An introduction to Hajj
Written by Ayesha Khan
Every year, Muslims from all over the world converge on Saudi Arabia to perform the most esteemed pilgrimage of Hajj, one of the five pillars that every Muslim lives by.
Last year the head count at Hajj exceeded a staggering three million, prompting new caps on each country's Hajj visa allotment.
But what exactly entails this days-long pilgrimage and what is its historical significance? Here's a brief guide to the Hajj.
It is believed that the prophet Abraham was the pioneer of Islam. He is believed to have built the Ka'aba, known to Muslims as the House of God, and out of true dedication to God was even willing to sacrifice his own son. The Hajj commemorates Abrahams pilgrimage to Makkah, one that Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) would also perform centuries later.
Upon arrival, pilgrims perform a welcome Umrah in Makkah. This involves circumambulation of the Ka'aba and praying near the Maqaam Ibrahim, where it is believed that Abraham stood while building the Ka'aba with his son, Ishmael. The ritual ends with the Sa'y, the shuttling between the hills of Safa and Marwa, where it is believed Abrahams wife Haajar ran in desperation to find water for her baby, Ishmael. It is from here that the holy Zam Zam spring emerged. The spring produces the holy water to this day, centuries later.
From Makkah, pilgrims arrive in Mina, where they spend the night in prayer and rest. On the second official day of Hajj, they visit the mountain of Arafaat, where they repent their sins and it is believed that they are alone with God. In solidarity with their Hajj-bound brothers and sisters Muslims around the world fast on this day. That night, pilgrims sleep under the stars in Muzdalifah, and ensure that they have collected enough stones for the next ritual, the stoning of the Devil. It is said that when Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son, he was deterred by the Devil three times. Each time, the steadfast Abraham pelted the Devil with stones. Following this ritual, pilgrims and Muslims all over the world sacrifice a lamb, which signifies the animal that God replaced Ishmael with, saving Abrahams little boy from sacrifice. This is also the first day of the three-day festival of Eid al Adha.
Following this sacrifice, men are instructed to shave their heads, and women to clip their hair. Pilgrims perform two more Umrah rituals and stonings of the Devil one or two more times before departing from the Holy Land.
Zam Zam Water
With Qatar Airways' Hajj season lift on the 100ml liquids restriction, it is now possible to take back the holy water to friends and family. It has been widely reported that 'fake' Zam Zam water is sold around the world, so you're far better off bringing the real thing from the source.
Misbaha (Prayer Beads)
These come in many varieties, from fine jade and silver to glow-in-the-dark. You can also find scented sandalwood ones that retain their scent for years. The best place to buy these is in the souqs around theharams of Makkah and Madina.
Thanks to the work of legendary Arab chemists Al-Kindi and Jabir ibn Hayyan, Arabia is still known as the centre for the finest scents in their purest, non-alcoholic form. And the ornate bottles that carry these fragrances are just as impressive as the scents themselves.
The health benefits of dates, which contain everything from powerful antioxidants to calcium and vitamins, are countless. There are also some 22 varieties to choose from, all of which are available in Saudi Arabia from reputable vendors such as Al Madina Dates Co. The most sought-after gourmet Saudi dates can be found at Bateel, located throughout malls and in hotels across Saudi Arabia.
This is the ideal gift to take to friends and family living in countries where the Adhaan is not heralded from omnipresent minarets. There are more ornate ones in the shape of the harams of Makkah and Madina, and more sleek, digital versions that blend into any décor.