November 4-7, 2011
Today begins the Hajj to Mecca in which millions of Muslims around the world will leave their homes to embark on the journey that every financially and physically able Muslim must take once in their lifetime.
Destination: Makkah (Mecca), Saudi Arabia.
The Hajj to Mecca has been called the most diverse gathering of human beings ever assembled. Participants come from all countries, all races, and all walks of life.
Mecca is the city toward which, the rest of the year, Muslims pray five times a day. During Hajj millions converge on the Masjid al Haram, the holiest mosque in all Islam. The Holy Mosque’s open court can accommodate hundreds of thousands of worshipers, who circumambulate (I don’t get to use that word very often) around the centerpiece of the court: the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a stoic black cube which holds a sacred stone believed to have fallen from heavens in the days of Adam.
It was here, thousands of years ago that Abraham and his son Ishmael introduced the world to monotheism, by building a small temple in the middle of the desert, as commanded by God. Abraham shouted out to the empty desert a welcome to anyone who would join him in prayer at the Kaaba. Each year during Hajj, millions answer his call.
Though the people of the Arabian peninsula have revered the site long before the days of Mohammad, it was the Prophet who set the stone in its final place. Muslims don’t worship the stone itself–Islam allows no idols of any kind. Rather, the place is revered for its connection to the Prophet Muhammad and to God.
This holy meteor has never been carbon-dated, but it was stolen once. According to www.lancashiremosques.com:
In 317/930 the Qarmatians raided Mecca; they captured the stone, and carried it off to al-Hasa or Bahrayn, where it was kept. Ransom was offered for it, which was ignored. Then in 340/951 it was thrown, the historian Juwayni relates, into the Friday Mosque of Kufah with a note: “By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back.”
During Hajj, pilgrims enter a state of Ihram. During Ihram one may not intentionally harm any living creature, and men must wear two pieces of unstitched cloth, one around their waist and one over their shoulders. As Kamran Pasha, author of Mother of Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam, explains:
In this way, all pilgrims are dressed exactly the same, eliminating differences of race, culture and economic status. Whether we are kings or paupers, whether we wear suits and ties or dashikis in the world we left behind, we are all the same now – human beings standing equally before our Creator, devoid of manmade distinctions.
Hajj is a spiritual journey, but it is also one of visas and vaccinations. passports and paperwork. The more one prepares, the better. Saudi Arabia does its best to accommodate over a million foreigners crossing its borders for the pilgrimage, but travel prices can be jacked up four-fold during, and sadly, “A number of pilgrims have reported being unable to reach Mecca due to fraudulent travel agencies eager to cash in on the world’s largest religious pilgrimage.”
Circling the Kabah seven times is the most important part of Hajj, but not all of it. Pilgrims also follow the footsteps of Hagar and her son Ishmael as they searched for water in the desert millennia ago. It is said Ishmael struck his foot on the ground and water sprang forth from the sand.