Hajj: the fifth pillar of Islam

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.

Kaaba in the middle of the Holy Mosque, circa 1880

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.

One couple’s unforgettable first Haj

A Journey of Hajj: Recreating Genesis at the House of God

Millions of Muslims Prepare For Hajj 2009

Saudi National Day

September 23

In 2008, National Day in Saudi Arabia was a muted celebration. It coincided with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, one of the most auspicious times of the year. And in Saudi Arabia, when it comes between the state and Islam, Islam has the first, last, and every word in between.

Islam is not just the official religion of Saudi Arabia, it’s the only religion. The law of the land is Shari’a–Islamic religious law based on the teachings of the Qur’an.

Shari’a covers everything from banking to hygiene. According to “Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice”:

…we do not mean that the Holy Quran and Sunna of the Holy Prophet or the rulings of Islamic scholars provide a specific answer to each and every minute detail of our socioeconomic life. What we mean is that the Holy Quran and the Holy Sunna of the Prophet have laid down the broad principles in the light of which the scholars of every time have deduced specific answers to the new situations arising in their age.

Saudi Arabia is one of the last true monarchies, where the king is also the head of state. The Saud royal family has ruled the bulk of the Arabian peninsula off and on since the 18th century. September 23 commemorates the creation of the modern Saudi Arabian state in 1932, but the date has only been celebrated as a holiday since 2005.

1932 was also the year that the discovery of oil in nearby Bahrain set off a wave of Western speculation. The following year Standard Oil of California struck a deal with the Saudi government to explore for oil. Pay dirt came in 1938 when the first of numerous massive oil reservoirs were discovered. Today Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world.

In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud the 8th richest man in the world, the youngest of the top ten. And the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, is believed to be the world’s most profitable company; however, their finances are not made public.

The country’s most invaluable treasures however–as any Saudi Arabian will tell you–are Al-Masjid al-Harām (“the Sacred Mosque”) at Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (“Mosque of the Prophet”) in Medina.

The Sacred Mosque can accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, and over two million Muslims gather there each year during the Hajj, the great pilgrimage of Islam. At its center is the Kabba, where Ibrahim (or Abraham) is believed to have offered to sacrifice his son for God. Muslims around the world face this spot in Mecca when they pray.

The original Mosque in Medina was built by the Prophet Mohammad, who is buried at the site.

Recent National Day celebrations have been more jubilant (Saudi Arabia Celebrates National Day – AFP), but they don’t get going until nightfall. Temperatures in the 100’s (F) keep tend to keep celebrants inside during the day.

Eid al Fitr

End of Ramadan (Gregorian date changes each year)

Empire State Building lit green for Eid al Fitr

This week Muslims around the world follow up the moderation and solemnity of Ramadan with the joy and festivity of Eid-al-Fitr. Fitr means breaking of the fast, [actually “natural condition”; see comment below!] referring to the month-long fast during Ramadan. Eid means “festival”, of which Islam has only two: today’s Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice).

The days before Eid-al-Fitr are some of the biggest shopping days of the year in Muslim communities. Families stock up on special foods in preparation for celebrating the Fitr meal(s), buy or make presents and new clothes for the holiday events, and make sure to purchase extra food (Zakat) that will be distributed among the poor, ensuring that all families have enough to celebrate with during the three-days of festivities.

Muslims recite a special Eid prayer during Eid-al-Fitr. According to Islamicity.com

Eid prayer is wajib (strongly recommended, just short of obligatory). It consists of two Rakaat (units) with six or thirteen additional Takbirs. It must be offered in congregation. The prayer is followed by the Khutbah.

At the conclusion of the prayer the Muslims should convey greetings to each other, give reasonable gifts to the youngsters and visit each other at their homes.

With its emphasis on family, celebration, and gratitude toward God, Eid-al-Fitr might be compared to both Christmas and Thanksgiving in the West. Unlike Christmas, the season changes slightly year by year. Because the Gregorian calendar is 11 days longer than the Islamic calendar, by 2023 Eid-al-Fitr will fall during spring. Around 2030 it will fall during winter.

This year Eid-al-Fitr coincides with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of ten days of repentance.


