Lecture 09: Pillar 5
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Pillar 5
II. Unifying Principles: Five Pillars (part 3)
E. Pilgrimage (Hajj)
The fifth and final pillar is pilgrimage, the Hajj. This is yet another obligation for the Muslim to sometime during his or her lifetime, go on a pilgrimage to the holy Ka’aba in Mecca. This is designed to be a re-enactment of the Abrahamic pilgrimage which the Qur’an claims that Abraham made with Ishmael, as well as Muhammed’s own pilgrimage there.
It is interesting because Muslims claim that they do not have any sacraments; yet there is a lot of sacramental aspects to a lot of these things, and certainly the pilgrimage follows into this category. The rationale is found in several places in the Qur’an including Surah 2:196-203 and Surah 5:98-100. It is found in both of those passages. The following is a couple of those to kind of give you a feel for this: “Make the pilgrimage and visit the sacred house” -which refers to the Ka’aba – “for his sake. If you cannot, send such offerings as you can afford and do not shave your head until the offerings have reached their destination.” This is again the practice as you go. You go through a cleansing which involves the shaving of your head, which is referred to in passing.
Time of Hajj Dhu a-Hijja – twelfth month
This occurs in the twelfth month, the tenth day of the twelfth month. If you are not on the pilgrimage, there is a special sacrifice and special kind of celebration that goes on to mark that in the Muslim world, the Eid al-Adha. This is the special celebration which involves the sacrifice of an animal, a ram or a lamb, whose mouth is opened towards Mecca. So you are getting kind some Jewish practice of this. When I was in Eastern Europe, I was there during the twelfth month, tenth day, and the streets were filled with people buying these animals, to go home and sacrifice and kill them. It is something that is definitely observed.
Components of Hajj
Like the Salat, there are various aspects of the pilgrimage. First of all, the pilgrimage is designed specifically to visit the Ka’aba, that is the main thing that you have to do is actually visit this central shrine; not just to go to Mecca, but specifically go to the Ka’aba. In Surah 3:97 he says, “The first temple ever to be built for men was that in Mecca, a blessed place, a beacon for the nations. In it there are veritable signs and the spot where Abraham stood. Whoever enters it is safe. Pilgrimage to the house is a duty to Allah for all who can make the journey.” So part of the pilgrimage is to visit this once in a lifetime. Notice the variations of times. You have prayer in a kind of purist sense, five times a day. You have fasting, which is one month per year. Then you have the pilgrimage, which is once in your lifetime. These are kind of regular joint events that will direct the Muslim’s life. When you get to the Ka’aba there are several features that occur in order to fulfill the obligations and it is truly called a proper pilgrimage.
Six major features of the pilgrimage
To be fair, there are many variations of these six and there are many pilgrimages that they sponsor, they call them “greater pilgrimages, lesser pilgrimages” which would include many more things. One of these things, for that matter, is actually a visit to the temple in Jerusalem. It is not at all unusual to see people on pilgrimage to Mecca if you go to Jerusalem. There are a lot of Muslims who will plan a lot of other holy sites as a part of the Hajj. Jerusalem is the most important site outside of the Muslim world. More wealthy Muslims will include a wider orbit of things to see and do.
What I am giving you is more or less the bare bones, what is the essential qualities of a true Hajj. It must occur during the appropriate month and it must incorporate certain kinds of things.
The first is the ihram, which is the consecration. The pilgrim arrives at Mecca. They call this the axis mundi, the destiny of the qiblah. It is the point where all the qiblahs in the whole world point to. So when you arrive there, you must enter into the consecration. This means, as we read in the Qur’an, a shaving of the head and putting on a white garment that supposedly makes no distinction between you and the other Muslims. Technically, where there is a Muslim from nowheresville going to the Ka’aba; or for example, someone like a famous Muslim like Yasar Arafat. A few years ago he was in the news when he made a pilgrimage to the Ka’aba. What is the one thing about Arafat’s clothing that you always recognized? He always wore a certain thing like a checkerboard cloth thing. When he went, that had to be discarded and they had a photograph of him. I have never seen a photograph of him before or since, completely baldheaded. The guy does not have one strand of hair on his head. In fact, the caption was, “bareheaded before God.” Because he does not show his head, I have never seen his bare head in public, it is always covered up.
