Saturday, January 07, 2006

History of the Hajj

In Islam, the Hajj (the Pilgrimage) commemorates a number of events in the life of Abraham and his family in Mecca. Abraham is a prophetic figure and patriarchal father who features in the holy scriptures of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are sometimes collectively known as the Abrahamic faiths and are all based upon the belief in one God.

During his life, Abraham endured a succession of trials of his faith in God. One of the most significant began with his and his family's departure from Palestine to Arabia to protect his wife Hagar and son Ishmael from the seething jealousy of his first wife Sarah. Upon God's command, Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael with provisions in a desolate desert valley in Mecca, trusting that God would care for them.

When their provisions ran out, Hagar desperately searched for water for her son in the harsh desert conditions. She ran frantically between the hills of Safa and Mawah before eventually collapsing in despair and beseeched God to help her. Miraculously, a spring of water soon gushed forth at Ishmael's feet and is known as the Zam Zam well. Pilgrims to this day re-enact her desperate search for water by walking seven times between the knolls of Safa and Mawah called the Sa'i. In time, passing traders and nomads stopped in the desert valley and requested Hagar's permission to water their camels. When Abraham returned, he was astounded to see his wife running a well, trading water with passers-by. As the traders and nomads decided to settle in the valley, the small settlement grew into the city of Mecca and the well of Zam Zam proved to be a lucrative water source for thousands of years.

On another of his visits, God ordained Abraham to build a dedicated place of worship for him and to call all believers on an annual pilgrimage there. Together with Ishmael, Abraham built a 50-foot high cubical building known as the Ka'aba on a sanctified place first established by Adam. This building still stands today and pilgrims circumnavigate it when performing Tawaf.

The most testing trial of Abraham's faith was God's command for the patriarch to slay his own son. After much agonising and an encounter with Satan which culminated in the stoning of the Devil, Abraham agreed to obey but God spared him and accepted the sacrifice of a ram instead. This is the basis of the Stoning of the Pillars ritual in Mina during the Hajj.

During their lifetimes, Abraham and Ishmael maintained the Hajj but within centuries, the worship at the Kaaba descended into paganism and the worship of many Gods. Over 300 hundred idols were placed in the Ka'aba and much singing, dancing, nudity and immorality occurred around it. Eventually, God sent down another Prophet to restore the Kaaba and the Hajj to their correct paths.

In 632CE on his return to Mecca from exile in Medina, Mohammad embarked on a journey with thousands of his followers. Taking Mecca with little resistance, Mohammad destroyed the idols, reclaimed the Ka'aba and restored the Hajj rites to their original purity and devotion to one God alone. Mohammad also imbued the Hajj ceremonies with remembrance of the Prophets divinely dedicated lives.On Mohammad's Farewell Hajj in 632CE, 200,000 followers assembled to hear his vision of an all-encompassing political, social, economic and spiritual Islam. Delivering his sermon on Mount Arafat, Mohammad espoused a belief in one God, the equality of all Muslim believers, the sanctity of life, property and honour, women's rights and the notion of the Ummah. Now, millions of pilgrims assemble to hear sermons at Arafat during the zenith of the Hajj on a pilgrimage serving to test one's faith in God, family and the physical and spiritual self.

May peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his bloodline, holy companions and spiritual family.

:: Reference and Credit.
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