People gather together for many reasons, be it political or religious. Gatherings help show solidarity and power of a particular group of people or school of thought.
This reminds me of some large gatherings round the world like the Maha Kumbh Mela which takes place every 12 years. It is probably the world’s largest gathering ever. The 55-day gathering draws millions of people at the mythical rivers of Ganges and Saraswati to be cleansed of sins and seek salvation.
There were also the worldwide city protests against the invasion of Iraq. Between 6 and 10 million people gathered in cities throughout Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Canada etc.
A great number of people turn up for the Pope’s blessings too. In 1979, around 1.25 million people turned up to see Pope John Paul II.
Another large annual gathering that comes to my mind is that of Hajj, a pillar of Islam, a journey to the house of Allah. It is so far the only large gathering that involves a lot of movement around the city Makkah.
Once an year Muslims from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Every Muslim is expected to make the journey at least once in their lifetime if they are able.
During Hajj social status is forgotten, and all pilgrims are expected to wear the same simple white clothing and perform the same acts of worship.
One of these acts of worship is particularly astonishing: thousands of people swirl counter-clockwise, seven times, around the most famous shrine in the Muslim world – the Ka’abah.
Since it’s the month of Hajj according to the lunar calendar, I will take the opportunity to describe the acts of Hajj in detail.
- Muslims who intend to perform Hajj enter the state of Ihram at particular stations called Miqat.
Ihram is a state of spiritual purity for the Muslims.
Men must don a distinctive outfit consisting of two pieces of white, unsown, cloth. One of the pieces is wrapped around midriff to cover lower body, while the other is draped around shoulders to cover upper body.
Women must cover their bodies in a loose fitting outfit and cover their hair.
Once the pilgrim has entered the state of Ihram, the following, among other acts, is prohibited:
1- Removing hair or cutting nails. However, if hair falls or is pulled out unintentionally, or if hair or nails are cut due to forgetfulness or ignorance of the prohibition, it is excused.
2- Using perfume or scent on the body or clothing is also not permitted.
3- Also not allowed is hunting land animals or cooperating in the act.
4- Cutting or uprooting trees or green plants within the boundaries of the haram that were not planted by man is an act that is forbidden.
5- Engaging in sexual relations with one’s spouse is also forbidden whilst in the state of Ihram.
After wearing the Ihram, pilgrims make a statement of intention for Hajj, and then begin reciting the talbiyah prayer, asserting their presence before Allah swt.
- Once one completes the journey from the Miqat to the Haram, the pilgrims offer Umrah. This might differ according to the type of Hajj one is performing.
(We will be posting about the types of Hajj in a short while)
8th of Zil Hijjah, last month of the lunar calendar (First day of Hajj)
- The journey of Hajj begins in Mina, which lies roughly eight kilometers away from Makkah. Pilgrims offer Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha prayers on the 8th of Zil Hijjah in Mina along with Fajr of the 9th of Zil Hajj.
(With Zuhr and Asr prayed combined and shortened and same goes for Maghrib and Isha)
9th of Zil Hijjah (Yaum e Arafat)
- After praying Fajr in Mina, pilgrims start travelling to Arafat. Dubbed as the “most important day of hajj,” Muslims spend the day praying and repenting to Allah swt. Spending sometime in Arafat from beginning of declining of the sun till sunset is important otherwise it will render ones Hajj invalid.
- Once the sun sets, pilgrims start moving to Muzdalifah, southeast of Mina. Maghrib and Isha prayers are held together around Isha time.
- The night of Muzdalifah is considered a blessed night. Pilgrims engage in reciting the Quran and praying throughout the night. It is advisable to take some rest as the 10th of Zil Hijjah is a tough day.
- Fajr prayer of the 10th of Zil Hijjah is performed in Muzdalifah.
- Many pilgrims collect the pebbles for Rami from Muzdalifah.
10th of Zil Hijjah (Eid ul Adha)
- After praying Fajr in Muzdalifah, pilgrims visit Mina again.
- First thing to be done in Mina is
-Rami (stoning of the Jamarah Aqabah which consists of throwing 7 pebbles one after the other).
-Pilgrims then offer the animal sacrifice in memory of Prophet Abraham.
-Upon animal sacrifice men go for a Halq (shaving of head) and women for a Qasr (shortening of the hair).
-After Halq or Qasr all prohibitions of Ihram are lifted except the private relations between husband and wife which are permissible after Tawaf-e-Ziarah.
-Next the pilgrims perform Tawaf Ziarah in Makkah. Note that Tawaf Ziarah is an act of obligation and missing this Tawaf makes Hajj invalid.
-Once one completes the above acts, the pilgrim is finally out of the stage of Ihram completely.
-Pilgrims return to Mina once again.
11th and 12th of Zil Hijjah
- The pilgrims stay in Mina during these two days.
- Rami of all the three Jamarah is performed.
- Pilgrims can leave for Makkah after the 12th of Zil Hijjah except if they delay their departure from Mina until after sunset. If this happens one stays and does Rami on the 13th of Zil Hijjah.
Before leaving Makkah, pilgrims offer Tawaf e wida.
This completes the ritual of Hajj.
Muslims learn a lot from the acts they carry out during Hajj. Wearing the same white clothes indicates that all Muslims are equal in the sight of Allah; none is superior over the other except through righteousness.
This great a gathering teaches Muslims to give up some of their haqq (rights) for the sake of others and treat everyone with care and love.
Having performed Hajj during my adolescence, I have only one advise for all those going for Hajj this year: be good towards others and your Hajj will be joyful. As long as you will help your fellows, guide them, give them a share of your food, squeeze a little to make place for them in crowded buses and cars, share whatever you have with them, you will have a beautiful time.
Do remember me and my team in your prayers.