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.