- Published on Monday, 15 November 2010 05:52
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2622
Every year, Muslims perform the Hajj - 2.5 to 3 million of them go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and perform ancient rituals. In 2010, Hajj starts on Nov 15 and goes for several days. This is because Mohammed ordered all able-bodied Muslims to complete the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. Once in Mecca, they congregate around a large stone, thought by some to be a meteorite but revered by Muslims as holy. For more on the ritual, including a video, see this article. But why do they do this? The Hajj ritual is believed by Muslims to go back to the days of Abraham or Ibrahim as he is known to Muslims.
Muslims believe the story to be as follows:
Ibrahim travelled to a barren valley with his infant son Ishmael and his mother Hagar and left both of them near the sacred house with some food and water. But that soon ran out causing Hagar to run between the two hills of Safa and Marwa in search of sustenance. These desperate runs are now imitated by pilgrims to Mecca. But then Allah answered Ibrahim's prayer to look after his family by sending the angel Gabriel, who scratched the dry soil under the infant, triggering a sudden and continuous gush of water. (Neat - prayers these days don't seem to get such spectacular results - seems it was easier in ancient times to get a god to listen).
The resulting Zamzam Well is believed to have brought life into the area, bringing nomad Arabs to settle around it. Ibrahim’s son Ishmael learned Arabic and married into Arab tribes. For Muslims, Mohammed is an offspring of Ishmael and therefore Ibrahim.
Ibrahim is said to have reconstructed the house of worship with Ishmael on returning to the area years later. The Qur’an speaks of Ibrahim as building the structure as the first house for worship on earth – the Kaaba (the cube structure in the middle of the picture at right).
But the Kaaba was demolished and rebuilt several times, the last believed to be after floods in 1630.
As an indication of worshipping activities at the "sacred house," the Qur’an cites Allah's order to Ibrahim to rid the house of idols and purify it for pilgrims. He was also ordered to call people to hajj. Mohammed did the same in 630 AD when he conquered Mecca with his followers as he entered the Kaaba and destroyed all idols placed there by Arabs to represent their pagan gods. (Doing the Moses thing).
Islamic tradition says the meaning of Ibrahim's hajj was distorted over time, with the belief in one God that he preached losing ground to polytheism, and Arabs worshipping idols as proxies to God and filling the Kaaba with them. It also says that, over the centuries before Islam, it turned into something resembling a fun-fair and lost its spirituality, with some pilgrims replacing prayers with clapping and whistling, and others even circling the Kaaba naked.
And just as Muslim pilgrims now stand on Mount Arafat at the peak of every hajj, pre-Islamic pilgrims used to spend a day in the barren plain outside Mecca and return to the city walking around the Kaaba in a huge circle – just like they do now.
The Qur’an has a similar story to the Bible: Ibrahim obeyed God and prepared to sacrifice Ishmael but God forestalled that by providing him at the last minute with a lamb to kill instead. That contradicts the Bible’s story of Abraham, which says he was about to slay his other son, Isaac.
This ritual is no more strange than Christian rituals - and it is good for the travel industry! But like all rituals, if you don't believe you still wonder what the benefit is. Does
God Allah notice and give you brownie points? What happens to the 90% of Muslims who never make the pilgrimage? Do they miss out on Paradise or just go to a lower level? Or does the less than 100% who make the trek say that many don't really believe? Although there is little terrorism associated with the Hajj, in 2010 the Saudis are "on alert" in case Al-Qaida is planning something. Or is this just a ploy to make us think that terrorists are not real Muslims?