The Hajj

The Hajj January 15, 2018


Ka‘ba (aka Kaaba)
The Ka‘ba in Mecca. (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)
Although dating to pre-Islamic times, this shrine has been the center of the Muslim world (and has determined the direction of Muslim prayer) since the early seventh century.


Some notes on the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage that is among the “Five Pillars of Islam,” from my manuscript on basic Islamic doctrine and history for Latter-day Saints:


It is incumbent upon every Muslim who can afford to do so to make the pilgrimage to “the Ancient House” (the Ka’ba) at Mecca at least once in his or her life.[1]Those who cannot afford to do so or are otherwise unable are exempt from the requirement.

Make the pilgrimage and visit the Sacred House for His sake. If you cannot, send such offerings as you can afford… Make the pilgrimage in the appointed months. He that intends to perform it in those months must abstain from sexual intercourse, obscene language, and acrimonious disputes while on pilgrimage … Provide [for] yourselves well: the best provision is piety.[2]

What this means, in practice, is that for a few days each year the population of Mecca swells by tens and hundreds of thousands. Muslims from around the world gather and dress in white to per­form the complex multi-day rituals of the hajj. In premodern times, this was a remarkable opportunity for Muslims from Morocco to meet and share ideas with Muslims from Indonesia and Kenya. Many a coup was planned there, as well. It is a time of great interna­tional solidarity, when Muslims are reminded of the worldwide character of their faith and of the strength of their numbers. (In this regard, it somewhat resembles the annual general conference of the Latter-day Saints.)

Some of the rituals seem to be of astronomical origin. Others commemorate historical events such as the travails of Hagar and Ish­mael in the desert. Unfortunately, for many years non-Muslims have been legally prohibited from entering either Mecca or Medinaon pain of death. Nevertheless, the rituals are not secret, and photogra­phy is allowed, so non-Muslim scholars in the West actually know a great deal about the hajj although we ourselves cannot observe it.[3]


[1] 22:33.

[2] 2:196-97.

[3] The intrepid nineteenth-century explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton managed to sneak into Mecca and Medina and to make the pilgrimage. He published a two-volume Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Madinah & Meccah which is still available in paperback reprint from Dover Books.


Posted from Phoenix, Arizona



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