Hajj literally means, “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.” The Hajj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca, is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.
The Hajj is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the great prophets and teachers of faith. Pilgrims symbolically relive the experience of exile and atonement undergone by Adam and Eve after they were expelled from Heaven, wandered the earth, met again and sought forgiveness in the valley of Mecca. They also retrace the frantic footsteps of the wife of Abraham, Hagar, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa searching for water for her thirsty baby (which according to Muslim tradition, God answered with the well of Zam Zam). Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for the sake of God. God later substituted a ram in place of his son.
“Performing the rituals of Hajj provides a reminder of how the great prophets and teachers of faith established a deep and personal relationship with God. As the pilgrim makes his supplications to God, he realizes that He is asking of the same God that answered the prayers of those before him. These reminders are an important part of strengthening one’s faith, trust and dependence in God.”
The faithful hope that the Hajj will bring about a deep spiritual transformation, one that will make him or her a better person. If such a change from within does not occur, then the Hajj was merely a physical and material exercise devoid of any spiritual significance. As all great religions teach, we are more than mere physical creatures in that we possess an essence beyond the material world. Indeed, this is why all great religions have a tradition of pilgrimage. In the Islamic tradition, Hajj encapsulates this spiritual journey toward this essence. Hajj teaches one to show sincerity and humility in one’s relationship with God. The result of a successful Hajj is a rich inner peace, which is manifested outwardly in the values of justice, honesty, respect, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy.
Fiqh Literature describes in detail the manners of carrying out the rites of Hajj, and pilgrims generally follow handbooks and expert guides to successfully fulfill the requirements of Hajj.In performing the rites of hajj, the pilgrims not only follow the model of Muhammad, but also commemorate the events associated with Abraham.
When the pilgrims reach the appropriate Miqat(depending on where they’re coming from), they enter into a state of holiness – known as Ihram – that consists of wearing two white seamless cloths for the male, with the one wrapped around the waist reaching below the knee and the other draped over the left shoulder and tied at the right side; wearing ordinary dress for the female that fulfills the Islamic condition of public dress with hands or face uncovered; taking ablution; declaring the intention (niyah) to perform pilgrimage and to refraining from certain activities such as clipping the nails, shaving any part of the body, having sexual relations; using perfumes, damaging plants, killing animals, covering head (for men) or the face and hands (for women); getting married; or carrying weapons.The ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in front of God: there is no difference between the rich and the poor.
Tawaf and sa’ay
Tawaf means walking seven times counterclockwise around the Kaaba.Upon arriving at Masjid al-Haram, pilgrims perform an arrival tawaf either as part of Umrah or as a welcome tawaf. During tawaf, pilgrims also include Hateem – an area at the north side of the Kaaba – inside their path. Each circuit starts with the kissing or touching of the Black Stone (Hajar al- Aswad).If kissing the stone is not possible because of the crowds, they may simply point towards the stone with their hand on each circuit. Eating is not permitted but the drinking of water is allowed, because of the risk of dehydration. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, known as Ramal, and the following four at a more leisurely pace.
The completion of Tawaf is followed by two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqam Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba inside the mosque.However, again because of large crowds during the days of Hajj, they may instead pray anywhere in the mosque. After prayer, pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam well, which is made available in coolers throughout the Mosque.
Although the circuits around the Kaaba are traditionally done on the ground level, tawaf is now also performed on the first floor and roof of the mosque because of the large crowds.
Tawaf is followed by sa’ay, running or walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah, located near the Kaaba.Previously in open air, the place is now entirely enclosed by the Masjid Al-Haram mosque, and can be accessed via air-conditioned tunnels.Pilgrims are advised to walk the circuit, though two green pillars mark a short section of the path where they run. There is also an internal “express lane” for the disabled. After sayee, the male pilgrims shave their heads and women generally clip a portion of their hair, which completes the Umrah.