What the Hajj Rituals Signify
Millions of Muslims are currently in Islam’s holiest city of Mecca to perform the Hajj pilgrimage which begins on the 8th day of Dhul al Hijjah (today).
The rituals that are applied throughout the Hajj pilgrimage are meant to be performed in the manner as they are prescribed.
In the Surah Baqarah, it stated: “And perform properly (i.e. all the ceremonies according to the ways of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Hajj and Umrah for Allah” (Quran 2:196).
Here is a breakdown of the step-by-step rituals in performing during hajj and the significance behind it.
The very first rite of Hajj for men and women is to enter a state of ihram, because without Ihram, one’s Hajj can’t be performed (this applies for Umrah too). Being in the Ihram state, pilgrims will have to don the proper attire. A man’s Ihram means two sheets of white cloths that leave some parts of the body exposed, while a woman’s Ihram is loose dressing that completely conceals her, with the exception of her face and hands.
The Ihram goes beyond than just being physically prepared, pilgrims must complete their state of Ihram by reciting their intentions to perform the hajj, called Talabiya. Once they are in a state of Ihram they are prohibited from acts such as removing or cutting nails, using perfume that is not permitted, engaging in sexual relations with one’s spouse among others.
What is the significane behind entering in a state of Ihram? To be in a state of ihram is to reflect equality, irrespective of background, age, status, nationality and social class.
When pilgrims reach Mecca, they head to the Holy Mosque otherwise known as Kaaba to perform the Tawaf, which is to circle the Kaaba seven times. They walk counter-clockwise so that the Kaaba stays on their left. The tawaf is a reminder to make sure our lives revolve around Allah. The Kaaba was the first house built on earth to worship Allah, Muslims don’t worship it, but it represents the direction for Muslims to face while praying to Allah. Kissing the Black Stone during tawaf is a symbolic act of penitence and repentance, according to Yaqeen Institute.
This ritual consists of walking seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. Why so? This is done to remember the journey of Hajar (RA) who went searching for water for her infant. Allah made her journey an integral part of Hajj. Yaqeen Institute noted that walking between the two hills of Safa and Marwah during the ritual of Sa’i commemorates Hajar’s optimism and trust in Allah.
On the first day of Hajj (eight day of Dhu-Hijjah), pilgrims will go to Mina to spend the rest of the day, known as Day of Tarawiyyah (the Day of Quenching Thirst). On this day, early pilgrims were told to drink plenty of water in preparation for a long journey ahead. Many pilgrims choose to walk to Mina, which will seek several kilometres in the journey. Yaqeen Institute wrote that mina is a temporary campground and a reminder of the transient nature of this life.
On the second day of Hajj, the pilgrims will travel to a nearby hillside and plain called Mount Arafat. From afternoon until the sun sets, pilgrims will stay there and devote their time to pray, supplicate to the Almighty and seek for forgiveness. The day of Arafah is to remind us of our past and future when all of humanity will be resurrected together on the Day of Judgement.
After sundown, pilgrims will head to Muzdalifah, which is located between Mina and Arafat. Here pilgrims spend the night before the stoning ritual the next day. The significance behind sleeping n the open and rocky plains of Muzdalifah is a reminder to the believer of the reality of the grave.
The next day, before the sun rises, pilgrims head back to Mina to perform the ritual of throwing seven pebbles at the larges of three columns known as Jamarat. Based on historical tradition, the act symbolizes the stoning of the devil. This is to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice when to God when he obeyed the command to sacrifice his son. It was believed that at this spot in Mina, the devil appeared and tried to dissuade Prophet Ibrahim from listening to Allah’s commands. Prophet Ibrahim responded by throwing stones to scare him off. Throwing these pebbles reminds the pilgrims to be conscious of evil temptations and to remain steadfast in serving Allah.
After casting the stones, pilgrims must perform the sacrifice. Going back to the story about Prophet Ibrahim, when he was about to sacrifice his son, Allah instead replaced it with a sheep. Pilgrims typically slaughter a sheep, goat, cow or camel by paying for it to be done in their names. The sacrifice of an animal on Eid al-Adha symbolizes the devotion to God and a commitment to help the poor and needy.
After the stoning and sacrifice rituals, pilgrims would head back to the Kaaba to perform the Tawaf and Sa’i. Once that is completed they can be released from their state of Ihram.
Cover photo: Haidan Soendawy / Unsplash