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The Jan. 9 Pilgrimage to Mecca - The Hajj

January 07, 2006|By Dr. Shahab Siddiqui

Millions of Muslims all over the world and thousands of Americans will soon travel to take part in religious observances associated with the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajj will take place on Jan. 9.

Hajj is one of the "five pillars" of the Islamic faith. (The other pillars include a declaration of faith, daily prayer, offering regular charity, and fasting during the month of Ramadan.) Pilgrimage is a once-in-a-life-time obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.

When the main portion of pilgrimage is completed, Muslims worldwide gather for communal prayers on the first day (Jan. 10 this year) of Eid ul-Adha, the second of the two major Muslim holidays.

The obligatory and optional activities of Hajj include:

Entrance into a state of self-control called "ihram," during which pilgrims are forbidden to harm living creatures, even the insects or plants, or raise the voice in anger. The state of ihram is signified (for men) by the wearing of two pieces of unsown white cloth. The clothing signifies the equality of all before God. Modest, simple clothing is recommended for female pilgrims.

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Circling ("Tawaf") of the "Ka'aba," the stone building Muslims believe was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. The Ka'aba is viewed as the first sanctuary on earth dedicated to the worship of the one God. It is a symbol of unity for Muslims because all prayers, wherever they're performed, are oriented in the direction of the Ka'aba.

The "Sa'i," or "hastening" between two small hills near the Ka'aba to commemorate Hagar's search of water to offer to her son Ishmael.

The "Day of Arafah" is on Jan. 9 this year. Arafah is a mountain and its surrounding empty plain near Mecca. On this day, the climax of the Hajj season, pilgrims assemble for supplication to God.

The stoning of three pillars representing Satan's temptation of Abraham. The stoning indicates the pilgrim's rejection of evil deeds.

Cutting the hair to symbolize the completion of Hajj.

Sacrifice of an animal to help the poor, and in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command. The meat is distributed to relatives and to the needy.

In the Qur'an, Islam's revealed text, God says: "Thus We settled Abraham at the site of the House (Ka'aba) (saying): 'Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who walk around it, and those who stand there (praying), and those who bow down on their knees in worship. Proclaim the pilgrimage among mankind: They will come to you on foot and on every lean; let them come from every deep ravine, to bear witness to the advantages they have, and to mention God's name on appointed days" Chapter 22 verses 26-28.

The main benefit of Hajj for many people is the sense of purification, repentance and spiritual renewal it instills.

Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the lunar calendar, begins about 11 days earlier each solar year.

The sacrifice commemorates the Prophet Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son, identified in Islam as Ishmael, at God's will. This is not a blood offering. In the Qur'an, God states: "Neither their meat nor their blood ever reaches God, but heedfulness on your part does reach him. (Chapter 22, verse 37) The meat is distributed to relatives and to the needy.

All pilgrims must do "tawaf" or circling the Ka'aba. This obligation creates a stunning scene as thousands of people circle the building at all times of the day and night. Also, the standing at Arafah on the ninth day of the Islamic month Dhul-Hijjah presents an amazing spectacle in which several million people, all dressed alike and with the same intention to worship God, gather on a barren plain.

Hajj is a high point in a Muslim's life. Locally, from the Hagerstown community a few of the Muslim families, including Imam Qasim Burmi, have already left to perform the obligatory pilgrimage. Questions are welcome and congratulations are in order. Our community welcomes visitors at this occasion.

For more information, feel free to contact a Muslim friend or the Islamic Society of Western Maryland by phoning 301-797-0922 or by writing to the society at 2036 Day Road, Hagerstown, MD 21740.

Shahab Z. Siddiqui is a

local physician who is active in the Islamic Society of Western Maryland.

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