Eid-al-Fitr – from Ignite the Light Within

Night of Destiny, Night of Power

August 27, 2011

For Muslims across the world, tonight is a night “better than a thousand months.”

photograph courtesy of www.sacredsites.com, © Martin Gray

On this night, the 27th of Ramadan, in 610 CE, the 40 year-old future Prophet Muhammad was meditating in a cave outside Mecca. The Angel Gabriel/Jibril appeared to Muhammad and commanded him to recite. Muhammad twice refused, explaining he did not know how. After the third command, Muhammad found himself reciting what would become the first verses of the 96th chapter of the Qur’an.

‘Read, in the name of thy Lord Who createth everything.
Created man from a clot of blood.
Read, for thy Lord is Most Beneficent,
Who teacheth by the pen,
Teacheth man that which he knew not.’

The last ten days of the month of Ramadan are considered the most sacred. While fasting and sacrifice is required throughout the month, Muslims strive to follow and understand the teachings of the Qur’an most stridently during these days.

Many Muslims, notably Shi’a Muslims, observe Lailatul-Qadr (Night of Power) on the 23rd of the month. Some also point to the Qur’an as expressing that the night may fall on any odd-numbered night in the last third of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr is also known, perhaps more accurately, as Night of Predestination, or Night of Measure.

This year, the 27th day of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar coincides with the 27th day of the ninth month of the Gregorian calendar. An event that (depending on moon sightings) may not happen again for 200 years. However, since the “day” officially begins the evening before, the 27th night of Ramadan actually falls on the 26th night of September this year.

The end of Ramadan is marked with the festival Eid-al-Fitr.

16 Things You Can Do on the Night of Power

Ramadan 1432

~August 1, 2011 (varies)

Like all Islamic months, Ramadan begins when the crescent moon is first visible, just after the new moon.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast for thirty days.

30 days!? Wouldn’t you die after, like, a week?

Yes, you’d think that, but Muslims fast for 30 days, not 30 nights.

Families awaken early in the morning to eat Sahur (breakfast) before the sun rises and to pray the first of five daily prayers. The fourth prayer is at sunset (Maghrib), after which the family eats Iftar, the evening meal. Eating in between is forbidden, with exceptions for children, diabetics, pregnant women, the very elderly, ill people, etc. [No, you can’t eat children or ill people, silly. Children and ill people can eat.]

Procession through the streets of Cairon on the 1st day of Ramadan, M. Jarou, circa 1870
Procession through the streets of Cairo on the 1st day of Ramadan, c. 1870

Fasting, or Sawm, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The others are Faith (Iman), Prayer (Salah), Charity (Zakah), and Pilgrimage (Hajj).

The fasting refers not only to food, but to the abstinence of earthly desires. The Fast is is a way to show faith and devotion to God; yet it is much more than that. Muslims use this time to seek spiritual guidance and to atonefor sins and past mistakes. According to www.30-days.net:

Fasting helps one to experience how a hungry person feels and what it is like to have an empty stomach. It teaches one to share the sufferings of the less fortunate. Muslims believe that fasting leads one to appreciate the bounties of Allah, which are usually taken for granted – until they are missed!

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. Unlike other calendars, the Islamic calendar contains no intercalary period (like a leap day or a leap week). Since the calendar is about 354 days, the date of Ramadan falls about 11 days earlier each year.

Ten or fifteen years ago, when Ramadan fell in the middle of winter, it was easier to fast, since the days were shorter. As we move into the summer months the fasting hours grow longer and longer.

But as Shahed Amanullah points out:

There is, however, a bright side to this holiday mobility. As Ramadan moves slowly through the calendar year, we have multiple opportunities to share Ramadan with other faith traditions and holidays as their paths cross in time. And each time this happens, there is a bit of cross-pollination that goes on that I believe enriches both traditions.

The word ‘Ramadan’ comes from an Arabic ramida, meaning “scorching heat”. It refers to the purging of sin from the soul.

Watch for the Sunset (©Aphrodite)

You Know It’s Ramadan When…

Ramadan Moon Over Morocco


(from 2009/1430)

“August 23 will be the first day of the Holy Month Ramadan as the moon was not sighted on Friday, according to the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee.”

