Curious about the Hajj season and wondering what the whole journey to Hajj entails (not to mention attainment of a new status, becoming the esteemed title holder - 'Hajji'- or one who has completed the journey of a life time)? Albawaba offers an overview of what is involved in the process and ultimate journey of pilgramage to Mecca.
Managing the flow of pilgrims to Mecca in the year 2011, will represent no small challenge to Saudi authorities. According to a recent statement by the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah in KSA, a record number of pilgrims are expected to perform the Hajj. With the world population set to peak at 7 billion somewhere around today (end of October), what of the Muslim population of pilgrims? Hajj 2011- over 3.4 million anticipated over the five days of the pilgrimage.
Hajj 2011: expected to fall between November 4th--9th, 2011, with Eid al Adha set to be marked November 6th-9th.
Historically, the Hajj in its modern day practice, represents and harks back to a story narrated in the Quran of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) with his wife, Hajira (Hagar) and their child Is'mail in Arabia. When Abraham was tested by God, he had to leave wife and son in the Arabian wasteland, or valley of Mecca, without supplies. The Hajj ritual, (with all its dehydration, spinning and seeking water & relief that it connotes) that sprung from this 'tale' was initially endowed with pre-Islamic and even heathen practices, with the Ka'aba stone being used to worship idols. But this monolithic structure has since come to be the preserve of Islam and Muslim pilgrims exclusively.
That dramatic story of the Prophet's (Peace Be Upon Him) forefathers, in mind, the Hajj, as we know it today, takes on a re-enactment quality, re-producing the story from the Quran (almost like the nativity of Christ as it were ,where people year after year (often traditionally children at school) perform an enactment of the story of Jesus' birth. As with the nativity which focuses on Mary, earthly mother of Jesus, there is a key woman character, Hagar, who suffers before finding salvation (water) for herself and child.
Qualifications and accessiblity
The Hajj is a real pilgrimage - a journey, with rites and rituals to be done along the way to the 'kingdom' of the Prohphet (PBUH).
One of the pillars of Islamic faith, the Hajj must be carried out at least once in the lifetime by any Muslim who has the ability to do so. Pilgrims perform a series of rituals including walking around the Ka'aba, keeping vigil on Mount Arafat and a ritual Stoning of the 'Devil'. At the end of the Hajj, this year Sunday 6th November, the three day festival of Eid al-Adha begins around the world.
It' can be all quite a lottery as to whether you get to go: Each country has a quota of Hajj visas it is allowed to issue. It's like with a prestigious sporting tournament, where it's one thing to want to go and to have the money or wherewithal to do so, but securing a place requires a stroke of luck together with logistics to do with national restrictions on age each year (in the pursuit of making the journey attainable for Muslim citizens in their lifetime). Of course, money and circumstance can go a long way in propping up your chances, in reality.
According to a report, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's revenues from Hajj and Umrah (the mini pilgrimage) range between 10 billion USD to 12 billion USD. According to the report, a pilgrim spends SR4,600 on an average, which is the equivilent to roughly 1,200 plus USD. Not all Muslim world citizens can afford such funds, so for some people one time is literally all they can dream of. With this in mind, and the Muslim growing population, the authorities impose restrictions and quotas on nations and age groups.
Hajj, like Ramadan or other holy rites of passage in the Islamic tradition, requires certain rules and regulations be observed to ensure that the pilgrim's performed Hajj is legitimate in the eyes of Allah.
Men usually don a special white cloth together with observing other requirements that amount to a state of Ihram (simply, wearing white). Women are simply required to maintain their hijab - normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face, for that same 'Ihram'.
The pilgrim, man or woman, makes a statement of intention, to enter into state of 'Ihram', with the intention to perform the pilgrimage. Once in 'Ihram' and observant of the regulations below, the pilgrim is set.
The person on the Hajj may not:
-Shave or cut their nails (til the Hajj is complete, and then as a symbolic gesture)
-Engage in marital relations
-Use cologne or scented oils (scented soaps are frowned upon)
-Kill or hunt anything (til the sacrifice component comes into play)
-Fight or argue
-Women must not cover their faces, even if they would do so in their ordinary life.-Men may not wear clothes with stitching.-Bathing is allowed but foregoing the scented soaps or shower gels.
The following preview of The Journey of a Life Time-- from airline tickets, visa permits to rituals and holy water priviledges, skims over the spiritual experience in a pedestrian narration that might not tally up to a Muslim scholarly guide to Mecca.