IBRAHIM (Abraham) (a.s.) Abraham (a.s.) is a figure revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike as a righteous person who lived over four thousand years ago. His story can be found in the Bible as well as the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book). Abraham (a.s.) is considered to be the patriach of monotheism, or “belief in the One God,” who sought a personal relationship with his Creator. He left his native city of Ur in Mesopotamia after voicing opposition to his people’s polytheistic practices, and eventually settled in Egypt with his family. Later, he escorted one of his wives, Hajar, and their infant son Ishmail (a.s.), to a desolate valley in Arabia and left them there, trusting in God’s promise to care for them.
Hajar, concerned about feeding her young baby, began searching the surroundings for food and water. According the the Qur’an, in response to Hajar’s prayers, a spring miraculously gushed forth at Ishma’il’s (a.s.) feet to quench their thirst. Hajar climbed nearby hills searching for food and looking for caravans on the horizon. Eventually, some passing traders stopped in the valley, and asked Hajar’s permission to water their camels. In time, the traders decided to settle in the little valley, and eventually the settlement grew into the city of Makkah. Abraham (a.s.) returned from time to time to visit, and when Ishma’il (a.s.) was about thirteen years old, he and Ishma’il (a.s.) constructed the Katbah, an empty cube-shaped building, as a place dedicated for the worship of the One God. Eventually, Makkah became an important trading post by the time of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.), twenty- five hundred years later.
In commemoration of the trials of Abraham (a.s.) and his family in Makkah, which included Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in response to God’s command, Muslims make a pilgrimage to the sacred city at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj is one of the “five pillars” of Islam, and thus an essential part of Muslims’ faith and practice.
Muslims from all over the world, travel to Makkah (in modern-day Saudi Arabia). Before arriving in the holy city, Muslims enter a state of consecration (dedication) known as ihram, by removing their worldly clothes and donning the humble attire of pilgrims – two seamless white sheets for men, and simple white dresses and scarves for women. The white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God, since all the pilgrims are dressed similarly. Money and status no longer are a factor for the pilgrims – the equality of each person in the eyes of God becomes paramount.
Upon arriving in Makkah, pilgrims perform the initial tawaf, which is a circular, counter- clockwise procession around the Ka’bah. All the while, they state “Labbayka Allahumma Labbayk,” which means “Here I am at your service, O God, Here I am!” The tawaf is meant to awaken each Muslim’s consciousness that God is the center of their reality and the source of all meaning in life, and that each person’s higher self-identity derives from being part of the community of Muslim believers, known as the ummah. Pilgrims also perform the sa’i, which is hurrying seven times between the small hills named Safa and Marwah, re-enacting the Biblical and Quranic story of Hajar’s desperate search for lifegiving water and food.
Next, on the first official day of Hajj (8th of Dhul-Hijjah), the two million pilgrims travel a few miles to the plain of Mina and camp there. From Mina, pilgrims travel the following morning to the plain of Arafat where they spend the entire day in earnest supplication and devotion. That evening, the pilgrims move and camp at Muzdalifa, which is a site between Mina and Arafat. Muslims stay overnight and offer various prayers there.
Then the pilgrims return to Mina on the 10th, and throw seven pebbles at a stone pillar that represents the devil. This symbolizes Abraham’s (a.s.) throwing stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Abraham (a.s.) from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, re-enacting the story of Abraham, who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. The meat from the slaughtered sheep is distributed for consumption to family, friends, and poor and needy people in the community. After the sacrifice, the pilgrims return to Makkah to end the formal rites of Hajj by performing a final tawaf and sa’i.
Muslims believe the rites of the Hajj were designed by God and taught through prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.). Muslims believe that since the time of Adam (a.s.), there have been thousands of prophets, including such well-known figures as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and David (ah.s), and that Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was the final prophet of God.
The Hajj is designed to develop God consciousness and a sense of spiritual upliftment. It is also believed to be an opportunity to seek forgiveness of sins accumulated thoughout life. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) had said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].” The pilgrimage also enables Muslims from all around the world, of different colors, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together.