the 5th Pillar of Islam : the Pilgrimage


Perhaps many of us did not even know there were 5 pillars of Islam! There are 5 basic components of the Islamic belief:

  • the statement of faith
  • the 5 daily times of prayer
  • the voluntary and mandatory giving of money and charity
  • the fasting during the month of Ramadhan
  • the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)

The Haj is considered by Muslims to be the ultimate form of worship. This year between 2 – 3 million muslim pilgrims will make their way to Mecca (Saudi Arabia), to perform the 5 -6 day Haj. It is seen as a demonstration of solidarity and submission to God.

Who makes this pilgrimage?

It is obligatory: every adult Muslim is required to make this pilgrimage at least once in their life-time, providing that they are healthy and financially able.

When is the Haj performed?

It is usually the week running up to the Eid el Adha (3 day global festival) which takes place 70 days after Ramadhan. This year the Eid begins at Sunset on the 25th October 2012.

What do the pilgrims wear?

The men will wear “Ihram”. This is 2 sheets of white un-hemmed cloth, draped over one shoulder, and sandals. It is a symbol of ritual purity and highlights the idea that all pilgrims are equal before God.

The women will wear a standard “hijab”. A head covering and long dress with sleeves. Their faces and hands must be uncovered for the Haj, even if they would cover in their home country.

Where do they stay?

Most pilgrims will stay in the large white tented “town” in Medina.

What do the pilgrims do while on Haj?

It is a full and busy time, as there are many symbolic and ritual activities to be carried out:

  1. the Tawaf: the pilgrim must walk 7 times (counter-clockwise) around the Kabaa (the black cube-shaped structure, in the Al Haram Mosque), proclaiming 7 times that God is Great…
  2. the run (now mostly walking) between the 2 hills: Safa and Marwah, 7 times. This is to represent the frantic search for water by Hagar for her son.
  3. drink from the Zam-Zam well: which sprung forth for Hagar and Ishmael.
  4. the Arafat prayer vigil: the pilgrim goes to Arafat and has a time of contemplative prayer and Quranic recitation. The hill is called the “Hill of Forgiveness” and many pilgrims find that this is a highlight of the Haj.
  5. Muzdalfah: the pilgrim will sleep on the ground on the plains between Mina and Arafat and collect 7 pebbles for the final ritual.
  6. Ramy al Jamart: the pilgrim will throw 7 pebbles at the pillars (wall) which symbolises defiance against the devil.

What is the final celebration?

The Eid el Adha (festival of sacrifice) marks the end of the Haj. There is a traditional slaughter of  an animal (where they remember God’s provision of the ram for Abraham instead of his son). The pilgrim will  have “bought” an animal, which is then slaughtered, packaged and shipped to the poor around the world.

The pilgrim will then celebrate the festival with family and friends:

there will be a wonderful exchange of prayers, gifts and greetings.

The “greater Eid” as it is called, is a time to remember Abraham’s willingness to obey God at whatever cost, and also to remember God’s merciful provision.

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