The idea was, showing the world that even Yasar Arafat bares all for Allah. The fact that they were following him around with a camera means he was not given the same attention as an ordinary Joe, but we won’t put a damper on everything. The white robe is supposed to symbolize the quality of all humans before Allah. This is in day one of the pilgrimage, that is the first thing.
The first day you enter what is called the Tawaf, the circumambulation of the Ka’aba. The term, “circumambulation” refers to the encirclement of a holy place. This is a very important term again, in Judaism as well as in Christianity. Psa 26:6. You will notice that in the Psalms, in the Jewish practice you have them circling the temple at the feast of the tabernacle.
So this is again, a precedent Muhammed is familiar with in the Jewish context.
They travel and they make seven circumambulations counterclockwise through the Ka’aba. As you know, the Ka’aba is this large stone cubic structure, about 40 feet long, 30 feet wide and about 50 feet high. It is higher than you would think. At 40 x 30, it is a pretty big building, but it is not that big when you have that many people going through it. It is covered with a black cloth with verses from the Qur’an embroidered on it. Only Muslims are allowed into the Ka’aba, or into Mecca in general, for that matter. There is no non-Muslim allowed into Mecca. It is a ihram. This is a sacred place.
In the Ka’aba, in the southeastern corner of the Ka’aba there is the black stone, which we have already referred to. The black stone is kept there. There is a special term for this part of the Ka’aba. That is where the black stone is. The black stone is encased in a solid silver, doughnut-shaped thing around it. It has essentially held together through several wars, though it has been burst into pieces. It is there for you to kiss. The ideal point is that you would kiss the black stone, which is kind of like again, Yassar Arafat in that picture. That picture of him with a bald head is him at the moment when he kisses the black stone. Because of the crowds, it is not possible for everyone to get that close to the black stone. Therefore, the provision is made that if you are not able to kiss it or to touch it, you should at least gesture toward it. So for most Muslims who go on pilgrimage, it is very unlikely that they would ever have actual contact with the black stone, they would merely gesture toward this symbol of monotheism.
That is the highlight of the Hajj, this circumambulation. You are barefoot, you are in the white robe. They are claiming that this is not an act of worship to the black stone, obviously that goes against everything Islam believes in. It is simply the acknowledgement of the antiquity of monotheism and the historic tie with Abraham that the Muslims claim is so important. In that sense, it is very, very important. So these are the first two features of the Hajj.
The third feature is the Saai, the hastening between Safa and Marwa. This is a point where the pilgrims will run seven times. Again, notice the number seven popping up. They circumambulate seven times. They do the hastening seven times between Safa and Marwa. These are two small hills in Mecca. They are to hasten back and forth between these two small hills. The purpose of the hastening is to remember the frantic search that Hagar went through when she was searching for water for her son, Ishmael. You remember of course, this is a passage directly out of the Old Testament where Hagar goes through this rebuke in the Old Testament context. Nevertheless she is concerned about her son. There is a well which they believe is the one that Hagar drank from and saved Ishmael’s life. It is called the Zamzam. And if you can drink from that well, it is considered to be wonderful.
That has been the cause of the deaths of more Muslims on pilgrimage than any other thing, this hastening, because you are supposed to run back and
forth between these. It is a large crowd. A number of Muslims have been trampled to death. Every year Muslims are killed during the hastening. So you need to be very, very careful. It is like being on the famous bull run in Spain. It is a problem. In fact, eight or nine years ago there were a lot of Muslims killed during this time, it was the most ever, over 100 people were trampled to death during this time, 103 or something like that. Because the number was so high, it made the international news. Over 100 people trampled to death on the Hajj. They interviewed the chief mullah who oversees. The asked him, “How do you explain about these people coming to worship Allah and perform their annual, once in a lifetime pilgrimage and they get trampled to death. He said, “This is a dramatic testimony to predestination.” In the article, he said, “We believe that all 103 of those people would have died at that exact instant wherever they were in the world. It just happened to be on pilgrimage at the time of their death; but Allah had willed that they die at that moment.”
