Important Sites: The Kaba

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

Pillars of Islam: Hajj

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

The Hajj

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

Pilgrims Stand on Mount Arafat, while Muslims around the World Fast

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.

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Did You Go to Hajj?

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.

What about Eid?

On eid-stamp-picutre3June 30th, 2009, the New York City Council passed a resolution to add the Muslim holidays–Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha–to the public schools’ holiday calendar. Both of these holidays are significant for Muslims worldwide as the first marks the end of Ramadan,the holy month of fasting, and the second marks the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. With Ramadan coming right around the corner, the last week in August, I can’t help but remember my own struggles growing up when I would miss school to celebrate these holidays with my family and friends. Many times, exams, group activities, presentations would be scheduled on one (sometimes both) of the two holidays and I would then have to reschedule or simply miss out on something important at school. This resolution would relieve many Muslim American students from having to make that difficult decision.

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The Imagination Age and Digital Diplomacy

Second Life is a virtual world that users can enter from anywhere, create an avatar, and build communities with others. In “Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds,” a short documentary that follows dialogues about Islam happening in Second Life, hosts Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts enter a mosque, take the Hajj, and even visit the online office of a real-life charity. Below is a video of the documentary or you can watch it here in high definition.

Fouts and King feel that the project’s main goal is to tell the story of Islamic virtual realms and give people the chance to share their message with a larger audience. On their blog, Fouts says:

We had many tense discussions with Muslims and non-Muslims alike in virtual space around issues such as Islamic Law and Rape, perceptions about the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, free speech, women’s issues, the conflict in Gaza and the war in Iraq. Many Muslims are fed up with violence and virtual worlds offer a new opportunity, especially for people who live within oppressive regimes, to reach out and discuss these issues and even begin to seek creative solutions.

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Eid and the Hajj (Guest Entry)

To conclude our commemoration of Eid, Tarek Amr from Egypt joins us on Inside Islam as a guest blogger to write about Eid, the hajj, and symbols associated with the feast of sacrifice. Tarek is a bilingual blogger who writes about technology in English on Gr33nData and in Arabic on another site called Kelmeteen, or “a few words.” His social, religious, and non-technical writing is posted on Not Green Data. Last, Tarek also writes and translates for one of the best online resource for content from around the world Global Voices Online on an ongoing basis.

Tarek addresses an aspect of Eid al-Adha that we have yet to mention in this series: the fact that the holiday also marks the end of hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. For those interested in a visual look at this year’s celebration in Mecca, The Big Picture presents “The Hajj and Eid al-Adha.” Welcome, Tarek.

Symbols of Eid Around the World

by Tarek Amr

It was early in the morning somewhere in the Middle East, when Amina, a ten years old girl, woke up and went to her father’s room to wake him up. Today is the tenth of Zul-Hajja and it is Eid El-Adha. They have to go to pray in the mosques now then get back to their home to sacrifice that sheep that they bought last week and kept in their home’s backyard.

It was late in the afternoon somewhere in Europe, when Alan, a ten years old boy, was watching the television with his parents and saw footage of millions of people covered with white cloth and revolving around some building in Mecca. There were also other videos of other people sacrificing sheep and calves in other parts of the Muslim World.

By the end of that day, both Amina and Alan were aware that at that time of the year, Eid El-Adha is celebrated across the whole Muslim World. They both learned that at that day hundreds of millions sacrifice animals at that part of the world. They also knew that in that day some Muslims go to practice pilgrimage – Hajj – in Mecca. But they had many questions in the minds. They both were wondering why people sacrifice animals like this. Why do they cover themselves in white cloth and revolve around El Kaaba during Hajj.

They both had dozens of questions in their minds; they kept asking their parents, and went online to search for answers or find books that may answer their questions till they knew that it all started thousands of years ago when Ibrahim (Abraham) was order by Allah (God) to sacrifice his own son, Ismael (Ishmael). Ibrahim hadn’t have any children till he got really old, and he was really attached to his son. Ibrahim went to tell his son about that divine order, and the son as well as his parent agreed that they have to submit to Allah’s will.

At that moment Allah rewarded them both with a sheep to sacrifice instead of Ismael. We sacrifice sheep till now and give their meet to the poor ones. We do so as a symbol of submission to Allah’s will. We all have our own Ismael’s, some are attached to their sons like Ibrahim, some others are attached to their wealth, fame, etc. And that’s why we do sacrifice sheep every year in order to remind ourselves with that thousands years old incident and to learn to submit to Allah’s will even if it is against ours.

They also kept reading and asking till they knew that white cloth is called Ehram. Changing your own clothes with the Ehram is the first step of Hajj. Our clothes are always a symbol of our identities in this life. The quality of our clothes may reflect our wealth; their style can reflect what we do, where we come from, etc. And that’s why people do put on the Ehram, in order to be all equal.

Also in Islam people are seen as a combination of body and soul, where body is the part that bounds us to earth and to our life on it, while soul is our heavenly part, and that’s why the Ehram looks like the cloth people are covered with when they die, and putting it on is a symbol of getting rid of our mortal part and evolving towards our heavenly part. They then orbit around the Kaaba, which is also known as the House of Allah. Millions of people orbit around the Kaabe in the same time all of them wearing the same clothes and moving as a single unit.

The Hajj is a multi-day trip that people are required to do at least once in their entire life as long as they are capable of doing it. And that trip if filled of many symbols and it needs many books in order to elaborate its inner values. I am sure I cannot describe it in one or two posts, and I am sure I am not aware of every single detail of it and their meanings, but it’s always a pleasure to read more and more about it and get to know its details and symbols more, and it is even better to go practice it yourself someday and feel the pleasure of Hajj.

More on Eid:

Three guest bloggers joined Inside Islam to commemorate Eid this year. Naeem Mayetas wrote Thursday’s guest entry. In it he shared his Eid experiences growing up in South Africa. Another blogger from ProductiveMuslim wrote a post yesterday on Abraham’s story of sacrifice.