Hajj, 'Umrah & the Islamic Calendar

The word Hajj means, literally, repairing to a place for the sake of visit, and in the terminology of the Islamic Shari'ah, it implies repairing to Baytallah (the House of Allah, one of the names of al-Ka'bah) to observe the necessary devotions. Hajj is not a new institution introduced by Islam in its Shari'ah, This institution is as old as al-Ka'bah itself which is called in the Holy Qur'an "the first House of Divine Worship appointed for mankind" [Al-Qur'an 3:95]. This verse corroborates the Hadith (Prophetic Saying) which tell us that al-Ka'bah was first built by Adam, the first man on earth.

The whole ceremony of Hajj is commemorative of Prophet Ibrahim and his family's acts of devotion to Allah Almighty. This demonstrates that Muhammad, the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, did not innovate this institution but purged it of all evil practices and made it an obligatory act of piety by which one can develop God-consciousness; hence it is one of the five pillars of faith incumbent upon each believer to do if he is capable physically and financially. Pilgrimage is rightly said to be the perfection of faith since it combines in itself all the distinctive qualities of other obligatory acts of prayer, patience, privation of amenities of life, devotion, zakat (alms) and supplication. In fact, physical pilgrimage is a prelude to spiritual pilgrimage to Allah when man would bid goodbye to everything of the world and present himself before Him as His humble servant saying: 'Here I am before Thee, my Lord, as a slave of Thine.'.'

The rites connected with pilgrimage are divided into two kinds:

  1. 'Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) is made by the individual at any date he wishes, except at the times of the official pilgrimage.
  2. Hajj (official pilgrimage) which must be undertaken at a given date and in company with all the other pilgrims. It takes place in the months of Shawwal, Dhul-Qa'dah and Dhul-Hijjah (the last three months of the Hijri calendar).

The Makkan territory is sacred (al-Haram). The pilgrim enters this territory in a state of Ihram (one enters in a state in which he is forbidden to do certain things that were permissible before. In technical terms it implies undertaking Hajj or 'Umrah). Al-Ihram entails wearing special garment. In this regard, there is a consensus of opinion that a pilgrim is not allowed to wear sewn clothes or to cover his head or hands. If he wears stockings or shoes these must be above the ankles. This is done inorder to foster a sense of humility and a feeling of brotherhood among the Muslims. Al-Ihram or pilgrim’s garment consists of two seamless (unsewn) pieces of white woolen or cotton cloth, of which one wound around the waist and reaches below the knees, while the other is slung loosely around one shoulder with the head remaining uncovered. This attire goes for males, whereas females have to cover all their body except the face, hands and feet. Before putting on this sacred dress the pilgrim goes through an ablution (ghusl for major purification and has his hair shaved or clipped. A man in ihram is consecrated: He cannot hunt, pick plants, shed blood or have sexual intercourse. After putting the ihram, the pilgrim recites prayer and pronounces his intention of making the 'Umrah and the Hajj at the same time; or only one of them as the case may be. Then he begins to utter in loud voice "Labbayk" meaning 'at Thy service'. This cry is constantly repeated up to the beginning of the ceremony of the throwing of stones.

Having arrived in Makkah, the pilgrim circumambulates the Ka'bah seven times (tawaf), then enters the court of the sanctuary and kisses or touches the Black Stone. When the pilgrim leaves the sanctuary he formulates his intention of performing the ritual of as-Sa'i which consists of visiting the two hills of Makkah: Safa and Marwa several times. One part of the route is traversed by trotting.

These visits complete the rites of 'Umrah. If the pilgrim has no further intention of maidng the official Hajj, he shaves his head as a sign of being free from further ritual interdictions. If, on the other hand, he intends to continue with the Hajj, he retains his ihram and the following rules are observed:

  1. On the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah, the pilgrim goes to Mina and to Muzdalifah.
  2. On the morning of the ninth day he halts at the hill of 'Arafat; and here the pilgrims climb the hill crying "Labbayk, Labbayk" meaning 'Here I come to Thee (Allah)'.
  3. After the sun crosses the meridian, the prince of pilgrimage ascends the hill of 'Arafat where he preaches and recites pious invocations amid general emotion. When the sun sets, the ifadah begins. This is a swift movement towards the Muzdalifah plains where the pilgrims spend their night.
  4. Early in the morning of the tenth day there is a congregational prayer followed by a sermon after which the pilgrims start for Mina. The day is marked by three different rituals:

    a. Each pilgrim carries some stones with him from Muzdalifah. When the assembly reaches each pilgrim throws his stones (jamarat) on each of the stone-heaps of Mina (Jamarat al-'Aqabah, al-Jamarat al-Wustat and al-Jamarat as-Sughrah). Throwing the stones is a physical movement expressing a spiritual endeavour to conquer Satan and ward off its evil schemes.

    b. Each pilgrim offers a sacrificial goat to be slaughtered to distribute its meat among the poor.

    c. Finally the pilgrim shaves his hair again. He is then in a state of semi-consecration (tahallul). His complete consecration is achieved after he has visited the rest of the sacred places of Makkah.

(s) Mukhtasar Za'ad al-Ma'ad © 1993 Nour E-Sham Book Centre, Damascus, Syria

Be Mindful O Mankind!

He who enters the grave without good deeds is like the one who travels the sea with no vessel.
Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (d. 13H), may Allah be pleased with him