Friday, December 21, 2007

The 5th Pillar

I think it started when I saw Malcom X but ever since then, ever since I've known about it I wanted to go on Hajj.

I'm not Muslim, though people used to think I was and a part of me feels like I would be executed in an Islamic country but I've dreamed about going on Hajj just once. Maybe it is that obsession with secret and forbidden knowledge that I have, maybe its the overt surrender to faith and belief, maybe its the oneness and brotherhood that everyone share, maybe it's because in most religions, besides Hinduism there is no proscribed ritual pilgrimage or maybe it's just because I'm not supposed to (and no one puts Baby in a corner) but the whole thing holds a great mystery and appeal to me. Who knows, maybe I'll put on a hijab and learn basic Arabis and take a trip...
But since "today" is the last day of this year's Hajj and because (I have readers in Afghanistan(!)] I can do this I wanted to do some kind of post about it.
So here it is...

from Wikipedia

The Hajj (the holy matrimony of faith and guidance of Islam) is associated with the life of Muhammad, but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam, and was considered ancient even during his lifetime in the 7th century. Many Muslims believe that it goes back to the time of Abraham in 2000 BC. Pilgrims would join processions of tens of thousands of people, who would simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals. Each person would walk counter-clockwise seven times about the Kaaba, the cubical building towards which all Muslims pray, kiss the sacred Black Stone on its corner, run back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drink from the Zamzam Well, go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, then proceed to Muzdalifah to gather pebbles, which they would throw at a rock in Mina to perform the ritual of the Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims would then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice, and celebrate the four day global festival of Eid ul-Adha

The Hajj was based on a pilgrimage that was ancient even in the time of Muhammad in the 7th Century. According to Hadith, elements of the Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham, around 2000 BC, and it is believed that the angel Gabriel, who revealed the location of the Zamzam Well, taught the rites of the pilgrimage to Abraham's son, Ishmael.

Each year, tribes from all around the Arabian peninsula would converge on Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans. Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad as al-Jahiliyah, the "Days of Ignorance", during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols representing totems of each of the tribes of the Arabian peninsula. The idols represented multiple faiths, from pagan gods to symbols of Jesus, Mary, Hubal and Allah.

Muhammad was known to regularly perform the Umrah, even before he began receiving revelations. Historically, Muslims would gather at various meeting points in other great cities, and then proceed en masse towards Mecca, in groups that could comprise tens of thousands of pilgrims. Two of the most famous meeting points were in Cairo and Damascus. In Cairo, the Sultan would stand atop a platform of the famous gate Bab Zuwayla, to officially watch the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.

In 632, when Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca, it was the first Hajj to be performed by Muslims alone, and it was at this point that the Hajj became one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Kaaba had been cleansed of the previous idols, and Muhammad ordained it as the house of God

During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab - normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face.

The Ihram clothing is intended to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah, symbolizing the idea that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper when everyone is dressed equally. The Ihram also symbolizes purity and absolution of sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat.

While the pilgrim is wearing the Ihram, they cannot shave, cut their nails, wear deodorant or perfume. They may not swear or quarrel, kill any living thing (even an insect) or engage in sexual intercourse.

On the first day of the Hajj, the 8th day of Dhul Hijjah {the 12th month}, the pilgrims perform their first Tawaf, which involves all of the pilgrims entering The Sacred Mosque (Masjid Al Haram), and walking seven times in a counter-clockwise direction around the Kaaba, kissing the Black Stone (Hajr Al Aswad) on each circuit. If that is not possible due to the crowds, they may simply align themselves with it and point to the stone. Each complete circuit constitutes a "Shout" with 7 circuits constituting a complete tawaf. The place where pilgrims walk is known as "Mutaaf". Only the first three Shouts are compulsory and the rest optional, but invariably almost all perform it seven times.

Eating is not allowed and the tawaf is normally performed all at once, the only exception being the drinking of water. Men are encouraged to perform the first three circuits at a hurried pace, followed by four times, more closely, at a leisurely pace.

After the completion of Tawaf, all the pilgrims have to offer two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham (Muqaam E Ibrahim), a site near the Kaaba. However, again due to large crowds during the days of Hajj, they can instead pray anywhere in the whole mosque.

After Tawaf, the pilgrims perform sa`i, running or walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Ibriham's wife, Hajar, frantic search for water for her son, before the Zamzam Well was revealed to her by an angel sent by God. The circuit used to be in the open air, but 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 are allowed to run, along with an 'express lane' for the disabled. The safety procedures are in place because previous incidents in this ritual have resulted in stampedes which ended in the deaths of hundreds of people.

As part of this ritual, the pilgrims also drink water from the Zamzam Well,

The next morning, on the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims leave Mina for Mount Arafat. This is considered the highlight of the Hajj, as they stand in contemplative vigil, near a hill from which Muhammad gave his last sermon. Pilgrims must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset. No specific rituals or prayers are required during the stay at Arafat, although many pilgrims spend time praying, talking to God, and thinking about the course of their lives. If a pilgrim does not spend the afternoon on Arafat then their pilgrimage is considered invalid

As soon as the sun sets, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, an area between Arafat and Mina, where 49 pebbles are gathered for the next day's ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan). Many pilgrims spend the night sleeping on the ground at Muzdalifah, before returning to Mina

At Mina, the pilgrims perform Ramy al-Jamarat, throwing stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. This symbolizes the trials experienced by Abraham, as he wrestled with whether or not to sacrifice his son per God's demand. The Devil challenged him three times, and three times Abraham refused. Each pillar marks the location of one of these refusals. Each pilgrim must hit each pillar at least seven times.[4] Because of the crowds, in 2004 the pillars were changed to long walls. Pilgrims climb ramps to the multi-leveled Jamarat Bridge, from which they can throw their stones at the three jamarat.

After the Stoning of the Devil, an animal is sacrificed. This symbolizes God having mercy on Abraham, and replacing his son with a ram, which Abraham then sacrificed.

Traditionally the pilgrim slaughtered the animal himself or oversaw the slaughtering. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins; this allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th without the pilgrim being physically present. Centralized butcher houses will sacrifice a single sheep for each pilgrim, or a cow can represent the sacrifice of seven people. The meat is then packaged and given to charity, shipped to poor people around the world. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a four day global festival called Eid ul-Adha.

On this or the following day the pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca for a tawaf called the Tawaf az-Ziyarah (or Tawaf al-Ifadah) which is an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.

On the afternoon of the 11th, pilgrims must again stone all three jamarat in Mina (seven pebbles per jamarat). The same ritual must be performed on the following day.

Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th. If they are unable to leave Mina before sunset, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.

"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

"I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka'ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat."

"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."

"America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white - but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color."

"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."

"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."

"We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude."

"I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their 'differences' in color."

"With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called 'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves."

"Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."

"Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors - honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King - not a Negro."

"All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.


Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)


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