What is Hajj?

To the Editor:

Every year, more than two million Muslims gather in the city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, a six-day pilgrimage, starting on Sept. 1, incumbent upon every able-bodied Muslim who can also afford the finances of the journey.
During Hajj, Muslims reenact Prophet Muhammad’s “farewell pilgrimage,” which he performed in Makkah in 632 A.D. Muslims also commemorate the conviction of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and the resilience of Hajar, his wife, during Hajj. According to the Islamic faith, Prophet Ibrahim was enduring a series of tests from Allah (God), one of which was a command to abandon Hajar and their newborn son, Ismael (Ishmael), in the Arabian Desert. During Ibrahim’s absence, Hajar ran between the mountains of Safa and Marwa seven times searching for water until Ismael kicked the ground and found a spring of water sprouting from beneath. This water, which springs from the same location today, is referred to as “Zamzam.” The culmination of Prophet Ibrahim’s tests was a command to sacrifice his son Ismael. As Prophet Ibrahim prepared to carry out Allah’s commands, Allah asked him to sacrifice an animal instead. Muslims maintain this tradition today and sacrifice an animal on Eidul-Adha (the third day of Hajj) and donate its meat to people who are in need.
The Hajj pilgrimage also serves as a spiritual cleansing for Muslims: they are immersed in the worship of Allah (God) and are forbidden from engaging in any argumentations or sexual intercourse throughout the six days of the pilgrimage. They also refrain from cutting their nails and removing any hair off their bodies during these six days. However, the large majority of Muslims are unable to perform Hajj due to health complications and/or the financial burden of it. Muslims who fall into this category are given a “pass” and are instead encouraged to fast from dawn to dusk and exemplify the best Islamic behavior (refrain from backbiting and arguing, and increase nightly prayers, Qur’an recitations, and charitable giving). On Eidul-Adha, the third day of Hajj, Muslims who are not on pilgrimage are encouraged to gather with family and friends in celebration and sacrifice an animal and donate its meat. Whether at home or on pilgrimage in Makkah, these days of the year are revered as some of the holiest of the Islamic lunar year. Muslims strive to reach high levels of spiritual cleansing and obedience to Allah.

DINA SAYEDAHMED