Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Saudi Arabia and Hajj

By Chiara


For those readers who may be less familiar, or those who enjoy a review and pictures, here is a brief overview of Hajj, and some excellent pictures of last year’s Hajj (December 2008).

Hajj, or the Pilgrimage to Mecca, is the 5th of the 5 Pillars of Islam. All Muslims are to complete the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, if they are physically and financially capable. Poorer Muslims may save a lifetime to make the journey, while those who are wealthier and live closer may make the pilgrimage many times.

As the keeper of the Two Holy Mosques it is incumbent on Saudi Arabia to coordinate the logistics of the annual Hajj, which unlike the Umrah, or “lesser pilgrimage”, must be done on the same days in the Islamic calendar each year, from the 7th to 13th day of the 12th month, Dhu al-Hijjah. It does so through the Ministry of Hajj.

Each year quotas are set for Muslims coming from each country including Saudi, and Saudis are not allowed to participate more than once every 5 years. Special Hajj visas are issued, and specially designated tourist agencies coordinate travel and accommodation. Some pilgrims go as a family, some with a group from their workplace, or neighbourhood, or through an organization. Others are essentially there as individuals through a tourist agency.

Challenges, beyond the long distances now traveled, include overcrowding, stampedes, a past unsafe bridge, political and sectarian differences, and now H1N1 flu. Saudi Arabia has taken measures to deal with these challenges, including a comprehensive and admirable public health plan for this year’s Hajj. Modifications of the ritual have occurred to maximize safety while preserving the religious meaning and symbolism. For example, it is not necessary to kiss the Kaaba, one may point; and, stones are no longer thrown at pillars, but at walls with catch basins.

Of course, none of this detracts from the deeply spiritual experience for those who are able to perform Hajj in any year, including this one. The impact is often profound, whether on an individual basis—as for a family member who as a secondary consideration regained faith that she would have a son, and did—or on a broader basis, as Malcolm X’s experience, of the multiple nations and races of the Ummah among those gathered for Hajj, had on his subsequent conversion to Sunni Islam, and what that meant for him and the Nation of Islam.

In April 2008 David Clingingsmith of Case Western Reserve University, Asim Ijaz Khwaja of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Michael Kremer of the Harvard University Department of Economics, the Brookings Institution, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and the Center for Global Development published a Faculty Working Paper entitled: “Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam's Global Gathering”.

From the Abstract:
"We estimate the impact on pilgrims of performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Our method compares successful and unsuccessful applicants in a lottery used by Pakistan to allocate Hajj visas. Pilgrim accounts stress that the Hajj leads to a feeling of unity with fellow Muslims, but outsiders have sometimes feared that this could be accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. We find that participation in the Hajj increases observance of global Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting while decreasing participation in localized practices and beliefs such as the use of amulets and dowry. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment. Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions. The evidence suggests that these changes are more a result of exposure to and interaction with Hajjis from around the world, rather than religious instruction or a changed social role of pilgrims upon return."

This is a remarkable finding, in that they were able to analyze what should be logical outcomes, but had not been proven in such a manner. That Hajjis would have a greater sense of oneness with the Ummah is an important finding, but more remarkable in some senses are their greater adherence to Islamic, as opposed to cultural practices, and the greater liberalization of attitudes towards women, as well as toward non-Muslims. That these attitude shifts result from the benefits of exposure to other Hajjis from around the world, rather than religious teaching or increased social status, argues for increased interaction among Muslims globally.

Yet, at the same time, these findings are in keeping with the core beliefs of Islam, and with the purpose of Hajj--to demonstrate solidarity among Muslims and submission to Allah. This is what distinguishes the Hajj from the pre-Islamic pilgrimages to Mecca, which included tribes of the Arabian peninsula of all faiths worshiping multiple gods or idols, and also Christians worshiping Jesus and Mary. Although the pilgrimage is believed to extend back thousands of years to Abraham’s (Ibrahim’s) first journey with Hagar and Ishmael, the current form of the pilgrimage is the one that marked the first time Muslims only, as a group led by the Prophet Mohamed, performed the pilgrimage. Current rituals are based on those which were retained from pre-Islamic ones, and those established by the Prophet and his followers.

