Hajj, or pilgrimage to the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, is the fifth pillar of Islam, and an obligation on every Muslim who has the means, at least once in their lives. We spend our whole lives caught up in the dunya, in chasing the material successes and dealing with all of the ups and downs of this life. While we go for Hajj first and foremost to fulfill a command of Allah, we also gain the benefit of unplugging from our everyday lives. Spending the money and taking the time to travel, sometimes all the way across the world, fosters our trust in Allah and takes us outside of the daily ‘grind.’ Going through the rituals of Hajj reminds us of our community’s heritage and our tradition and helps us to refocus on what is truly important and our ultimate goal in this life: the pleasure of Allah.
“And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka'bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses.”
The Hajj pilgrimage specifically encapsulates the legacy of the prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, as he journeyed to the area of Mecca, settled his family, and built the sacred house, the Ka’ba. Understanding the rituals of Hajj can help us not only connect to the life of our forefather Ibrahim but also connect to our shared history as Muslims and the history of all those who have come before us to the sacred house.
“Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful.”
The image we have of performing Hajj is most often the image of pilgrims circling the Ka’ba, doing tawaf. The Ka’ba is said to be the first house ever dedicated solely to the worship of Allah, and standing in its presence can carry its own deep spiritual significance. It also ignites a feeling of overwhelm at the majesty of the One it was built to glorify.
We do not worship the Ka’ba itself, rather Allah has made it a sacred place and given it significance through making it the direction that any Muslim must face when praying. The act of walking around the Ka’ba seven times during Hajj helps to center us and ground us back in our faith. Just as the Ka’ba is at the center of that circle and the direction we turn our faces in prayer, Allah should be the center of our lives and the direction we focus our attention.
Sa’i, or the act of running between the hills of Safa and Marwa commemorates the struggle of Ibrahim’s wife Hajar and her baby son Isma’il. By going between the two mountains, we remember how she ran between them in desperation, searching for anyone and anything that could nourish her baby in the barren desert.
The story of Hajar demonstrates her pure devotion and certitude in the will and plan of Allah. She put her whole trust in Allah, and despite what seemed like an impossible situation, she continued to place her trust in Him as she searched for a solution. It is a powerful reminder to us that no matter how bleak or how difficult something may seem to us, there is always faith and hope to be had in Allah’s plan even as we are searching for solutions through worldly means.
It also reminds us how deeply we all are in need of Allah. If it wasn’t for Allah’s aid and mercy in our lives, we would not have the means to be reading inspirational words on the web, and perhaps not even have the means of reading at all. Our sight, our devices and tools, each and every breath is from Allah. Without His mercy and love for us, none of this would be possible.
Arafah is the name of the mountain that the pilgrims travel to on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah, where they stay until sunset making du’a and asking forgiveness. The day of Arafah is the one day where all of the pilgrims are in the same place at the exact same time, for the same purpose and goal.
The day of Arafah is known as the day of the covenant, when we remember how Allah called forth each soul to bear witness that He is their Lord before they were brought into this dunya. It is also a day of looking forward to the hereafter and seeking Allah’s forgiveness and mercy.
Prophet ﷺ said: “There is no day on which God frees more servants from the fire than the day of ‘Arafah.” [Sahih Muslim]
Jamarat refers to the three pillars that pilgrims must stone with pebbles during Hajj. This stoning represents how shaytan tried three times to dissuade Ibrahim from carrying out Allah’s command, and how each time Ibrahim overcame the temptation.
While we are not stoning the real shaytan, stoning the three pillars commemorates Ibrahim’s struggle. It reminds us to be conscious of the evils of the world, both external and internal, that lead us away from earning Allah’s pleasure. The story of Ibrahim also reminds us that nothing comes easy, and that taking the straight path for Allah’s pleasure will not always be the easiest path, but is the most worthwhile.
Udhiya is the sacrifice of an animal that takes place on the day of Eid al-Adha to commemorate when Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his son in order to carry out the will of Allah, and was instead allowed to sacrifice a ram for his devotion and conviction.
The sacrifice is not only a means of celebration and feeding the needy through its meat, but a reminder of how we should follow the command of Allah. We may not understand the significance or the benefit of a commandment of Allah, but we know that He loves His servants more than a mother loves her own child. With that knowledge, we can trust that Allah only has the best of intentions towards us even if we can’t see the full picture now.
“[The animal’s] meat will not reach Allah, nor will their blood, but what reaches Him is piety from you.” [Qur’an 22:37]
In our modern times, we often see rituals, like many of our Islamic acts of worship, as simply actions to be performed, items to check off of our religious to-do list. They can feel outdated and empty, irrelevant to our modern lives and experiences. Rituals, however, can be a powerful source of connection, meaning, and shared values. Once we understand the ‘why’ behind the actions we perform, we can use them to not only connect on a deeper level with the community of believers around us, but also to aid in our own personal and spiritual growth. Ultimately, these actions done with understanding bring us closer to Allah.
You can read more in-depth explanation of Hajj and each specific rite of Hajj at yaqeeninstitute.org.