Even Calvin would blush at that. That is really an unabashed kind of hyper predestination. There is a passage in the Hadith where Umar, one of the caliphs that followed Muhammed, tells a story that is now in a sacred Hadith, which says that the day before the battle, of the dead, where the Muslims had this famous battle we looked at earlier, and three Muslims were killed. Muhammed walked onto the battlefield and according to Umar, Muhammed said to him, “This is where so-and-so will die. This is where so-and-so will die.” He showed him where everybody would die. The next day at the battle, when they went to get the bodies, all of those bodies were in the exact same place as Muhammed had said. Umar asked him, “How do you know they will die in this place?” He said, “Because it is Allah’s will they fall at that place.” That mentality has carried to the present day, especially in Sunni, not so much in Shia, but in Sunni Islam, the main branch of Islam, this is there.
Plains of Arafat
Finally, on this first day, the Muslim goes 13 miles out of the city to the Plains of Arafat and listens to sermons on the site of Muhammed’s last sermon. The pilgrim is supposed to stand in devotion. The other part of the pilgrimage happens by noon. You have noonday prayer. You are transported out to the Plains of Arafat. You hear the sermon and of course you have prayers at noonday, the afternoon prayer, the evening and sunset prayer, three prayers while you are there. According to Muhammed, according to Hadith, the best of prayers is the prayer of the day of Arafat. So it is a very special thing to perform Salat on the Plains of Arafat. This is where they believe Muhammed gave his last sermon.
Those are the main elements of the first day of pilgrimage, and that is the absolute necessity. That is about five miles out. Arafat is 13 miles out. They also come back to a place called Muzdalifah which is about five miles away from that, where they usually have these huge tent cities where literally thousands of Muslims will spend the night in these wretched tent cities. They have a huge bus system that transports people. It is a huge logistical issue, you can imagine. Getting that many Muslims in and out of that city in one month’s time is a remarkable feat. They claim – I haven’t read this in a non-Muslim journal – but they claim that the planes at the airport in Riyadh and other major cities of Arabia, are landing every 30 seconds, these are 747s landing every 30 seconds for the entire month, day and night, landing and taking off. I don’t know what the numbers are, the numbers vary according to estimates; but we are talking about millions of people who make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
I think of a comparison to some of the Hindu festivals. We recently saw the major Hindu festival where the Hindus go out to this festival, and that was
the largest gathering of humanity in the history of the world. You had millions of Hindus in one particular spot, dipping in the Ganges River. That particular festival only occurs over every 100 years. So this is a little different than this annual event. When you accumulate annually the number of people going to Mecca, it is extremely high. In the ancient world, of course, it was mainly those from Saudi Arabia who went. Then there were centuries where African Muslims lived and died and never went on a pilgrimage. That was a point of dispute among Muslims, whether the African Muslims could be true Muslims when they never could go on a pilgrimage. But there was no way for an African to get to Mecca, it simply was not possible.
It is in the modern period with air travel, that it is a very, very big thing. The American Muslims going to Mecca is relatively recent. When Malcolm X, for example, had his famous conversion, not only to the Nation of Islam, but later in his life he converted to mainstream Islam before his assassination. Malcolm X wanted to go on pilgrimage. They said to him, “You can’t because you are an American. Americans can’t come to Mecca.” Because the idea of an American Muslim – this is in the 1960s – was just not really in the consciousness of people in Arabia, this American Muslim. So they said to Malcolm X, “You can only come if you provide – which by the way is the standard procedure if your heritage is in doubt – letters of recommendation from your Muslim cleric that would say, ‘Malcolm X is a member in good standing in this mosque, he is a faithful Muslim, etc. and he can go on pilgrimage.’” He was allowed to go and he went.
It is not really until our generation that we are seeing the real dramatic multinational Hajj that is going on. This is a dramatic development I think, which mainly because of air travel, is now made possible. So you have people from all over the world in the Hajj, not just people from the immediate vicinity and the countries right around Saudi Arabia.