After initial purification, and changing into ihram clothing, the pilgrims move from Mecca to Mina where they spend the day. The next day, on the first day of the Hajj, each person returns to Mecca to Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, The Sacred Mosque, and walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba; and, on each circumambulation, either kisses or points with the right hand to the Black Stone in its corner, praying each time. Prayers are then offered at the Place of Abraham, a specific site within the mosque near the Kaaba; or, due to space, anywhere within the mosque. On the same day, each pilgrim walks/runs back and forth 7 times between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, symbolizing Hagar’s desperate search for water for Ishmael. Each drinks water from the Zamzam Well which was created for Hagar when the Angel sent by Allah struck the ground with his heel (or wing).

On the second day, each pilgrim spends the night in prayer in Mina; and, on the third, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil and pray. This is the crux of the pilgrimage, which is considered invalid if the pilgrim does not spend the afternoon near the site of the Prophet’s Last Sermon, Mount Arafat, the Mountain of Forgiveness. At sunset the pilgrims leave Arafat and go to Muzdalifah, where they gather stones for the next day.

On the fourth day, each pilgrim throws 7 pebbles as part of a ritual Stoning of the Devil, in defiance of the Devil’s challenges to Abraham when Allah asked him to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Afterward they shave their heads, and sacrifice an animal as a symbol of Allah sparing Ishmael. At the same time, Muslims around the world sacrifice an animal, often a sheep, as the opening of the celebration of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice.

On the 5th day, the pilgrims re-visit the mosque in Mecca to circumambulate the Kaaba again, as a symbol of being in a hurry to respond to, and show love for, Allah. This, too, is an obligatory part of the Hajj. That night is spent back at Mina. The next afternoon, and on the following day, the pilgrims must again throw 7 pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. The must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset; or, if they are unable to leave, and stay another night, must again perform the stoning ritual the next day, before returning to Mecca. A farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba is performed before leaving Mecca.

The Hajj is now completed, but many pilgrims also travel to Medina and the holy mosque there, Al-Masjid al-Nabawi. The Mosque of the Prophet contains the Prophet’s tomb, and a very special area, ar-Rawdah an-Nabawiyah, that from the Prophet’s tomb to his pulpit, considered a part of Jannah. Pilgrims also visit the graves of the companions of the Prophet.

More information about Hajj is available online including at this site: Perform Hajj: Muslim’s Pilgrimage to Mecca; and this interactive one, explaining the steps, Mapping faith: The pilgrimage to Mecca. Below are pictorial representations of the rituals, and photos from Hajj 2008 (December 5-10). The captions are in the first comment to the post.

The Route

The Steps


The Beginning

The Middle

The End

Please feel free to share your personal experiences of Umrah, or Hajj, or those you may be aware of; and, to share any other comments, or thoughts.

*See first comment below for picture captions.


Chiara said...

Captions for the pictures of the 2008 Hajj


#1-A Saudi worker uses gold thread to embroider the Kiswa (cover) for the Kaaba, the black cube at the centre of the Great Mosque in Mecca which was built around the black stone, and around which the pilgrims circumambulate 7 times at the beginning of Hajj and then again circumambulate at the end. The Kiswa is replaced annually at the end of Hajj.

#2-Thousands of tents for the pilgrims at Mina.

#3-A Thai woman prays in the departure area of the Bangkok Airport in anticipation of her flight to Saudi Arabia for Hajj.

#4-A Saudi policeman monitors the pilgrims for safety and security reasons.

The Beginning:

#1-An early morning call to prayer.

#2-Pilgrims praying in a circle around the Kaaba, inside the Great Mosque.

The Middle:

#1-Water being misted over Arafat near Mecca to cool the air for pilgrims praying outside Namira mosque there.

#2-Pilgrims praying outside Namira Mosque, near Mecca.

#3-An aerial view of the pilgrims on Mount Arafat.

#4-A pilgrim reads the Quran at Arafat, while others also pray or reflect, an obligatory part of the pilgrimage in the sight of Mount Arafat, the Mountain of Mercy or Forgiveness, where the Prophet Mohamed gave his last sermon.

#5-Pilgrims seen inside the building where they will Stone the Devil, symbolically, with stones cast at pillars, and at a wall representing the pillars.

#6-One of the pillars and the catch basin for stones, in the Stoning the Devil part of the Hajj.

#7-At night at Mina, where the pilgrims camp in tents for 3 days to complete the Stoning of the Devil ritual.

#8-Men shaving their heads, after Stoning the Devil for the final time, and before leaving for Mecca.

The End:

#1-An aerial view of Mecca and the surrounding area. The blue extension is the covering over the area between Mecca and the hills of Safa and Marwa, where the pilgrims are encouraged to walk rather than run, for safety reasons, in imitation of Hagar’s search for water for Ishmael and the miracle of the ZamZam well.

