The Ceremonies of the Muslim Pilgrimage
The fifth pillar of Islam is the obligatory pilgrimage which every Muslim, who is able to afford it, must make at least once in his lifetime. In the Qur'an much is said about the Hajj (literally a "setting out towards" a place, in this case Mecca) and it is made obligatory in these verses:
Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God, - those who can afford the journey. Surah 3.97
And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways. Surah 22.27
Islam does not allow for failure to perform the Hajj" The Hajj can only properly be performed on the eighth, ninth and tenth days of Thul-Hijjah, the last month of the Muslim year.
The actual pilgrimage begins just outside Mecca where there are various mawaqit ("stations" - singular, miqat) where the pilgrims must change into two strips of white cloth known as the ihram (the word means "prohibiting", indicating that the pilgrim is now on sacred service and is prohibited from various activities). This obligation applies to men only - women need merely be modestly and appropriately attired: At this point the pilgrim must recite a declaration that he about to embark on the Hajj, known as the talbiyah ("standing for orders"). He follows the words attributed to Muhammad:
I respond to Your call, O Allah, I respond to Your call, and I am obedient to Your orders. You have no partner, I respond to Your call. All the praises and blessings are for You, All the sovereignty is for You, and You have no partners with You.
The first part reads in Arabic Labbaika Allahumma, Labbaik - Here I come, O Allah, here I come". He then enters Mecca and performs the tawaf, a sevenfold "circling" of the Ka'aba, always going anti-clockwise around it This ritual is known as tawaful-qudum (the tawaf of "arrival") and begins at the famous black stone built into the east corner of the Ka'aba.
After this the pilgrims return to the Ka'aba to perform tawaf again and on the following day go to perform the wuquf (the standing ) at Mount Arafat, a plain ten miles east of Mecca. Here the pilgrims stand in prayer during the day and listen to the pilgrimage sermon read on a small mound on the plain known as Jabalir-Rahmah (the "Mountain of Mercy") where Muhammad himself preached to his companions during his farewell pilgrimage.
At the end of the day the Muslims hasten back on the road to Mecca to "celebrate the praises of God at the mash'aril-haraam" (Surah 2.198), the "Sacred Monument" of Muzdalifah, where they spend the night. The next day, the Yawman-Nahr (the "Day of Sacrifices"), they continue back towards Mecca and at Mina perform ramial-jimar, the stoning ceremony. The pilgrimage officially closes at this point and is followed by the Eidul-Adha festival at Mina where animals are sacrificed (a pre-Islamic pagan custom at the end of the pilgrimage now said to be commemorative of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, believed by the Muslims to be Ishmael), and a final circumambulation of the Ka'aba known as tawaful-wada (the tawaf of "departure").
A faithful Muslim will then make a respectful visit (a ziyarah) to Medina where Muhammad is buried in the Prophet's Mosque alongside his successors Abu Bakr and Umar.
Al-Hajarul-Aswad - The Black Stone
Muhammad's requested the Black Stone (al-hajarul-aswad) in the Ka'aba. When all the idols of the building were destroyed at the conquest of Mecca, this stone was preserved and every pilgrim to Mecca endeavors to kiss it in emulation of his prophet's practice. Why do they do this?
It is believed that the stone was sent down from heaven and that it was originally crystal-clear. "Moslems agree that it was originally white, and became black by reason of men's sins. It appeared to me a common aerolite covered with a thick slaggy coating, glossy and pitch-like, worn and polished" The Qur'an teaches that the Ka'aba was originally built by Abraham and Ishmael (Surah 2.125) and it is said that the stone, once embedded in the shrine, became black as it took the sins of those who kissed it.
There is no evidence of an historical nature in pre-Islamic records to back up the suggestion in the Qur'an that the Ka'aba was built by Abraham or that he practiced its pilgrimage rites. Historically the shrine and its ceremonies can only be traced to the pagan worship of the pre-Islamic Arabs. One can only express extreme skepticism at the hypothesis that the stone "must have been there" in Abraham's time.
The tradition that the stone originally came down from heaven seems to account for its origin and eminence. It is highly probable that it was quite simply a meteorite which, because it had fallen out of the sky, was treated with awe by the primitive Arabs. One is reminded of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus which was highly esteemed because it contained, "the sacred stone that fell from the sky" (Acts 19.35). The Black Stone, in all probability, was simply a meteorite reverenced as a god in the same way by the Arabs. Its retention in Islam, especially the primitive custom of kissing it, speaks volumes for the pagan character of the Hajj Pilgrimage as a whole.
The Stoning of the Demons at Mina
The ramial-jimar ceremony at Mina, like many other ceremonies in the Hajj, places a great emphasis on stones. At the small village of Mina each pilgrim must, on the third day of the Hajj, cast seven small pebbles at a stone pillar known as Jamratul-Aqabah as a sign of his rejection of the ways and influence of the devil. For this reason the pillar has become known as ash-Shaytanul-Kabir ("the Great Satan"). It used to be a simple pillar at ground level but, the crowds to Mecca being what they are these days, it is now a huge pillar with platforms at different levels to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who endeavour to pelt it. Each pilgrim must collect sixty-three small stones while at Muzdalifah for, when the final tawaf is completed, he must return to Mina to once again stone the pillar as well as two others nearby, known as Jamratul-Awla and Jamratul-Wusta respectively (though some gather only forty-nine stones and others seventy. The number must be a multiple of seven as seven pebbles are to be cast at each pillar in turn). Like many other rites in the Hajj, this one too has been dislocated from its pre-Islamic pagan status and is now said to be an act of piety which follows the example of Abraham who supposedly thrice stoned Satan as he tried to stop him sacrificing his son (believed by the Muslims to have taken place in the valley where Mina is situated)
It is said that, when Abraham or Ibrahim returned from the pilgrimage to Arafat, and arrived at Wady Muna, the devil Eblys presented himself before him at the entrance of the valley, to obstruct his passage; when the angel Gabriel, who accompanied the Patriarch, advised him to throw stones at him, which he did, and after pelting him seven times.
The Pagan Origins of the Hajj Rites
The Ka'bah was then the holy of holies of paganism and securely protected against any attack against its authorities or sanctity. Perhaps the greatest irony of this whole ceremony is that its origin should be attributed to Abraham, a man who, according to the Qur'an, detested idols made of stone and destroyed them (Surah 37. 91-93). For the whole emphasis of the pilgrimage falls on stones. The Muslims circumambulate the Ka'aba, an empty shrine made of stones, kiss the Black Stone built into it, and pray at the maqam-i-Ibrahim in front of which stands a small shrine containing another stone (the qadam-i-Ibrahim) on which Abraham allegedly stood while building the Ka'aba (it is supposed to bear his footprint). Arafat is a plain on which the Mount of Mercy stands - covered with stones and a stone monolith commemorating Muhammad's farewell sermon. The Hajj was Muhammad's compromise with Arabian Paganism.
Islam is in fact a religion of dead works, and the stones echo the fact that it is "stone-dead," because stones are the most lifeless objects on earth, unable even to support life like the soil. The emphasis that falls on them in the Hajj exposes the lifeless character of the pilgrimage as a whole. They contrast sharply with the rivers of life emanting from the living Christ and flowing through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul of a true Christian, who does not need to make a journey to one of the moat desolate places on earth to supposedly draw near to the living God!
Written by: Darrell G. Young