x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Rituals performed by Haj pilgrims

More than 1.1 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in Mecca for the annual Haj, which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to perform once in their lives.

MECCA // More than 1.1 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in Mecca for the annual Haj, which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to perform once in their lives.

The rituals of the Haj are as follows:

- Ihram: a state in which pilgrims wear special outfits, two-piece white seamless garments for men and any loose dress for women, who must completely cover themselves except for their hands and faces. Wearing a niqab (a face covering that only reveals the eyes) is prohibited.

Sex is prohibited during Ihram and pilgrims must refrain from quarrelling, covering the head (for men), cutting hair, clipping nails, wearing socks or shoes, except for sandals exposing the instep.

“I am answering your call, God,” chants every pilgrim.

Ihram is done either before setting off from home, or at one of several designated stations on the roads leading to Mecca, known as Miqat.

- Once in Mecca, pilgrims perform Tawaf, or circumambulation, seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba, a black masonry cubic shape in the middle of the Haram, or sacred site, in whose direction Muslims pray wherever they are in the world.

The Kaaba was first built as a “sacred house” in Mecca by Adam, the father of the human race, according to the Islamic faith. The Quran says Abraham (or Ibrahim) and his son Ishmael rebuilt the Kaaba.

Each circle starts and ends at the Black Stone, also known as the cornerstone, at the southern corner of the Kaaba. Pilgrims during Tawaf should point their palms to the stone saying: “Allahu akbar” (God is the greatest).

- Walking back and forth between the two stone spots of Safa and Marwah in seven lengths, an act known as Sa’i. The distance between them is just under 400 metres. Pilgrims are emulating Hagar, the second wife of Ibrahim according to Islam, who was desperately seeking water for her infant Ishmael after they were left by Ibrahim in the barren spot.

The preceding rituals are considered the Umra, or lesser pilgrimage, made ahead of the Haj’s main rites. The combination is known as Haj Al Tamattu.

- The main rites of the Haj start on the 8th of Dhul Hijja and end on the 13th (this year October 13-18). Pilgrims head to Mina, around 5km east of the holy mosque, on the first day of Haj known as Tarwiah (watering) Day. Pilgrims traditionally watered their animals and stocked water for their trip to Mount Arafat, some 10km southeast of Mina.

- Arafat Day, on the 9th of Dhul Hijja, (October 14) is the climax of the Haj season as all pilgrims gather on the hill known as Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain. Pilgrims stay at Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have delivered his final Haj sermon, until the evening. They spend the day reciting from the Quran and praying.

- After sunset on the 9th of Dhul Hijja, pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they stay at least until midnight. They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

- After dawn prayer on the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, or the Eid Al Adha feast, pilgrims head back to Mina. The first of three stoning rites, known as Jamarat Al Aqabah, begins after sunrise. Traditionally, seven pebbles are thrown at a post representing the devil. Since 2004 it has been replaced by walls to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims.

The ritual is an emulation of Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice Ishmael.

- After the first stoning, pilgrims offer sacrifices by slaughtering a sheep and the meat is distributed to needy Muslims. This rite also emulates Abraham who prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael on the order of God, who provided a lamb in the boy’s place at the last moment. This rite no longer exists these days as pilgrims just pay agencies which distribute meat to needy Muslims around the world.

- Men then shave their heads or just trim their hair. Women cut a fingertip-length of their hair. They can then end their Ihram and change into their usual clothing. Sex remains prohibited.

Pilgrims then head back to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, perform Tawaf Al Efadha, circumambulating seven times around the Kaaba, then perform Sa’i between Safa and Marwah for seven lengths. With that pilgrims end their Ihram completely.

- The 11th, 12th and 13th of Dhul Hijjah are known as Tashreeq Days on which pilgrims stay in Mina. They perform the “stoning of the devil” at the three designated sites during the afternoon on the 11th and the 12th and then head to Mecca, which they are permitted to leave on the 12th if under time pressure.

* Agence France-Presse