Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), one of the five pillars of Islam, is not just a physical journey but involves the heart and soul. The site of hajjis performing hajj has always been and will always be one of the most overwhelming experiences a man will ever encounter.
Islam is a religion of peace and hajj is the true demonstration of that peace. Every year Muslims from all over the world travel to the qibla of Islam irrespective of their color, gender or race. This powerful gathering and union of millions of Muslims each year has managed to astonish people of all religions and race.
The pilgrimage to Mecca requires emotional, financial and physical sacrifice. These sacrifices not only prove to be a test of faith but also serve as a reminder to Muslims to be ready to sacrifice all when called upon. When a Muslim sets off to perform hajj, he not only bids farewell to his loved ones, not knowing of his return, but also acknowledges his submission to The Almighty. Islam has never proved to be burdensome for its followers. Therefore, Hajj is obligatory only once in a lifetime for those who possess sound physical health and sufficient financial means to support themselves during the pilgrimage and those who they have left behind. All responsibilities should be taken care of before proceeding to the journey. Death encountered during the pilgrimage is considered an honor for a Muslim.
Hajj serves as a message to mankind that Muslims, from all over the world, will not hold back in sacrificing their worldly comforts and pleasure when called upon to stand for their faith.
Teachings of Islam preach the importance of equality and strongly oppose all forms of discrimination based on color, religion, gender and race. The ihram, a seamless plain white cloth worn by men during hajj, is symbolic of this equality. The ihram makes it impossible to distinguish between the rich and the poor, hence proving that all are indeed equal before ALLAH.
The tawaf is the first and the most significant part of hajj. Similar to the orbit of planets around the sun and the electrons around the nucleus, Muslims orbit the Kaaba seven times. The tawaf is followed by Sai, which is a proceeding between the Safa and Marwa seven times. This act is performed in remembrance of the pain and agony Hazarat Hajrah suffered in the search of water for her thirsty son (Hazarat Ismail) when they were left alone in the desert by her husband, Hazarat Ibraheem, in response to the divine command.
The completion of Sai is followed by the drinking of the holy water zam zam. Muslims travel to Mount Arafat to seek forgiveness and reaffirm their faith. A journey is made to Mina, where pilgrims stone the three pillars representing satan and the stages at which satan appeared to distract Hazarat Ibraheem from sacrificing his son in accordance with the divine command shown to him in his dreams. Stoning the satan plays an important role in reminding Muslims to ward off all temptations and hurdles serving as distractions from their true purpose of life i.e. worshipping ALLAH and leading a life in accordance with the teachings of Islam. The sacrifice of a goat or a sheep commemorates the act of Hazrat Gabriel (one of the angels of ALLAH) placing a sheep in place of Hazrat Ismail during the act of sacrifice. The different rituals of Hajj hold historical importance for pilgrims as they are able to retrace the footsteps of their Prophets and to some extent envision the sacrifices they willingly made to prove their submission and loyalty to ALLAH
Hajj results in spiritual uplifting and serves as an opportunity to remind Muslims to mend their ways and be thankful for this chance before the final call. A successful hajj gives birth to a new selfless and pious Muslim, cleansed of all sins, possessing a new vigor to lead a virtuous and purposeful life in accordance with the teachings laid down by his Creator.
“There is no higher religious experience for the individual Muslim nor any greater expression of brotherhood for the Muslim community than the Hajj.” (Fowler, 161)