Mecca, the sacred city in Saudi Arabia, houses the holiest site in Islam. The Kaba, the ancient house of God, is the geographical and historical center of the Muslim worldview. Five times a day, Muslims around the world face this holy site, called the qibla, in prayer. Once a year, pilgrims from all over the world, travel to the Kaba to perform the hajj. The focus of this post, the first in a series on important sites, is the Kaba.
The Kaba is a cubical structure about 60 feet high and 60 feet wide. It is surrounded now by Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque, the largest mosque in the world. Near the Kaba is the Well of Zamzam and the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwa. Both the well and the hills are significant because they are part of the story of Hagar’s search for water for her son Ishmael. Continue reading
The Kaba during Hajj
In previous posts, I wrote about the first four pillars of Islam: shahadah (the proclamation of faith), salah (prayer), saum Ramadan (fasting during the month of Ramadan), and zakat (almsgiving). Hajj, the fifth and final pillar of Islam, is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who is financially ready is required to perform the pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam. Mecca was on a major trade route and also home to Kaba, the holy sanctuary in the middle of the city that many people would visit for pilgrimage. For Muslims, the Kaba is the center of the Islamic worldview. During prayer, Muslims face the Kaba. Muslims also believe that Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Kaba for the worship of one God and by the time of the Prophet Muhammad it had been filled with idols. Many of the rituals of the hajj stem from the Abrahamic story. Continue reading
Pilgrims circling the Kaaba
In the past week, millions of Muslims have flocked to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the hajj, which takes place each year between the 8th and 12th days of Dhul Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The pilgrimage draws over 2.5 million believers. Mecca is the center of the Muslim worldview and the hajj is not only a physical journey but a spiritual one as well. Pilgrims leave behind all their worldly markers, signified by the ihram, two white sheets worn by all men, and spend four days worshiping God. Continue reading
Today, at the Plain of Arafat and Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia, two to three million pilgrims congregated to perform the most important rite of the hajj, or the pilgrimage. This site is significant because it is on the Mount of Mercy that the Prophet Muhammad gave his final sermon. Many pilgrims climb the hill and try to touch the pillar that marks this place.
With the completion of hajj and celebrations of Eid al-Adha that occurred from November 25-30, I thought it would be a good time to do a follow up on the Inside Islam radio show that aired November 19th, during which Jean talked with Michael Wolfe and Qanta Ahmed about hajj and their personal experiences as pilgrims. The show highlighted the history of hajj and its links to the Abrahamic lineage as well as the modern logistical difficulties of 2 million plus pilgrims performing the same rituals in 5 days.
This year’s pilgrimage passed without significant casualties. Despite fears around swine flu, it was reported that only 4 pilgrims died as a result of swine flu. There was heavy rain this year that hampered the beginning of the pilgrimage. However, while a reported 100 died from the flooding, none were pilgrims.
What Wolfe and Ahmed both emphasized is that despite the difficulties and the casualties, hajj does not stop and that alone makes this annual pilgrimage significant and unique.
Were you at the pilgrimage this year? What was the experience like? Have you been to hajj before? We want to hear from you. Help us continue the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Masjid Al-Haram and the Kaba during Hajj
This Thursday, November, 19th, on the next Inside Islam radio broadcast, the topic will be the hajj. Between November 25-30, one of the longest-lived religious rites in the world will take place. Every year, for well over 1400 years, millions of Muslims from around the world have flocked to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to fulfill the pilgrimage. The hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, is a duty prescribed on every able and healthy Muslim to perform once in their life. This journey, while physically exerting, is described by many pilgrims as one they would like to repeat again in their lifetime. Continue reading