned in the Qur’an and head for Muzdalifah where they perform the sunset and night prayers and, for most, simply collapse into a deep sleep on the desert floor with nothing above them but a canopy of stars. At Fajr prayer time it is time to uproot again and head for Mina and stone the ‘Jamarat’ which symbolises the devil and is a historic re-enactment of Abrahams rejection of the devils temptations to disobey Allah. It is also a means of dealing with the evil prompting within ourselves. Shaving the head is then the conclusion of some of the restrictions of Ihram, all of which are lifted and the Hajj completed with another performance of Umrah, Taw’waf, the circumambulation of the Kab’ah and Sa’ie, the journeying between Saffa and Marwah.

Every pilgrim who has made this journey sincerely for the sake of and to seek the mercy of Allah will desire for their efforts to be accepted and to be ‘firmly placed in the company of the loved ones’.  This is something that each will come to know and realise during and after the completion of the Hajj and is closely related to matters of the heart and conduct throughout and following the experience. Like those who fast in Ramadan and end up with nothing but and empty stomach and the pangs of hunger the one who performs Hajj without sincerity, grace, dignity and humility may have nothing to show for the journey but trouble, toil and bitter reflections of their experience. May God preserve all those embarking on Hajj from this state and accept their Hajj in the sincerity in which it is being preformed.