#2-The final circumambulation of the Kaaba that closes the Hajj.

Chiara said...

Anonymous said...
merci pour intiresny Dieu
November 26, 2009 6:47 AM

Chiara said...

Salma said...
Great post...I've been looking on Youtube and googling anything hajj, then I come over here and find it.

Happy Eid Chiara.
November 26, 2009 3:36 PM

Chiara said...

oby said...
I am unfamiliar with Hajj. I was wondering if it was possible to give a quick explanation of the photos. They seem quite impressive but I am not able to tell what they are. Especially the contrasts between the unbelieveable crowds and the lone woman in front of TV monitors??

I would appreciate any clarification.

November 26, 2009 5:39 PM

Chiara said...

Anonymous--De rien. Bienvenue et merci pour votre commentaire. J’espère recevoir de vos commentaires sur d’autres posts!

Salma--glad you enjoyed this and found it here! Eid Mubarak to you and your family, too!

Oby--Welcome and thank you for your comment. I hope you will read and comment on other posts old and new.

Thank you especially for your request for explanations of the pictures, as I had debated whether to put in captions or not, since the pictures themselves are so remarkable I didn't want to break up the flow. I have decided to put the explanations in another comment here, and make a note to that effect on the post.

In short, the lone woman is praying at an airport in Indonesia while waiting to board a plane for Hajj. The Saudi policeman is monitoring the movement of pilgrims for safety and security reasons. The white spots in the 2nd "Preparations" photo are the 3000 tents prepared for pilgrims at Mina outside of Mecca.

I also read elsewhere that you have been looking for Quran translations, and in particular ones in contemporary English. I like the 2 following online sites for Quran translations.

The first, from an academic site, gives 3 well respected translations: the Yusuf Ali one (like the King James Version of the Bible); Pickthall (intermediate); and Shakir (the most contemporary sounding). It also has an excellent index of topics within the Quran, and allows you to read all of one translation or compare all 3 verse by verse. The site has other relevant resources:

The second provides the opportunity to select from 5 English language translations, the original Arabic, and transliterated Arabic, and to compare up to 4 at a time. It was recommended to me by an academic Saudi friend who is well versed in Islam, and English and Arabic linguistics:

As I said above I will caption the photos for the post in another comment here. Thanks again!
November 26, 2009 7:57 PM

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah said...
Mashallah, an excellent post Chiara... Again you impress us with your good insight and research.

Alhumdulillah i did my hajj much before I came to Saudi Arabia for work. I was a teen back then and it was a rare for guy my age to do it from India.

Back when i was in my teen, just like any other Indian muslim, I often related to muslims only as those from the Indian Sub Continent, and may be Arabs thats it. But by performing Hajj, i was able to relate myself with a wider audience from Malay, Indonesians, Chinese, African, European muslims and much more...
You get feeling that Islaam is much larger than just one's geography and culture. And i must say Hajj was one of the events that helped shape the course of my life, with respect to assimiliation and recognizing other ethinicities.

When i went back to India and said i met some Chinese and Russian Muslims, wow you must look at the expressions in their faces, yes people were amazed.

On the spiritual side of it while performing my Hajj the only thing that went through my head was self reflection and purifying my sins. I actually got no real words to explain the ecstasy and feelings one goes through while performing Hajj. It is one place where your mind is one with remembrance of God, i haven't felt such a feeling elsewhere.

Also the volunteers and others go out of their way to help others. Like i have seen some organizations sending in containers filled with food stuff to be distributed amongst the hajis.

The Hajj ritual has also uniquely contributed to Saudi Arabia and the Immigration pattern in the past.

Inshallah when my friends return from Hajj i will put up their experiences in this post.
November 26, 2009 8:29 PM

Chiara said...

Oops. Sorry, the lone woman is Thai, and is praying in the Bangkok airport.
November 26, 2009 8:38 PM

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah-thank you for your kind words, your thoughtful comment, and for sharing your experience of Hajj. It must have been truly wonderful on so many fronts, the most important being spiritual renewal, but also the personal and social transformation that goes with it.

It is very true that the Hajj has affected immigration to Saudi Arabia in multiple forms, from the poor overstayers, to those who fall in love with Saudi and make a return immigration, and those who migrate to Saudi in the first place to be close to the Holy Cities and to Hajj.
November 26, 2009 10:10 PM

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah said...
Well you can count me for "return immigration" who wants to live in the holy cities...

