Friday, 7 October 2011

One fifth of humankind shares a single aspiration: to complete, at least once in a lifetime, the spiritual journey called the Hajj.

One fifth of humankind shares a single aspiration: to complete, at least once in a lifetime, the spiritual journey called the Hajj.
Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah, a central duty of Islam whose origins date back to the Prophet Abraham, brings together Muslims of all races and tongues for one of life's most moving spiritual experiences.

For 14 centuries, countless millions of Muslims, men and women from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to Makkah, the birthplace of Islam. In carrying out this obligation, they fulfill one of the five "pillars" of Islam, or central religious duties of the believer.
Muslims trace the recorded origins of the divinely prescribed pilgrimage to Prophet Abraham, or Ibrahim, as he is called in Arabic. According to the Qur'an, it was Abraham who, together with his son, Ishmael (Isma'il), re-built the Ka’bah, "the House of God”. Ka’bah was the first place of worship, built by Adam to worship God. After the great flood during the time of Noah destroyed it, Abraham and Ishmael re-built it on the original foundation. On God’s command, Abraham gave a call to mankind to come on pilgrimage to this House of God.
The Great Mosque around the Ka’bah and the surrounding areas are sanctified. Neither any killing of any living being nor cutting of any tree within the precincts of the sanctified area is permitted. It was Abraham, who established the rituals of Hajj, which recall events or practices in his life and that of his wife, Hagar (Hajira) and their son Ishmael. Ever since then, people have been coming to this House to perform the pilgrimage. Ka’bah is the focal point toward which Muslims all over the globe turn their face in their worship of the one God, five times each day.
Before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received the divine call to re-establish Islam, pagan practices had crept into some of the original observances of Hajj. The Prophet, as ordained by God, continued Hajj after restoring its rituals to their original purity. The Prophet, by his own example, showed to his companions each rite in detail. These rites are elaborate, numerous and varied and they are carried out by the believers for the past over 14 centuries in strict conformity with the practices shown by the Prophet.
Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation upon male and female adults whose health and means permit it, or, in the words of the Qur’an, upon "those who can make their way there." It is not an obligation on children, though some children do accompany their parents on this journey.
Before setting out, a pilgrim should redress all wrongs, pay all debts, plan to have enough funds for his own journey and for the maintenance of his family while he is away, and prepare himself for good conduct throughout Hajj.
When pilgrims undertake Hajj, they follow in the footsteps of millions before them. Nowadays, over 3 million believers from over 70 nations arrive in the holy city of Makkah by road, sea and air every year, completing a journey, now in some ways less arduous than it often was in the past. Travel in earlier days was filled with lot of hazards. The roads were often unsafe due to bandit raids. The terrain the pilgrims passed through was also dangerous, and natural hazards and diseases often claimed many lives along the way. Thus, the successful return of pilgrims to their families was the occasion of joyous celebration and thanksgiving for their safe arrival.