Another duty incumbent on all Muslims who are able to undertake it is the hajj or pilgrimage. Although often referred to by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as the pilgrimage to Makkah, it is more accurately described as a pilgrimage that begins in Makkah at the Ka’ba or House of God, which the Qur’an speaks of in terms of deep reverence. When Makkah was taken by the Muslims, the Ka’ba was cleansed of idols and resanctified in the name of the one God. This structure has forever since been maintained to serve as the focal point of all prayer, the center of the pilgrimage, and the House of God. All Muslims who have journeyed there to worship God with sincere intent (and within the constraints of a reasonable capacity) are welcomed to its precincts, as it was in the days of Abraham.
The first House of worship appointed for men was that at Makkah. Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings. In it are Signs Manifest, for example, the Station of Abraham. Whoever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God, those who can afford the journey. But if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures. (003:096-097)
Behold, We gave the site of the Sacred House to Abraham, saying, “Associate not anything in worship with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves therein in prayer. “And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men. They will come to you on foot and mounted on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways, “that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them. (022:026-028)
The conduct of the pilgrim is of great importance considering that the entire journey, every step taken, every act performed, is carried out with the express purpose and inner intent of pleasing and worshipping God. Therefore, along with the previous verses prohibiting certain activities, the Qur’an further adjures all pilgrims to behave in a fitting manner, which includes avoiding quarrels, sinful acts, and the use of obscenities.
For Hajj are the months well known. If any one undertakes that duty therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the Hajj. And whatever good you do, be sure God knows it. And take a provision with you for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct. So fear Me, O you who are wise. (002:197)
For those who are unable to complete the pilgrimage, God provides alternate means for them to worship Him in relation to the pilgrimage, such as by offering a sacrifice to be enjoyed by those on the pilgrimage.
And complete the Hajj or ‘umra in the service of God. But if you are prevented from completing it, send an offering for sacrifice, such as you may find, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice. And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp, necessitating shaving, he should in compensation either fast or feed the poor or offer sacrifice. And when you are in peaceful conditions again, if any one wishes to continue the ‘umra on to the hajj, he must make an offering, such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, he should fast three days during the hajj and seven days on his return, making ten days in all. This is for those whose household is not in the precincts of the Sacred Mosque. And fear God, and know that God is strict in punishment. (002:196)
The Qur’an offers several descriptions which together constitute a framework outlining the appropriate stages of the pilgrimage to be followed by the worshippers, stages which are referred to as the “holy rites”. Following their arrival in Makkah, the pilgrims enter the precincts of the House of God, the Ka’ba. There they circumambulate around the House, praising God constantly. Afterwards, they leave the House and journey outside of the city proper to Mount Arafat, where again they praise God in the proper manner (which is not specified in the Qur’an itself). Leaving Arafat, the pilgrims follow the footsteps of the Prophet in offering a prayer at the “Sacred Monument,” presumably the Muzdalifa. After this, the pilgrims should quickly move on, rather than continuing to cluster about Mount Arafat, as there are many pilgrims who need to complete these rituals.
Then when you pour down from Mount Arafat, celebrate the praises of God at the Sacred Monument, and celebrate His praises as He has directed you, even though, before this, you went astray. Then pass on at a quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the multitude so to do, and ask for God’s forgiveness. For God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. So when you have accomplished your holy rites, celebrate the praises of God, as you used to celebrate the praises of your fathers, yea, with far more heart and soul. There are men who say, “Our Lord! Give us Your bounties in this world!” but they will have no portion in the Hereafter. (002:198-200)
During this time, while the pilgrim is in a state of ritual purity, he must take special care concerning the foods he eats, as suggested by the following revelation. All food must be halal or permitted by being properly sacrificed with name of the God spoken over the animal during sacrifice. Sacrificial animals, the Qur’an states, have been required of each of the peoples to whom God sent a Message. Muslims should take quite seriously the rites of sacrifice and perform them with true piety. Indeed, the Qur’an instructs, it is not the meat nor the blood of the animal which reaches God, but the piety of the act. With the sacrifice complete, God commands the pilgrim not only to eat of such sanctified food, but also to share that food with those in need. The suggestion from this injunction seems to be that, while the pilgrimage is performed for God, it should also be performed with consideration for the Muslim community, so that all may participate in this ritual of worship.
And through the Days appointed, celebrate the name of God over the cattle which He has provided for them for sacrifice. Then eat you thereof and feed the distressed ones in want. … Lawful to you for food in Pilgrimage are cattle, except those mentioned to you as exception. … And whoever holds in honor the symbols of God, in the sacrifice of animals, such honor should come truly from piety of heart. In them you have benefits for a term appointed. In the end their place of sacrifice is near the Ancient House.
To every people did We appoint rites of sacrifice, that they might celebrate the name of God over the sustenance He gave them from animals fit for food. But your God is One God. Submit then your wills to Him in Islam, and give you the good news to those who humble themselves, to those whose hearts are filled with fear when God is mentioned, who show patient perseverance over their afflictions, keep up regular prayer, and spend in charity out of what We have bestowed upon them.
The sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the symbols from God. In them is much good for you. Then pronounce the name of God over them as they line up for sacrifice. When they are down on their sides after slaughter, eat you thereof, and feed such as beg not but live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility. Thus have We made animals subject to you, that you may be grateful. It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches God; it is your piety that reaches Him. He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify God for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right. (022:028-037)
The pilgrimage is organized in such a way that these primary duties can be met within a span of two days. Traditionally, many pilgrims remain in the vicinity of Makkah for a longer period or travel to nearby Madinah to visit the tomb of the Prophet. However, the Qur’an seeks to assure those who are unable to do so that it is no sin on them for leaving the moment the pilgrimage is complete. Again, one gets the impression that God is well aware that most who desire to go on the pilgrimage have families and work responsibilities which require their attention elsewhere, and so He tries not to make the pilgrimage itself too demanding; another aspect, if you will, of His great mercy and forbearance. Similarly, those who decide to stay longer are reminded that they should not do so if they too have responsibilities requiring their attention; in other words, they may stay so long as their “aim is to do right.”
Celebrate the praises of God during the Appointed Days. But if any one hastens to leave in two days, there is no blame on him, and if any one stays on, there is no blame on him, if his aim is to do right. Then fear God, and know that you will surely be gathered unto Him. (002:203)
Qur’an. Trans. Yusuf ‘Ali.
as-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh us-Sunnah: az-Zakah and as-Siyam. Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1991.