— Samaylive.com, August 22, 2009

Hilal has been sighted over many places (Florida, Texas etc) in the USA after the sunset on Friday 21st August 2009. The astronomical data also strongly predicted the possibility of naked-eye sighting in most of North America. Therefore we announce that Saturday, 22nd August 2009 is the first date of Ramadhan 1430.

— http://www.hilalsighting.org, August 21, 2009

[from September 1, 2008/1429]

This month marks a rare occurrence in the Islamic and Gregorian calendars. The ninth months of both calendars (Ramadan and September, respectively) begin and end on just about the same days. The Gregorian date of Ramadan will vary depending on where in the world you are and on the night sky. But essentially, Ramadan 1429 will begin September 1 and end on September 29th or 30th.

This is the first time this has occurred since…well, if you find out, let me know. There’s a good chance it’s the first time it’s happened in your lifetime.

This just in! Ramadan Announced

Isra wal Miraj – the Night Journey

27th of Rajab

On the 27th day of the month of Rajab, the Prophet Mohammad was resting after evening prayers near the Kaaba in the city of Mecca when he was awoken by the angel Gabriel (Jibril). Gabriel had with him a white, winged horse-like creature named Buraq.


Gabriel then did a curious thing. He cut open the Prophet’s chest from throat to navel, removed his heart and cleansed it with Zamzam water, and poured into it a substance that fortified Muhammad’s wisdom and faith. Gabriel next asked Muhammad to mount Burak, and they began what is known in the Islamic faith as “the Night Journey”.

A single stride from Buraq measured as far as the eye could see, Muhammad later retold. Before much time passed the trio touched down in a land of palm trees, Medina. There Muhammad performed a prayer at Gabriel behest, and they were off again. Only this time they arrived at a much more distant location. The Masjid-al-Aqsa, meaning “the farthest mosque” in all of Islam. The city of Jerusalem. Along the way he saw many sights, including the birthplace of the Prophet Jesus in Bethlehem. Gathered together in one place at the mosque in Jerusalem were the prophets from Adam to Jesus, and Muhammad led them all in prayer.

From there Muhammad and Gabriel began the final leg of their journey, up to the heavens. This is know as the Ascension of the Prophet.

In the first heaven Muhammad saw Adam, the father of all mankind, surrounded by souls. If Adam looked to his left he cried, and if he looked to the right he laughed. For the souls on the left were his descendants who would die as non-believers; to his right, those who would die believers.

In the second heaven he came across the Prophets Jesus (Isa) and John the Baptist (Yahya).

In the third heaven was Joseph (Yusuf).

In the fourth, Enoch (Idris).

In the fifth, Aaron (Harun), brother of Moses, and in the sixth was Moses (Musa) himself.

Finally Muhammad reached the seventh heaven where stood the patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim), the holiest prophet in Islam next to Muhammad.

There Muhammad saw a sidr (lote) tree with fruit the size of the large jars and leaves the size of elephant ears. The sidr tree was said to be the tree Adam ate from before being banished.

He ascended past the branches of the sidr tree, into Paradise, where he witnessed the many rewards that awaited the faithful. And when he had passed beyond Paradise, he heard the ‘Kalam’ (word) of Allah.

The Kalam is likened to the language of Allah, but a language that doesn’t come word by word or letter by letter. Rather, it is one whole, eternal thing, without interruption.

The Kalam instilled in Muhammad many things, including the importance and power of good deeds. God told Muhammad that his followers must pray fifty times a day. With that, Muhammad descended.

But on the way down Moses asked him about what transpired. Moses said there was no way Muhammad’s followers would pray 50 times a day, and encouraged Muhammad to talk God down. Muhammad did this, and eventually talked God down to five times a day.

Muhammad returned to Mecca that same evening not far from where he had begun his journey. Only, in this age prior to supersonic jets, some of the townspeople didn’t believe he could have gone all the way to Jerusalem in one night. Muhammad described the Jerusalem mosque and its surroundings in perfect detail. And then told them of an event he had seen on the way back to Mecca, shepherds searching for a lost camel far away. When those shepherds reached town, they verified Muhammad’s story.

Today Muslims remember a key date in the history of Islam, the Isra and the Miraj, the Journey and the Ascension.

Isra and Mi’raj: The Details

UAE – July 31 declared Isra and Mi’raj Holiday

Miracle of Al-Isra and Al-Miraj

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