With new friends from Iraq and Bangladesh, the Hajj and Eid al-Adha were topics of discussion this past week. As a Christian, I will never be allowed to experience Mecca during the Hajj (it’s a Muslim-only event) but I decided to at least do some research and learn a little more about the biggest religious gathering on earth. (This year it was estimated that 4 million pilgrims attended the Hajj; 1.7 million were from abroad.)
After some perusing on You Tube, I found this great 14 minute documentary by Suroosh Alvi, a Muslim from New York City. He snuck a handicam into Mecca on his own personal Hajj last year and shared his own thoughts on the experience but also the process and rituals that were required to complete the Hajj. It really helped me understand a little more and I would really recommend viewing it if you’re curious about the Hajj.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires each Muslim who is physically and financially able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Of the pictures I’ve seen of the Hajj before, the one that comes to mind is of the Kaaba, the black box that the Muslim believes to be the house of God. As part of the Hajj, the pilgrims must perform Tawaf where they circle the Kaaba seven times and then kiss the black stone (or point to the stone if the crowds are too bad).
The next ritual of Hajj is to go to Mt. Arafat, where the prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, and pray. Mt. Arafat is also known as the Hill of Forgiveness and is a highlight of the Hajj as the Muslim pilgrim spends the afternoon in contemplation and prayer.
The ritual of stoning Jamrat Al-Aqabah follows the day at Mt. Arafat. Jamrat Al-Aqabah can be found in Mina and consist of three columns (recently replaced by three walls) that represent the Devil. For the ritual, the pilgrims must throw 21 stones at the columns symbolizing their defiance of the Devil.
Once the stoning is complete, the pilgrims must slaughter their sacrifice in celebration of the sacrifice that God provided Abraham in replacement for his son (for Christians and Jews, this story may be familiar). This holiday is celebrated by all Muslims whether in Mecca or not and is called Eid al-Adha.
After stoning the Devil and slaughtering the sacrifice, the final rite of that day is shaving the head (for men) or trimming the hair (for women). The hair cut symbolizes an important stage of the Hajj and almost all restrictions are lifted from the pilgrim after this point.
When these rituals have been completed, the pilgrim returns to the beginning and once again prays and circles the Kaaba seven times. These rites are completed by both men and women of the Muslim faith, although the rules are slightly different for the sexes. For example, women cannot complete the Hajj while menstruating, nor can they attend Hajj without a male relative to escort them. But once the Hajj is complete, whether male or female, they are given the honored name of Hajji.
I will admit that this account is far from detailed, and despite reading multiple websites and watching several videos, the Hajj is still a bit of a mystery to me. But considering even devout Muslims need a guide to help them through the Hajj, I decided not to feel to bad. However, I am still curious to learn more and welcome any comments from my more experienced readers!