Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Hajj; Waqfatul-Arafat; and Eidul-Adha

We have two Islamic holidays on my calendar this week - the 19th is Waqfatul-Arafat and the 20th is Eidul-Adha. I'm going to combine them in this post.

Waqfatul-Arafat is the Day of Standing at Arafat, and Eidul-Adha is the Feast of Sacrifice. While researching these, I found that they are both part of the Hajj, which is the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca.

The Hajj has already begun. Every year, about 2 million Muslims converge on Mecca ((Makkah) in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is obligatory at least once in every able-bodied Muslim's lifetime, if they can afford to do so. It is one of the 5 "pillars" or essential acts of worship in Islam. The purpose is to worship God at the Sacred House in Mecca, the Kabah (Ka`aba). According to the Qur'an, the Kabah was built by the Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael, in ancient times. Abraham instituted the pilgrimage and its rites, and later these rites were re-established by Muhammad. The Hajj lasts about 4-5 days.

Waqfatul-Arafat (which is today) is the most important day of the pilgrimage. On this day, the huge throng of pilgrims spends the afternoon at the Plain of Arafat, believed to be a prototype of the gathering place of the Last Judgment, praying for God's forgiveness and mercy. They then move on to the next station of the pilgrimage.

In regard to the rituals of the Hajj, each person walks counter-clockwise 7 times about the Kaaba (which is the building towards which all Muslims pray), kiss the sacred Black Stone on its corner, run back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drink from the Zamzam Well, go to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil [which is today], then proceed to Muzdalifah to gather pebbles, which they would throw at a rock in Mina to perform the ritual of the Stoning of the Devil. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform an animal sacrifice and celebrate the four day global festival of Eid ul-Adha. (Many of these rituals have changed because of the number of people - for example, it is not necessary to kiss the black stone but you can just point at it each time around. And you can buy a "sacrifice voucher" in advance to have an animal slaughtered in your name on the correct day, which is then given to charity.)

During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in a simple white garment secured by a white sash (Ihram) and sandals. This clothing is intended to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah, symbolizing the idea that there is no difference when everyone is dressed equally. It also symbolizes purity and absolution of sins. Women are required only to wear their normal dress. While the pilgrim is wearing the Ihram, they cannot shave, cut their nails, wear deodorant or perfume. They may not swear or quarrel, kill any living thing (even an insect) or engage in sexual intercourse.

The Hajj is a profound spiritual experience for Muslims and a time of experiencing the brotherhood and equality of humanity. Malcolm X spent years preaching hatred against the white man, but after experiencing the Hajj, he cast his racist views aside and embraced the oneness of Man.

Pilgrims can also go to Mecca to perform the rituals at other times of the year. This is sometimes called the "lesser pilgrimage", or Umrah. However, even if they perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime.

Eid ul-Adha (the feast of sacrifice) is a 4-day global festival.

At Eid al adha, Muslims remember the story of the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) that is told In the Qur'an. Abraham dreamed that Allah wanted him to kill his beloved son, Ishmael (Ismail). To show his willingness to obey Allah, Ibrahim got ready to kill his son, but then heard Allah tell him to stop. Allah told him that he had proved his love by willing to give up his son. He gave Ibrahim a lamb from the heavens to sacrifice instead. This was the beginning of Eid al adha.

Everyone is expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform Eid prayer (Salatu'l-`id) in any mosque. Muslims who can afford to do so sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats) as a symbol of Abraham's sacrifice. At the time of sacrifice, Allah's name is recited along with the offering statement and a supplication as Muhammad said. According to the Quran a large portion of the meat has to be given towards the poor and hungry people so they can all join in the feast which is held on Eid-ul-Adha. The remainder is cooked for the family celebration meal in which relatives and friends are invited to share.


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