But however i really wish that there is a practical process for naturalizing people like me implemented.
November 27, 2009 1:26 AM

Chiara said...

oby said...

thank you so much for your explanations of the photos...I have about a million questions but I will try to contain myself and ask a few.

1. the first thing I thought about was children and the crowds. Is it common for kids to go and if so is there a way for the kids to find parents if they get separated?

2. How are the logistics of daily living managed? Do the pilgrims bring food coolers and have campfires or propane stoves? Do they rent the tents? (they are all the same)Do they bring their own bedding?

3. As to prayer all the pilgrims have to pray at the same time? If they are circling the kabba that might be a bit tough. Why circle 7 times(maybe I missed that)

4. You mentioned Non Muslims...I would imagine that would not be allowed as it is such a holy time for Muslims who understand the pilgrimage. Is it correct non Muslims can attend? If so is there someone or guide to help them make sure to do things as needed to ensure respectfulness?

5. Other than Hajj time what happens with the Kabba? Can people visit and pray etc.

I will stop here as I could ask another 10 questions...soooo interesting. Thank you so much!
November 27, 2009 4:54 AM

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah--true, due to the laws of Saudi, except for those who marry a Saudi, and/or acquire Saudi citizenship in some way, "migration" and "long stay" are probably more accurate than immigration as an open-ended prelude to citizenship. This must be wrenching after decades in Saudi, even if it is known ahead.
November 27, 2009 5:28 AM

Chiara said...

Chiara said...
Oby--thank your for your kind words and your further questions. I will answer to the best of my ability and then hope others with more knowledge and experience chime in.

1. Children do go, and there is no lower age limit, although the age of reason is considered by Islam to be older than 6, and this year for H1N1 precautions children under 6 and adults over 65 were not allowed to attend. As well as the very young, the very old or infirm are also particularly vulnerable in a crowd, whether due to stampedes, falls, or just heat prostration and claustrophobia.

2. The travel agency usually takes care of all logistics, travel and accomodation in Mecca. My understanding is that the tents are provided by Saudi which is why they are uniform, and the food is part of the travel arrangements through the agency or group. Families may provide for their own--but now I am guessing. There is a business aspect to the Hajj, both for covering legitimate expenses and for tourism before and after the hajj in Mecca and Medina.

3. The prayers and rituals are at specified times on specific days. 7 is one of the ritual numbers in a number of cultures (and the structure of a week), along with 40 (the lunar month), yet no precise explanation for the 7 times is given in anything that I have read. The mass movement around the Kaaba both represents the collectivity of the Muslims--at the time of the Prophet's first Pilgrimage of Muslims only they were beleagered and persecuted and thus this aspect was of particular importance--and the centrality of the Kaaba as the focus of spirituality and worship (all Muslims everywhere in the world face the Kaaba when praying, and the Quibla in the Mosque marks the direction for them).

4. I hope I didn't accidentally give a false impression that the Hajj was open to non-Muslims as it is not, nor are the cities of Mecca and Medina for that matter. Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam when he performed hajj but the experience made him question the teachings of the NOI, and his own, particularly the anti-White messages, and those favouring violence. He left the NOI to become a Sunni Muslim (the dominant form of Islam, with Shias an important minority), which many believe led to his being assassinated by the NOI.

In the research done at Harvard that I cited, the contact with other Muslims through the Hajj led to a general greater peaceableness and identification with Islam rather than local cultural manifestions of Muslim religion, but not at the expense of good relations with non-Muslims as some had feared or hypothesized.

If there is something else I said about non-Muslims that confused you let me know and I will clarify.

5. At other times people do pray at the Great Mosque and the Kaaba, and can make the lesser pilgrimage, the Umrah, at any time of the year and as often as they want. The Kiswa, the beautiful embroidered covering stays in place until the end of the next Hajj. As was mentioned in the post, and in Tara's comment the Black Stone is touched, kissed and venerated, as a sacred object that the Prophet Mohamed himself kissed. It is believed to have fallen from heaven for Adam and Eve to know where to build an altar to Allah. The Kaaba was built around it to protect it, and it lies particularly in one corner of the Kaaba.

I hope that is a start to answering your questions and that others will add more. Feel free to ask anything else you like!
November 27, 2009 6:43 AM

Chiara said...

Oby--PS the other reference to non-Muslims in the post, was a reference to the pre-Islamic era when Arabian tribes of diverse faiths, including polytheists, and Christians made the pilgrimage to the Kaaba. Since it has become an Islamic ritual, and Muslims have control of Mecca, that no longer happens.

