Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What's the Hajj all about?

watch the breathtaking pictures of the annual Hajj pilgrimage (courtesy the Saudi embassy) and introduction by Michael Wolfe at beliefnet
The Hajj is one of Islam's five essential pillars. It has been taking place annually without a break for over 1,400 years. This pilgrimage is the ultimate act of worship to Allah (SWT`).
Today as before, every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able to do so is obligated to make this journey once in his or her lifetime.The high point of the annual Hajj is the pilgrimage to the plains of Arafat outside of Mecca, and it takes place on the ninth day of the month of Zul-Hijjah on the Islamic lunar calendar. On that day, falling this year around January 9 (depending on the sighting of the new moon), more than 2 million people will gather on a desert plain of Arafat outside of Mecca to stand together in prayer before their Creator. Days of feasting follow this. Other rites are performed in the days leading up to, and after it.
But performing the Hajj is more than answering a call to duty. Mecca, where the Ka'bah--or symbolic House of Allah (SWT) is located--marks the direction in which all Muslims pray. It is also the birthplace of The Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who defined Islam, and is strongly associated with the lives of Hagar, Abraham, and Ishmael, figures known to every Muslim child. For all these reasons, when the yearly time comes to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims yearn to go. Where the Hajj is concerned, duty and desire beautifully converge.
The Hajj is not a single event. It is a process that changes shape over many days.
It is by turns:
*A donning of simple clothes marking unity among all pilgrim
*A rite of arrival to a sacred land
*A circular, then a linear ceremony of mobile praye
*An exodus from an urban to a desert existence
*A spiritual camping trip among the dune
*A daylong collective gathering
*An all-night vigil
*A casting out of temptation
*A symbolic sacrifice
*A three-day feast
*A final circular round of farewell prayer.
In addition, with such large numbers of people representing more than 100 nations, it is a kind of unofficial United Nations general assembly, a chance for each pilgrim to represent his homeland, become part of a unique unity, and take the pulse of Islam throughout the world.
Pilgrims travel toward Mecca from every corner of the earth. Their routes converge a few miles short of Mecca, at the checkpoints marking the borders of the Sacred Territory. It is here at these special rendezvous points that the actual Hajj begins. Over the course of a handful of days, the pilgrims will perform (and re-perform) several rites, each with its own special meaning and significance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Asian Games' 200-m champion is a woman in a hijab?

Veil no barrier, says Al Ghasara
Doha: Winning the Asian Games 200 metres in a veil proves there are no barriers to Muslim women pursuing their sporting dreams, champion Ruqaya Al Ghasara said on Monday.
The 24-year-old wore a hijab a scarf which covers the hair and neck along with leggings and long sleeves, but still outpaced her more scantily-clad rivals to win gold for Bahrain.
"I want to say I'm very thankful for being a Muslim; it's a blessing," said the sports management student.
"Wearing conservative clothes has encouraged me. Wearing a veil proves that Muslim women face no obstacles and encourages them to participate in sport. This is a glory to all Muslim women."

Al Ghasara also said it was important that her Tunisian coach Noor Al Deen Tajin understood her culture. "He's a top-class coach, but he's also an Arab-Islamic coach who understands Muslim traditions," she said.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why has Shahid Qurbanov walked all the way from Baku to Riyadh?

