Salam (Peace) Dear Kristopher,
Thank you for your timely question and interest in learning about the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah.
What is It?
Every able-bodied Muslim with the financial means must make the Hajj, commonly known as the fifth pillar of Islam, once in their lifetime.
Pilgrims converge upon the Kaabah from all over the world during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar to perform rituals that bring them closer to God.
It is expected that approximately 3 million pilgrims from over 160 countries will participate in this year’s Hajj.
No Class System
During the Hajj, pilgrims must don the clothes of Ihram (state of consecration), which for men consists of two un-sewn sheets of white cloth and sandals, and for women simple loose-fitting clothing.
Whether statesman or street sweeper, all wear the same simple clothes.
No matter the socioeconomic class, race, nationality, or culture, everyone is dressed the same.
No designers logos, no brand names, no distinctive labels; any differences in status vanish.
The simplicity of the garment reminds us that whatever our status in this world, we all come to God as beggars desperately in need of His mercy and forgiveness. We are His slaves and He is our Lord.
Beginning The Hajj
Soon after donning the clothes of Ihram, the pilgrims begin calling out the talbiyah, answering God’s summons:
Here I am O my Lord, here I am. I am answering the call testifying that there is no associate with You. Truly, all praise is due to You, all blessings are coming from You, the whole Dominion belongs to You. Truly, there is no associate with You! (Al-Bukhari)
Calling out in unison, pilgrims reaffirm the Oneness of God and entrust themselves wholly to Him.
To properly experience and appreciate the Hajj, one must see beyond the arduous rituals. Otherwise the Hajj is merely reduced to a physical exercise and nothing more.
Honoring Prophet Ibraheem & Hajar
The rituals of Hajj provide a means through which the pilgrims secure a connection with the monotheistic tradition of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) four thousand years earlier.
They serve as a reminder of how Prophet Abraham surrendered himself totally to God and spent his life ever-ready to obey.
Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael (Ismail), upon God’s command, erected the Kaabah, the first House dedicated to the worship of God.
As pilgrims converge upon Makkah from all directions and circumambulate the Kaabah in a sea of white, it represents the continuity of the Abrahamic tradition of longing to know God.
Pilgrims are also reminded of Hajar, Prophet Abraham’s wife, and honor her remarkable faith, as she put her trust in God the Provider and searched the desert for water for her young son Ishmael.
The ‘Eid al-Adha Sacrifice
The sacrifice that marks the end of the Hajj is meant to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, but God sent a ram to be slaughtered instead.
This also serves as a reminder that God is the Provider and Sustainer of all.
By contemplating theses rituals of Hajj, the pilgrim grows closer to God on many different levels. From the very outset of his journey, the pilgrim sacrifices physical and material comfort for His sake alone.
The entire experience is in worship of One God, as pilgrims come from near and far responding to God’s call.
The Hajj is a constant remembrance of God, and a renewal of one’s pledge to serve Him and seek His pleasure.
Hajj: Collective Blessings
Nonetheless, the benefits derived by the individual pilgrim are taken to an entirely different dimension when the Hajj is viewed as a collective form of worship.
That is, when one reflects upon the display of unity throughout the hajj, it is indeed inspirational.
By donning the same dress, performing the same rituals, and calling out the same supplications, pilgrims come together in unison in the worship of One God.
The experience strengthens the bonds of love and brotherhood among the believers.
Whether from Algeria or Australia, Sweden or South Africa, Trinidad or Thailand, pilgrims are all brothers. It is an experience that can forever leave its mark upon one’s spiritual continuum.
Interestingly enough, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University published a study in April 2008 entitled, “Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering.”
Commissioned because it was feared that the Hajj could have negative implications for non-Muslims, the study found to the contrary: the Hajj not only promotes peace and tolerance towards fellow Muslims, but also toward non-Muslims as well.
So you see, Kristopher, beyond the rituals, the very essence of the Hajj is the oneness of mankind.
Whatever the racial, socioeconomic or national differentiation, we are all one human family.
In the Quran (which Muslims believe is the word of God), God states what can be translated as:
O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware. (Quran 49:13)
Did we not all originate from Adam and Eve? From a single pair of male and female?
When we witness the array of complexions coming together in worship of the One Creator, dressed in the same dress, performing the same rituals, calling out to the Lord with the same supplications, how can we be anything but at peace with the common origin of man?
I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.
(This is from AboutIslam’s archives and was previously published)