Also, regarding a question you asked elsewhere about the books on Islam for Dummies and the Quran for Dummies, I looked at both of these a couple of years ago, to judge what they were saying against the knowledge I had then, and found them both to be remarkably good starts to further understanding. I was particularly impressed that the one on the Quran addresses narrative structure, and well, as this is often disconcerting for readers new to the Quran and familiar with the Bible, or the Torah.

As much as I dislike the titles, I have generally found that the "for Dummies" books that I have checked on topics where I have professional expertise are better than expected, and give a good basic overview. In other words, they do what they are supposed to, give an understandable overview to a neophyte.
November 27, 2009 9:10 PM

Chiara said...

Maha Noor Elahi said...
that is absolutely amazing!
I've performed Hajj Alhamdullilah more than 7 times and I still want to do it again. Every time I come out with a different perspective and a fresher feeling. I've written an aarticle on Hajj a few years ago, and I am going to post it soon in my blog.

Thank you very much for this outstanding post.
November 28, 2009 4:02 AM

Chiara said...

oby said...

I thank you for your clarification of the non Muslims at Haj. I knew it didn't seem right but I must have gotten confused on the issue.

As for the Dummies books I can't tell you how pleased I am that you feel they are good beginner books. After trying to understand for a couple of months I had as many questions(maybe more ) than I had answers. So I realized perhaps I had jumped into the deep end of the pool rather than start wading in slowly and building upon my knowledge. That is where I got the idea to back up and start REALLY basic.

Have you ever done Haj and if so, how amazing was it in real life?

Thank you once again for your encouragement and these amazing photos. It must be an amazing experience...and I prey that his year with the floods it doesn't diminish it for people who waited their whole lives to do it.
November 29, 2009 6:16 AM

Chiara said...

oby said...
PS...Thank you so much for your help in steering me toward the Koranic websites...I'll probably finish the Dummies books and then for further clarification use your websites...Again, big thanks!
November 29, 2009 6:21 AM

Chiara said...

Chiara said...
Maha--thank you so much for your kind words about the post, and for sharing your experience. You are indeed lucky to have had the opportunity to do Hajj so many times, as I am sure that time renews and refreshes one in a different way. Thank you for sharing your experience here, and I look forward to your posting the article you wrote on Hajj.

Oby--you are most welcome. It can indeed be confusing and even things we know full well can get muddled in the learning process.

Starting in the deep end without an overview and some simple basics makes learning more challenging. The Dummies books are good for that, and so are some of the reference books on the university-based Quran site I referenced above.

Another way to read the Quran rather than beginning to end is to focus on the beginning, and the end, and I think one of the good middle parts to read is Maryam, the Chapter on Mary and Jesus. Maryam is highly venerated by Muslims, as is the Prophet Issa (Jesus), though as you will read the story of his birth, purpose and death is different. The primary difference is of course that while Muslims believe he was one of the 3 great messengers/ prophets of Allah, the one who transmitted the message of Love, as in the New Testament (Moses, or the Prophet Musa transmitted the message of the Law, as in the Old Testament; and the Prophet Mohamed the final Message of Submission to Allah, ie Islam in the Quran), they do not believe that he was the Son of God, or God incarnated, and did not die, but was taken to heaven before death.

Another good way to read is by using the Index, or a concordance to read about the familiar stories from the Bible as they are recounted in the Quran, eg creation, Noah (Nuh), Job (Ayoub) etc. Or to read on specific themes, eg. marriage, death, etc.

The main narrative structure of the Quran is a series of revelations of messages as they were important for the particular time and circumstance, and as people developed and were able to learn more, so that the same topic or story recurs in different places throughout, which is why an index/ concordance is helpful.

Later revelations are generally considered to be the more refined messages, or at least the ones appropriate to the newer circumstances.

Surah 109, which is one of the latest and one of the shortest (in general the surah or chapters get shorter), is in my opinion one of the best on the topic of peace and tolerance/ acceptance of others. I often think of embroidering it in both English and Arabic and making a wall hanging of it. I am ever grateful to a Muslim student for quoting it to me.

I am a Daughter of the Book (the Peoples of the Book are the Jews, Christians, and Muslims in chronological order, all of whom share the basic teachings of the Abrahamic faith in their respective Holy Books), in my case Roman Catholic (verrrry post-Vatican II type LOL :) ). I am married Islamically and legally to a Muslim (a Moroccan Arab).

I hope both of you enjoy the Eid al-Adha post following this one and the one one the flooding during Hajj and Eid that is next.
November 30, 2009 1:47 AM


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