Hajj Rituals – Their Origin and Background

The literal meaning of word Hajj is “to set out” or “to make pilgrimage”. In Shariah, Hajj refers to the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Makkah to perform certain religious rites in accordance with the teachings and methods prescribed by Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Hajj occurs during the last month of Islamic calendar, from 8th to 12th Dhu al-Hijjah.

The origin of Hajj dates back to 2000 BC and many of the Hajj rites come directly from the life of Hazrat Ibrahim/Abraham (AS).  For example, the rite of Sa’i  when Muslim pilgrims run/walk between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times is the re-enactment of Hajra’s distressed search for water for her infant son, Ismail (AS), when both of them were deserted by Hazrat Ibrahim (AS) in a barren valley on the orders of Allah SWT. Hajra was the second wife of Hazrat Ibrahim (AS). To quench her son’s thirst, Hajra ran back and forth between Safa and Marwa to find water. It is said that the angel Jibril (Gabriel), on Allah’s order, touched down to earth and created a spring of fresh water for the baby. This spring, called Zamzam, still runs in Makkah.

Hazrat Ibrahim (AS) was a very righteous and pious man. Although his father, Aazar, was a well known idol sculptor and a polytheist, Ibrahim (AS) denied his father’s religion and believed in the oneness of God. He was chosen as a prophet and dedicated his whole life to Allah SWT. He was given the title of “Khalilullah” (friend of Allah).

His son Ismail (AS), like his father, was strong in faith. Allah SWT tested their loyalty when He ordered Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his beloved young son, Ismail (AS), in the name of Allah. SubhanAllah, look at the level of faith and belief of the father and son, when Ibrahim (AS) told his son about what he dreamt, Ismail (AS) was immediately willing to follow Allah’s orders.  However Allah SWT placed a ram instead of Ismail (AS), since the notion all the way was to assess the allegiance of Ibrahim (AS).  Allah felicitated Ibrahim as He says in the Quran [37:104-105]:

“We called to him, ‘O Abraham, You have fulfilled the vision.’Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.”

To commemorate this great sacrifice and the readiness to carry out Allah’s bidding, Muslims all over the world celebrate “Eid Al-Adha” at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.

Allah SWT ordained Hazrat Ibrahim (AS) to build the Ka’aba –the house of Allah, along with his son, Ismail (AS) as Allah mentions in the Quran:

“And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate.”  [Surah al-Hajj : 26-27]

It is around this Ka’aba that the pilgrims perform the ritual of Tawaf, which involves circling the Ka’aba  seven times in counter-clockwise direction .

After performing Tawaf, Muslims go to the Station of Ibrahim (Maqam e Ibrahim) to pray two nafl prayer rakahs, and then drink water from the sacred Well of Zamzam, before proceeding to the next ritual of the Hajj, the S’ai. Station of Ibrahim is the name of the stone on which Sayyidna Ibrahim (AS) stood while building the Ka’aba. It was one of the miracles of Ibrahim (AS) that this stone became soft and his feet sank into it, forming an impression on it which can still be seen, SubhanAllah!

Ramy al-Jamrat” (Stoning of the Satan), another obligatory ritual of Hajj, also relates to an important event in Ibrahim (AS) life. Pilgrims perform Ramy al-Jamrat by casting stones at three pillars. These three pillars are said to be located at the three locations where Hazrat Ibrahim (AS) was tempted by Satan when he was going to sacrifice his son, Ismail (AS), as demanded by Allah SWT. The pilgrims must hit each pillar at least seven times with the pebbles they have picked up in Muzdalifah. The notion behind this rite is to show defiance of the Devil/Satan.

On the ninth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, pilgrims make their way atop the hill, Mount Arafat or otherwise known as ‘Jabal Al Rahmah’, the hill of forgiveness. Pilgrims gather on the plain of Arafat and engage themselves in Zikr, prayers and Quran recitation. This is known as “Wuquf” and considered as the highlight of Hajj. The significance of Mount Arafat is that it is the site where Prophet Muhammad (SAW) delivered his famous Farewell Sermon (Khutbah Hajjatul Wida) to the Muslims who had accompanied him for the Hajj towards the end of his life. It was on Jabal al Rahmah where Adam and Hawa (Eve) were reunited and forgiven by Almighty Allah and it is on this same plain where all humans will gather in front of Allah SWT on the Day of Judgment.

Each and every rite of Hajj has a history and a lesson associated with it, as stated in this blog. Knowing the accounts behind these rituals will enable the pilgrims to perform Hajj with a heightened level of zeal and earnestness, insha’Allah.

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