It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah, son of ‘Umar (RA) that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: (The superstructure of) Islam is raised on five (pillars), testifying (the fact) that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is His prophet and messenger, and the establishment of prayer, payment of Zakat, Pilgrimage to the House (Ka’ba) and the fast of Ramadan.Sahih Muslim Book 1, Hadith 21
The Hajj is one of the five fundamental institutions known as the five pillars of Islam. The pilgrimage is made to the Ka’ba, (The first house made for Allah)situated in the sacred city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The sanctity of the house is that the prophet Abraham built it for the worship of Allah Who rewarded him by attributing the House to Himself and made it the devotional epicentre which all Muslims face when offering the prayers (salah). The rites of pilgrimage are performed today exactly as were done by the prophet Abraham followed by the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them.
The pilgrimage is viewed as a particular meritorious activity serving as a reprimand- the ultimate forgiveness for sins, devotion, and intense spirituality. The pilgrimage to Makka, the most sacred city in Islam, is mandatoryonce in their life uponall Muslims who are physically and financially qualified. The pilgrimage begins on the 8th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar of Dhul-Hij, and ends on the 13th of the month. Makka is the centre towards which the Muslims converge once a year, meet and refresh in themselves the faith that all Muslims and moreover all human beings are equal and deserve the love and sympathy of others, irrespective of their race or ethnic origin, caste and colour. The racial harmony fostered by Hajj is perhaps the best captured by Malcolm X on his historic pilgrimage.
Every one of the thousands at the airport, about to leave for Jeddah, was dressed this way. You could be a king or a peasant and no one would know. Some powerful personages, who were discreetly pointed out to me, had on the same thing I had on. Once thus dressed, we all had begun intermittently calling out “Labbayka! (Allahumma) Labbayka!” (At your service, O Lord!) Packed in the plane were white, black, brown, red, and yellow people, blue eyes and blond hair, and my kinky red hair – all together, brothers! All honouring the same Allah, all in turn giving equal honour to each other.
Thus the pilgrimage unites the Muslims of the world into one international fraternity. More than two million persons perform the Hajj each year, and the rite serves as a unifying force in Islam by bringing followers of diverse backgrounds together in worship. In some Muslim societies, once a believer has made the pilgrimage, he is often labelled with the title ‘haji’; this, however, is a cultural, rather than religious custom. Finally, the Hajj is a manifestation of the belief in the unity of God – all the pilgrims worship and obey the commands of the One God.
At certain stations on the caravan routes to Mecca, or when the pilgrim passes the point nearest to those stations, the pilgrim enters the state of purity known as ihram. In this state, the certain ‘normal’ actions of the day and night become impermissible for the pilgrims, such as covering the head, clipping the fingernails, and wearing normal clothing in regards to men. Males remove their clothing and don the garments specific to this state of ihram, two white seamless sheets that are wrapped around the body. All this increases the reverence and sanctity of the pilgrimage, the city of Makka, and month of Dhul-Hij. There are 5 stations, one on the coastal plains northwest of Makka towards Egypt and one south towards Yemen, while three lie north or eastwards towards Medeena, Iraq and Najd. The simplicity of the garb signifies the equality of all human beings in the sight of Allah, and the removal of all worldly affections. After entering the state of ihram, the pilgrim proceeds to Makka and awaits the start of the Hajj. On the 7th of Dhul-Hij, the pilgrim is reminded of his duties, and the rituals commence on the 8th of the month. The pilgrim visits the holy places outside Makka – Arafah, Muzdalifah, and Minaa – prays, sacrifices an animal in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice, throws pebbles at specific pillars at Minaa, and shortens or shaves his head. The rituals also involve walking seven times around the sacred sanctuary, or Ka’ba, in Makka, and ambulating, walking and running, seven times between the two small hills of Mt. Safaa and Mt. Marwah. Discussing the historical or spiritual significance of each rite is beyond the scope of this introductory article.
Apart from Hajj, the “minor pilgrimage” or umrah is undertaken by Muslims during the rest of the year. Performing the umrah does not fulfil the obligation of Hajj. It is similar to the major and obligatory Islamic pilgrimage (hajj), and pilgrims have the choice of performing the umrahseparately or in combination with the Hajj. As in the Hajj, the pilgrim begins the umrah by assuming the state of ihram. They enter Mecca and circle the sacred shrine of the Kaaba seven times. He may then touch the Black Stone, if he can, pray behind the Maqam-o-Ibrahim, drink the holy water of the Zamzam spring. The ambulation between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times and the shortening or shaving of the head marks the completenessof the umrah.
In conclusion, I would quote below what the Qur’an has stated about the Haj and its purpose.
And (remember) when We prepared for Abraham the place of the (holy) House, saying: Ascribe thou no thing as partner unto Me, and purify My House for those who make the round (thereof) and those who stand and those who bow and make prostration. And proclaim unto mankind the pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine,so that they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days over the beast of cattle that He hath bestowed upon them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor unfortunate.
Al-Qur’an Chapter no 022: Verse, 26-28
Writer is the Assistant Editor of two research oriented journals – ‘Islam and the Modern Age’ in English and ‘Islam Aur Asr-i-Jadeed’ in Urdu – issued from Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.