Millions of devoted Muslims have begun their descent on the Holiest City of Makkah to take part in the Annual Hajj Pilgrimage. The Hajj Pilgrimage is considered one of the 5 key tenets of the Islamic Faith and attracts an incredible 2-3 Million individuals a year.
Its true beauty lies in the fact that the ‘hujjaj’ arrive from all over the world, of every colour, nationality, creed and language united by a single belief. In these times of uncertainty, violence and oppression, the Hajj arrives at a very poignant time for Muslims who can detach themselves from the hardships of the world and concentrate on reconnecting with their spirituality.
Although Muslims commit to the Hajj in their following of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), the rituals of Hajj date back to The Prophet Abraham. Those who perform the Hajj are always said to be ‘Following in the Footsteps of the Prophets’.
During Hajj, Muslims perform a series of rituals: each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Ka’aba, the cube-shaped building and the direction of prayer for the Muslims, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, spends a night in the plain of Muzdalifa and throws stones at symbolic pillars of Satan at Jamarat in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. The Male pilgrims then shave their heads whilst the Women cut a small lock of theirs, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice and it all culminates in the celebration of Eid al-Adha. After the obligatory Rituals are performed, some ‘hujjaj’ choose to visit the City of Muhammad (SAW) Madinah whilst others leave for home.
To the Muslims, Hajj is associated with religious as well as social significance. Apart from being an obligatory religious duty, Hajj is seen to have a spiritual merit which provides the Muslims with an opportunity of self-renewal. Hadith literature (sayings of Muhammad) articulates various merits a pilgrim achieves upon successful completion of their Hajj. Hajj brings together and unites the Muslims from different parts of the world irrespective of their race, color, and culture which acts as a symbol of equality.
A 2008 study on the impact of participating in the Islamic pilgrimage found that Muslim communities become more positive and tolerant after Hajj experience. The study noted that the Hajj “increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects” and that “Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions.”
Malcolm X, an American civil rights activist, describes the sociological atmosphere he experienced at his Hajj in the 1960s as follows:
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.