Someone who travels to a holy place for religious devotions is called a pilgrim. For a Muslim, the holiest place on earth is MECCA. Because Muhammad was born here and lived here for most of his life. Mecca was a holy city even before Muhammad won it for Allah. However, the continuation of many old practices ere still encouraged. But he purified them by restoring what he believed to be their true meaning, in the worship of the One God. So theoretically, people going on pilgrimage to Mecca are walking in the footsteps of Muhammad, performing the same rituals that he did all those years ago.
Even more important than following the Prophets example is the fact that pilgrimage is commanded in the Qur’an.
“Perform the pilgrimage and the visit (to
Mecca) for Allah.”
“It is the duty of all men towards God to come
to the House a pilgrim, if he is able to
make his way there”
“And proclaim among men the Pilgrimage,
and they shall come unto thee on foot
and upon every lean beast, the shall come
from every deep ravine
The 5th Pillar of Islam makes it a duty for everyone to go on pilgrimage (Hajj).
I say everyone because in Islam, everyone human is born a Muslim until he/she converts to a different religion. If you fail to go at least once in your lifetime, it is regarded as a grave sin. However, only 1/10 Muslims manages to do it, because you have to meet the following conditions:
– You must be passed puberty therefore be of sound mind, so that you know what you’re doing.
Children going accompanied by an adult do not count.
– You must be able to afford it. Therefore, you should have no debts; and you should have gained the money to pay for the pilgrimage through honest means (i.e. Not robbing a bank).
– You should be physically fit. Muslims are advised to go on pilgrimage when they are young enough to withstand the gruelling conditions. But the problem is that many cannot afford until they’re old hence some even die on their pilgrimage.
The Greater Pilgrimage is called the Hajj; people who complete it are honoured with the titles of hajji (for a man) and hajja (for a woman). The words hajj literally means ‘to set out for a definite purpose’.
Hajj: the Greater Pilgrimage
This can only be done on special days during the pilgrimage month, Dhul-Hijjah. It involves:
– Wearing the ihram.
– Staying at Mina overnight.
– ‘Standing’ at ‘Arafat from noon to dusk on 9 Dhul-Hijjah.
– ‘Stoning the Devil’ and making an animal sacrifice at Mina on 10 Dhul-Hijjah.
– Cutting or shaving your hair.
– Making the Tawaf, the ‘Circling’ of the Ka’bah in Mecca.
– And again ‘Stoning the Devil’ at Mina on 11, 12 and 13 Dhul-Hijjah.
Umrah: the Lesser Pilgrimage
This can be done at any time of the year. Muslims have to perform the ‘Umrah, the Lesser Pilgrimage. It involves:
– Wearing the ihram.
– Performing the Tawaf, the ritual ‘Circling’ of the Ka’bah seven times.
– Performing the Sa’y, the ritual ‘Running’ between Mounts As-Safa and Al-Marwa seven times.
A Farewell Circling of the Ka’bah is performed when a pilgrim leaves Mecca (after ‘Umrah or Hajj.
But pilgrims must arrive in Mecca a couple of days before 8 Dhul-Hijjah. Because the Hajj takes 5-6 days, and pilgrims will need time to perform the ‘Umrah as well so they’ll have to do 2 rituals.
Many pilgrims extend their trip so that they can visit the second holy city – Madinah.
In the Qur’an, Mecca is stated as the ‘mother town’. Because it is the spiritual centre of Islam. Pilgrims arrive there in their hundreds of thousands every year at Hajj. Only Muslims are allowed into the holy city. The area of the hajj is haram. This word means both ‘forbidden’ and ‘sacred’, i.e. it is so special that it is set apart for a holy purpose, and those who are not Muslims are therefore forbidden. The mosque in which the Ka’bah stands is called the Masjid al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque.
Pilgrims must purify their bodies (a full bath or by performing wudu) and enter into the state of holiness called ihram before reaching the sacred city. This word literally means ‘consecration’, or dedication to holy things. The special dress worn by pilgrims is also called ihram.
The Ihram is an important symbol for Muslims. It has the following meanings:
– That you have entered a state of holiness. It is a reminder that you are performing special, sacred rituals.
– That you have put off all that connects you with your usual lives, in order to concentrate totally on Allah.
– Because the dress code is so simple, it is a sign of humility before Allah.
(The clothes in which a newborn child is wrapped in is similar to the ihram. They therefore remind a Muslim of the day he/she first came into the world as a helpless baby. Also, the ihram wraps will be kept for the pilgrim’s burial. So wearing them now reminds the pilgrim that he comes before Allah, stripped of all material goods and status, just as he will be at death.)
– White is a symbol of purity. It is a reminder that you must try not to sin.
– Muslims are all dressed the same because they’re equal in the sight of Allah.
Once in the state of ihram, no perfume or jewellery is allowed because pilgrims must not worry over their personal appearance. They must strictly obey Allah’s laws, therefore they must avoid all violence to all living things. Pilgrimage has to be treated as a sacrifice to Allah therefore during which no sex is allowed. Which is why spouses or couples stay in separate accommodation. All this is done so that the Muslim can devote all their concentration wholly on Allah during this intense period of their lives.
The first thing that is noticeable in Mecca is the building towards which he or she turns in prayer five times a day: the holy Ka’bah. It is set in the courtyard of the Sacred Mosque in Makkah. [Ka’bah means ‘cube’]. It has words of the Qur’an embroidered on it.
The Ka’bah is said to be the first house of prayer. Legend claims that Adam was sent down from heaven and wandered the earth until he reached Arabia. There he wanted to build a house of prayer like the one in heaven. One story says that Allah let down a replica out of heaven; others that Adam built it himself.
Later on, it is claimed that Ibrahim rebuilt the Ka’bah, with the help of his son Isma’il.
And when we made the House (at Mecca) a resort for mankind and a sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham and Ishmael, (saying): Purify My house for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves (in worship).
Ibrahim’s Egyptian wife was called Hajar, who gave birth to Isma’il. There is an open area in front of the Ka’bah, enclosed by a semi-circular wall, marking the traditional site of the graves of Hajar and Isma’il .
Low down, set into the wall in one corner of the Ka’bah, is the Black Stone. It is a very ancient stone, probably a meteorite [it is believed to have come down from heaven].
Like a big inverted bowl with an opening in the centre, the Black Stone is now set in the wall in a silver surround. Those who cannot get close enough to kiss it raise their hand to it as they pass it.
Muhammad restored the Ka’bah to what he believed had been its original purpose: the centre for the worship of the One God.
Tawaf: the Circling
The Circling demonstrates the unity of the believers in the worship of the One God, as they move in harmony tighter around their central shrine, each reciting an individual verse of the Qur’an.
At the end of the Circling, they go to the Station of Ibrahim to pray two rak’ahs.
Sa’y: the Running
In performing this ritual, pilgrims are re-enacting Hajar’s frantic search for water when left in the desert with her young son Isma’il. The story tells how they were saved from dieing of thirst. Isma’il dug his heels into the sand, where Hajar had left him, and a spring of water gushed up.
The Day of ‘Arafat
The most important part of the Hajj is the ‘Standing before Allah’ at ‘Arafat, where pilgrims beg forgiveness of their sins. It is an amazing sight to see about to see about 2 million people, out in the relentless heat of the desert, and swarming over the Mount of the Mercy, engrossed in their devotions. It calls to mind for Muslims the Day of Judgement, as the following passage shows. It is from an article entitled ‘Journey to Mercy’:
Witnessing this, one cannot but think of the day of Reckoning, which we must, all keep in mind every minute of every day. The day of Arafat is extremely difficult. How much more difficult will that day be. On the day of Reckoning you need God’s mercy. It is for the day that you must seriously consider fulfilling every pillar of the pledge as a Muslim. It is for that you should plan to complete Hajj as soon as you are capable, for Hajj is one way you may, if Allah wills, erase all your sins, secure for yourself forgiveness and ensure Allah’s mercy.
Pilgrims perform the noon and afternoon prayers together at Arafat’ then move off at dusk to spend the night at Muzdalifah’ where they perform the sunset and night prayers.
Stoning the Devil
The next day, on 10 Dhul-Hijjah’ the pilgrims arrive at Mina’ where the ‘Stoning of the Devil’ takes place. On this day, they throw seven small pebbles at the pillar known as the ‘Great Devil’. The ritual continues on 11 and 12 Dhul-Hijjah’ when they throw seven pebbles at each of three pillars (hence 49 pebbles in all). Some pilgrims continue the practice into 13 Dhul-Hijjah (hence 70 pebbles in all).
The purpose of this ritual is firstly: It reminds pilgrims of the famous story of Ibrahim and his son Isma’il’ in which Allah tested their faith by asking Ibrahim to sacrifice his son to him. Three times the devil tempted Ibrahim not to do it, and tempted Isma’il to run away. But both father and son withstood the temptations’ and they drove away the devil by throwing stones at him. They were prepared to go through with the sacrifice’ in obedience to Allah’s command’ and out of love for Allah. Then’ at the last moment, Allah stopped Ibrahim’s hand, and provided a ram for sacrifice instead.
The other purpose and meaning of this ritual is a much more personal one. As the pilgrims ‘Stone the Devil’, they are expressing their own rejection of evil and their own resolve to withstand any temptations, which may come their way.
The Animal Sacrifice
Pilgrims on Hajj are required to offer an animal for sacrifice. This is done at Mina’ where the meat is roasted and enjoyed by the pilgrims’ but at least a third of it must be given to those who are too poor to buy their own animal.
This sacrifice is another reminder of the story of Ibrahim and Ismai’il, since a ram was given to Ibrahim to sacrifice instead of his son. By sacrificing animals, Muslims recognise that the meat, which we eat, is a gift from Allah that should never be taken for granted. Also, since animals are very expensive, it is a sign that Muslims are prepared to give up things for their religion.
After making this sacrifice, pilgrims are allowed to change out of their ihram and rest for a while before putting on the ihram again and completing the rituals of the Hajj. It is at this stage that they have their hair cut (a woman may just have a lock of hair snipped off; a man may have his whole head shaved). This is a sign that they are coming out of the state of consecration.
This means the ‘Major Festival’, and it is also called the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’. Because when the pilgrims are sacrificing their animals near to the holy city of Mecca, Muslims all over the world are joining them in making an animal sacrifice: a goat or sheep per family, or a cow or camel between larger group.
The meaning of this sacrifice is the same as for those on the Hajj.
-It reminds Muslims of the story o Ibrahim and Isma’il, and of their willingness to make great sacrifices for Allah.
-It shows their own readiness to make sacrifices for their religion.
-It is a way of giving thanks to the Creator God for the meat they eat.
-It shows their concern to share their wealth with the poor.
-It is a way for the Muslims back home to show their support for their fellow Muslims who are completing the Hajj.
Pilgrimage enhances one’s belief in oneself or can change one’s perspective on life. One famous example is the case of Malcolm X. He was born as Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, North-Western USA in 1925.
He went on pilgrimage to Mecca. This had a dramatic effect on him and his attitude to white people.
At the age of 6, his father was deliberately run over by a tram, and his mother was sent away because doctors claimed she was mentally ill. So Malcolm had to go live with foster parents. His life became better when he went to high school. He was popular, however, the teachers there did not have any confidence in Malcolm after he stated he wanted to become a lawyer. So Malcolm left school and got involved in dangerous gangs. Soon he started selling drugs.
He later changed his name to Malcolm X because he thought that his previous surname of ‘Little’ was the name of the white slave-owner. The X stands for his unknown African name.
He went to prison in 1946 and after he was released – he joined the Nation of Islam (an offshoot of Islam). He started his hate for white people and had become what we now call a racist.
Then later on he became disillusioned with the immoral behaviour of the leader of the Nation of Islam.
While on Hajj, he wrote a letter, and it shows a profound change that had come over him:
“I have been blessed to visit the Holy city of Mecca. There were tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. They were of all colours, from blue-eyes 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 non-white.”
Christians go to places of worship to try to feel closer to God. They believe that the actual effort they made to study, meditate and pray helps people to take their faith seriously. It is also a way of getting away from the hustle and bustle of the real world – to escape reality for a while.
If one thinks about it properly – all life is like a pilgrimage, from birth to death. Some people’s spiritual lives are helped out when they on a religious pilgrimage.
Going on pilgrimage helps you out in three ways:
– It aids in your quest for God, thus feeling closer and a lot more involved with him.
– It gives you a sense of priority – knowing that yours and everyone else’s time on earth is limited.
– It helps discipline their spiritual life because you feel that you are actually doing something to feel closer to God.
Christian places of pilgrimage are greatly linked with great figures and events in the Christian faith. And they believe that there is a special awe and holiness that comes from being used and prated in for centuries.
Some believe that the special ness of these places rubs on to them, during their pilgrimage.
There are many places of pilgrimage in Christianity. Some of these include:
Bethlehem – the Church of the Nativity
This is where Jesus was born. It was built by the first convert Roman Emperor. When the Persians invaded, many Churches were destroyed except this one because it showed three wise men wearing Persian dresses.
This was where Jesus grew up. There are to sites of interest – the Basilica of the Annunciation and the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel. Both claim to be the site of Annunciation.
A tradition claims that Gabriel appeared before Mary inside the Orthodox Church.
This is an international place of pilgrimage. It is situated in southeast France. It was formed after WWII. It brought together young Christians from all divisions and even non-believers into an area where life is simple and the hospitality is warm and friendly. The founder reckoned that if people knew each other, then there’s less chance of another war breaking out. But the main reason why people come there is to worship.
Lindisfarne (Holy Island)
This is just off the Northumbrian coast. A huge monastery was built here at the request of King Oswald. He wanted Christianity to flourish in his kingdom. However when Henry VIII came to power, he closed it down. So it is now in ruins but pilgrims still hold services there.
This is in the south of France and is a very popular pilgrimage site. It is claimed that Bernadette is said to have seen the Virgin Mary.
Since becoming a place of pilgrimage, there have been many cases of miraculous cures. Others however say that instead of being healed physically, they were healed mentally.
I have enjoyed writing this piece of work and have learned a lot. So I have come to realise that going on pilgrimage is a way to escape the hustle and bustle of the modern world. It gives you a chance to reflect on your life and your time, left on this world. Or gives you the feeling of Ummah (being part of a brotherhood) and not ever feeling isolated. The pilgrimage seems to be more popular with Islam, since it has the largest gathering of people on earth. Nevertheless, the experience for both religions is the same.