So that is the first thing. We wake up the next morning to the call to prayer, naturally. We will be faithful about keeping our call to prayer, naturally, on
the Hajj. On the second day the tradition is to travel via bus from Mecca up to Medina. We mentioned already that these are the two twin cities on the Arabian Peninsula, Mecca and Medina, on the west coast of Arabia.
Medina is important for a number of reasons. One of the biggest, most famous mosques in the country is located in Medina, two of them actually. One is the place where Muhammed prayed the very first time and performed Salat after the Hegira, the mosque where Muhammed changed the qiblah and focused from Jerusalem to Mecca, this happened in Medina. Also, the tomb of the prophet where Muhammed is buried is in Medina. So these are very important sites to visit, these mosques and the place of Muhammed’s burial. That is a very significant part of the Hajj. But those are not the traditional things that are meant to emphasize by Muhammed, obviously, since he was alive when this was being taught.
The main purpose of visiting Medina or going toward Medina, the first stop is a place called Mina. This is a place on the way from Mecca up to Medina,
just a few miles out. The first stop is a place where Muslims believe that Ishmael’s sacrifice was to have taken place. As you know, there is a traditional site on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem where the Jews believe that Abraham sacrificed Isaac and was stopped by the angel and had the substitutionary lamb, Jehovah jireh and all of that.
According to Muslim tradition, it took place in Mina and there are three pillars there of three different sizes. These are the three places that Satan tempted Ishmael to rebel against his father. According to their belief, Ishmael threw stones at the devil. So the second day involves throwing stones at these pillars and you cry out, “Allahu akbar, God is great, Allahu akbar” and you throw stones at the devil. So you have dramatic pictures of thousands of Muslims throwing stones at a pillar and these stones of course are collected and brought back out for the collection of stones. They could cover up the pillars with all the stones they throw at them, but this is the tradition.
“Rebirth” – hajj/hajjah
The third day, again if it is the greater Hajj, you can go to Medina and to those sites. Otherwise you come back into Mecca itself and you repeat the sevenfold circumambulation and the seven hastenings between Safa and Marwa. You have a final cleansing. Your head is again shaved. You put on ordinary clothes and you are spiritually reborn. This is a term that they have that is added to your name, Al hajji, or if you are a woman it is Al hajjah, which basically is a new title to your name. So if you have been on the Hajj, you are allowed to add this as a postscript to your name. It is an honorific title, it is like being called Reverend or Doctor or whatever honorific type title that you add to your name, to let people know that you have made pilgrimage to Mecca.
As I said before, what I am giving you basically is the three-day barebones trip on which you go to Mecca. Pilgrimage doesn’t happen in Mecca. Many people do the 13-day Hajj, which involves the time in Mecca and Medina as well as their term for the Dome of the Rock, the farthest mosque. That is known as the greater Hajj.
This is the gist of the fivefold prayer. It gives you some sense of the importance of this in upholding the house of Islam. I mentioned that Islam is held up by five pillars, the house of Islam, and we have surveyed the basic five pillars of Islam.
I am quoting an early Muslim leader, this is in the Hadith: “Prayer carries a pathway to God. Fasting brings us to the door of his praises. Almsgiving procures for us admission.” This is a tremendous testimony to the role of the five pillars of Islam in moving a Muslim closer to Allah.
Islam really boasts in having no sacraments, though some of these are sacramental in nature, some more than others. If you call a sacrament a visible sign of an inward grace or the corporate aspect of sacramental worship and a sacramental ministry in the lives of believers, there is a lot of solidarity when you have prayers where everyone is facing the same direction all over the world. That is sacramental, in its flavor at least.
Everyone going on pilgrimage together with a common white garment, etc., this is very sacramental in its tone.
So I think what we would argue at this point is that the genius of Islam is certainly not in its originality in ideas or practice. I do not really think that is a major dispute. I think that Muhammed seems to be quite free. Even the Qur’an itself is acknowledging his interaction with Jews and Christians and others that were present on the Arabian Peninsula. I think the genius of Islam is in the creative assimilation of Jewish and Christian practice into a new religion that when you put it all together, it carries a distinctively new tone and expression. I think that is really where we find the key to this.