Narrowly escaping death six times and negotiating ferocious wolves and highway robbers, a modern-day Ibn Batuta has so far trekked 4,000 km on foot from his native Azerbaijan across Iran, Kuwait and then Saudi Arabia on the way to Makkah in time for the annual Haj, which is set to take place in a few weeks.
The Azeri man, Shahid Qurbanov, 39, gave a vivid description of his two-month-and-counting journey that has been marked with perils, adventures, road accidents and other hardships including terrible weather, wild animals and bandits. Qurbanov began his trek from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and is currently in Riyadh awaiting permission from Saudi authorities to perform Haj.
“In my case, surviving the long journey became a larger test of endurance than the pilgrimage itself,” said Qurbanov in an interview yesterday with Arab News at the Azeri Embassy. Qurbanov will proceed to the holy city of Makkah once he receives permission for Haj.A journey such as Qurbanov’s to the holy land on foot while enduring the most difficult of hardships to partake in the annual Haj is something indicated in the Qur’an: “And proclaim unto all people the duty of the Haj pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and on every kind of fast mount. They will come from the farthest locations (on Earth).”
When asked about the most memorable and fearsome moments of his journey, the fearless pilgrim described how he was stalked by wolves in Iran. “Wolves stalked me for nearly three hours, then suddenly they walked away... once the tire of a huge lorry burst on the Ahwaj Highway in Iran and it stopped just short of where I was resting on the side of the road,” he said, adding, “I also survived for three days and three nights without food and water.”Despite the dangers, Qurbanov said he has received considerable help from generous strangers in Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He says that once he obtains his Haj visa, he will continue on foot to Makkah.
“With a target of walking 50 km every day, it will be easy for me to soon set foot on the soil of the holy city,” said the pilgrim, who says he is inspired by ancient Arab travelers such as Ibn Batuta. Qurbanov added that his journey highlights the importance of peace and love between the people of the Kingdom and Azerbaijan, as well as his love for the Islamic world. He also plans to write a book about his trip.
Qurbanov left Baku on Sept. 1. He carries a 16-kilogram bag full of daily necessities and an Azeri flag. He said he did not have a clear route planned and had set out for Iran and then Kuwait before entering the Kingdom on Nov. 25.A war veteran with a mission to repeal Armenian aggression, Qurbanov, who retired from Azeri military service in 2000, is an ardent supporter of Muslim causes worldwide. He comes from the small Azeri town of Sumquait near Baku.About 4,000 Azeri Muslims are likely to perform Haj this year.
Islam spread to Azerbaijan as early as the first century AH, making it one of the first countries in the region to embrace the faith. Azerbaijan was the first of the Central Asian republics, which seceded from the Soviet Union, to join the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL) and Islamic Development Bank (IDB). The Kingdom and Azerbaijan have forged close relations in all fields
An Azeri pilgrim Shahid Qurbanov, whose Saudi visa expired during his 90-day journey on foot from Baku to Riyadh, got a shot in the arm here yesterday with the Kingdom’s decision to issue a two-month Haj visa.
Armed with this new document, and with full support given by the Saudi government and the Azeri Embassy, Qurbanov is ready to resume the final leg of his marathon to the holy city of Makkah today.
“On behalf of the people and the government of Azerbaijan, the Azeri Embassy thanks the Saudi authorities for issuing a Haj visa and facilitating Qurbanov’s holy journey,” said a spokesman of the Azeri Embassy here yesterday. He added that although Qurbanov’s mission to trek the 5,000 km from Baku to Makkah was a private initiative, the embassy fully supported him.
In his arduous journey across four countries, Qurbanov narrowly escaped death six times. He crossed into the Kingdom from Kuwait on Nov. 25 and arrived in Riyadh on Nov. 30, after walking 50-60 km every day with a 16 kg bag full of daily necessities and an Azeri flag. A war veteran, Qurbanov’s personal mission is to serve Islam and pray at Makkah and Madinah to defeat Armenian aggression.
Asked about the routes of his trekking from Riyadh to Makkah and his return to Baku, Qurbanov said: “I will have to travel by car to cover some distance because of the time constraints. If I start trekking all the way from Riyadh to Makkah, I may not be able to reach in time to perform Haj.” He said he was determined to walk more than 5,000 km on foot again on the return journey. He added that he intended to take the same route via Kuwait and Iran to reach Baku.
Qurbanov is likely to join the first group of the Azeri pilgrims, who will arrive in the Kingdom on Dec. 14. According to a report, two groups of Azeri pilgrims will leave Baku for Haj on Dec. 14 — one by plane and another by bus. The plane will fly from Baku to Jeddah and from there the pilgrims will depart to Makkah by buses. The pilgrims, who chose the bus, will travel in via Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan.
This year, a quota of 4,500 pilgrims has been allocated to Azerbaijan. About 93.4 percent of the country’s population is Muslim, 2.5 percent are Russians and 2.3 percent are Armenians. Islam as a religion, which permeates the social life in Azerbaijan, is experiencing a renaissance at the moment.
Over the past few years, hundreds of new mosques have been built in Azerbaijan, former places of worship restored and dozens of religious organizations registered. New religious schools (madrasas) have opened and many young Azeris are now attending Muslim religious universities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan.