general info INSIGHT INTO ISLAM
Insight into Islam
Updated on 13 September 2017

What is Hajj?
Hajj is the name of the major pilgrimage in Islam, and is the last of the five basic pillars of the faith. It is required of every Muslim to attempt Hajj once in their lifetime. However, it is not as easy as booking any other trip. Hajj has special conditions which are part of preparing for the pilgrimage as a worshiper. People who want to go to Hajj cannot have any debt, where they owe anyone anything financially. Besides paying for their journey and stay, they must also leave enough for their family members back home, to ensure their absence doesn’t negatively affect the family. This allows a Muslim leaving for Hajj to then be focused on the holy aspects of the pilgrimage without worry or doubt.

Long ago Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) retraced steps of the Prophet Abraham and his wife Haggar, which is now known as the Hajj. The starting point for the Hajj is the iconic Kabba - the house Abraham built, which is covered in black cloth and is where the pilgrims walk seven times in anticlockwise direction. All men are dressed in Ihram which are two white, cotton, woven but not stitched pieces of fabric, and the ladies are in clean, modest clothing. Afterwards, they are on to a town called Mina, and on the second day is the standing on Mount Arafat, contemplating their life and God from sunrise to sunset before they move on to a town called Muzdelifa to rest. On that day of Arafat though, most Muslims back home will be fasting. It precedes Eid and in the Emirates, it is a holiday.  While the rest of the Muslim world celebrates Eid Al Adha, the feast of sacrifice with its own importance, the pilgrims will have walked back to Mina and will be symbolically stoning the devil as a show of strength of a good person over evil. Then they partake in some of the attributes of the Eid, such as having a sheep slaughtered by a specialised butcher after which the meat is sent to the poor. From Saudi Arabia, it is now handled like a mass, pre-arranged, overnight shipment and handed with care to those in need. For the next three to four days, the pilgrims do more activities following the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who was retracing steps of Abraham and Haggar; including her running between hills looking for water which was rewarded with the never ending fresh spring of Zamzam. Hajj is a life-changing mission, in which we believe all sins are forgiven, and the pilgrim, now titled a Hajji or Hajjia (for ladies), is re-starting life with a clean slate.

Pilgrimages can be found in absolutely every religion. They are meant to be physically challenging, time-consuming and the journey to and from very contemplative. All require the use of patience balanced with strength; possibly one of the most difficult balances all humans face. Though a few Muslims each year try to lengthen their journey in a more traditional way, such as walking, biking or sailing from a far-off nation, modern Muslims must somehow gain this gravity during a few hours flight.

Many people confuse that both Eids celebrate the end of something... Eid Al Fitr does mark the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, as it is the first day of the next lunar month. However, Eid Al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, falls mid-way through Hajj. Hajj being the 5-6-day pilgrimage in the month Dhul-Hijjah. Hajj starts on the 8th, and Eid starts on the 10th and lasts three days.

This Eid centres around the sacrifice Abraham was willing to commit for God, when he was commanded to sacrifice his beloved son as a test of what is most important to him. Though the other monotheistic religions vary on what animal and which son was swapped out by God in place of the other, there is no doubt that no test would be greater for a parent. We believe God to be merciful, therefore no harm could come to the young man. In honour of this test and God’s mercy, sheep are slaughtered for meat by Muslim families, but in strict accordance to halal rules - for the care of the animal and to ensure none of the meat is wasted, as it is divided and sent to the poor and is the main meal for the first day of Eid. The rest of Eid traditions are the same as the ones from a few months earlier; dressing in our finest clothes, Eid morning prayers, helping the poor to enjoy the day equally and visiting friends, neighbours and relatives.

With thanks to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Call 04-3536666 or visit www.cultures.ae

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