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OUR UMRAH JOURNEY
Umrah December 2023
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What is Hajj?
The fifth pillar of Islam is to make a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Makkah, in Saudi Arabia, at least once in one’s lifetime. This pillar is obligatory for every Muslim, male or female, provided that he/she is physically and financially able to do so. Prerequisites for performing the Hajj are to be a Muslim, to be free, to be an adult or mature enough, to be of sound mind, and to have the ability to afford the journey and maintain one’s dependents back home for the duration. The reward for the Hajj is nothing less than Paradise.
The Hajj is the ultimate form of worship, as it involves the spirit of all the other rituals and demands of the believer great sacrifice. On this unique occasion, nearly two million Muslims from all over the globe meet one another in a given year. Regardless of the season, pilgrims wear special clothes (Ihram) – two, very simple, unsewn white garments – which strips away all distinctions of wealth, status, class and culture; all stand together and equal before Allah (God).
The rites of Hajj, which go back to the time of Prophet Abraham who built the Ka’bah, are observed over five or six days, beginning on the eighth day of the last month of the year, named Dhul-Hijjah (pilgrimage). These rites include circumambulating the Ka’bah (Tawwaf), and going between the mountains of Safa and Marwah, as Hajjar (Abraham’s wife) did during her search for water for her son Isma’il. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafah and join in prayers for God’s forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment. The pilgrims also cast stones at a stone pillar which represents Satan. The pilgrimage ends with a festival, called ‘Id al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers, the sacrifice of an animal, and the exchange of greetings and gifts in Muslim communities everywhere.
The duties of the Hajj are symbolic of the story and obligations of Islam. Before prayer, Muslims wash, representing ritual purity. The walk around the Ka’ba — the black stone block in the great mosque—is an expression of our desire to put God at the center of our lives. Pilgrims also make a journey to Mina and to the plain of Arafat, 13 miles outside of Mecca. Making our way on foot, we trade city streets and buildings for tents and carpets on the sand of the barren plain, giving up our usual comforts, getting back to basics. On the plain of Arafat, we perform the central obligation of the pilgrimage, to be here together from noon until sunset. There is no ceremony. We stroll, we pray, we meditate. The Hajj goes on inside the hearts and thoughts of each of us. This is a rehearsal for that Day of Judgment. How will we account for our acts? Have I injured anyone? Have I been grateful enough for the simple gifts of life, water, food, friends, family and the air to breathe? Before leaving Mecca, we visit the Ka’ba one last time. For most of us, this will be our last glimpse of the shrine. There is an old proverb—before you visit Mecca, it beckons you. When you leave it behind, it calls you forever.
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