It was that time of the year again when the faithful set out on a journey of faith chanting: Labbaika, Allahuma, Labbaika (‘For thee I am ready, O Allah, for thee I am ready.’) Consumed with a burning desire to see the two holiest shrines of their world, the Baitul Muqaddas, the Holiest of Homes, in Medina, and the Haram Sharif at Mecca, Muslims from across the globe embark upon a journey of faith to the world they have dreamt of visiting some day. For them, the hajj (meaning ‘effort’) is not merely the duty of every Muslim to perform at least once in their lifetime, it’s also a spiritual journey, one that can lead to salvation.
This year the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca was from 25-29 November. In anticipation of this great moment, the faithful began leaving their homes in droves, months in advance. Apart from the hajj, which is performed in the month of Zul Hijjah from the eighth to eleventh day of the 12th and last month of the Islamic lunar calendar, visitors can also perform umrah, and ziyarat or visiting the sites associated with Islam’s early history. There’s a difference between hajj and umrah or ziyarat: while the hajj is a farz — a duty made obligatory by Quranic injunction upon every Muslim once in his/her lifetime if he has the resources, and considered one of the five arkan (pillars) of Islam, the latter are considered meritorious actions but not obligatory.
Code of conduct
Dressed alike in the ahram — pilgrim’s dress of unstitched white cloth — the millions who descend upon Mecca and Madina forsake their material selves when they shed their everyday clothes. The Kaaba — focal point of the hajj rituals and also the centre of daily devotions of Muslims around the globe — is a powerful symbol of Muslim unity. Women are not required to wear the ahram but they must be accompanied by a mehram: husband, brother or son.
After the first hajj in 632 AD, Muslims have performed a series of rituals every year: the tawaf — going around the Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction; running seven times between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah hills in memory of Abraham’s wife Hagar’s search for water for her child, Ismael; and drinking the Zum Zum water in memory of the spring that quenched his thirst. The pilgrims then go to Mina and thence on to the Arafat plains. This is followed by a ritual stoning of the devil by casting pebbles at three huge pillars. The pilgrims return to Mecca, shave their heads and perform the Feast of the Sacrifice. Then they visit Medina, offer prayers at the green-domed Masjid-e-Nabawi and return home suffused with barakat, blessings, of the Prophet.
Jalil co-authored with Mushirul Hasan, Journey of Faith: A Pilgrim's Diary, Oxford University Press, 2009