In western Saudi Arabia, across the expanse of dry, hot desert lies the populous and land marked province of Makkah. Its capitol Mecca, has become the birthplace of the largest gathering of people throughout the world and the holiest city in the religion of Islam. A city of staggering architecture, rich cultural heritage and the journeys end for one of the largest pilgrimages in the world.
Dhu al-Hijjah is the last month of the Islamic calendar, coinciding approximately towards the end of September. This is considered one of the most important times of the year for the 1.3 billion Muslims living across the globe. It marks the beginning of Hajj, the spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey that all Muslims must make at one point in their lives, if they are able.
While only a fraction of the world’s Muslims aim to make the journey to Saudi Arabia this week for the Hajj, this horizon filled country may have to host to millions of people at a time. Mecca’s own 2 million population usually swells to 3 times the size for this 5 daylong event.
The belief explains that 2,000 years before the birth of Christ, Abraham’s wife Hager and their son Ishmael were left stranded in the desert of ancient Mecca. With Ishmael on the brink of perishing from thirst, the angel Gabriel created the well of Zamzam to aid them. In gratitude Abraham built the Kaaba, a black cloth draped cubical building. In the year 630, after visited frequently by many religions, Mohammed brought a few followers to the site to remove any idols placed there and devote the site to Allah. This became the first Hajj pilgrimage.
Today’s pilgrimage follows the model of Mohammed and commemorates the events associated with Abraham and his family. Muslims, of different gender, colour and race, from all stages of life make the journey to Mecca, a journey that has become one of the five pillars of Islam. The Masjid al-Haram, the largest Masjid in the world, houses the Kaaba, the sacred site that all Muslims face toward in the five-daily prayers and Hajj’s journey’s end.
Any pilgrim on the spiritual journey to Mecca must fulfil three duties, known as Farz. The first occurs roughly six miles from Mecca, where pilgrims must enter a state of holiness known as Ihram. Wearing seamless white garments representing spiritual purity, pilgrims abstain from; shaving, disagreements, cutting nails or hair, wearing cologne or jewellery.
Tawaaf is the duty of circling the Kaaba, in the centre of the Masjid mosque seven times, kissing or touching the ancient black stone with each lap. Sa’yis is the final ritual, of walking or running back and forth between as-Safaa and al-Marwa, as Hager did in her search for water for Ishmael.
This creates a mesmerising swirl of people as hundreds and thousands perform all three Farz within the Masjid al-Haram. The sheer volume of pilgrims has made certain rituals become more symbolic, such as the touching of the black stone or the Rakaat prayers at the palace of Abraham; pointing at the black stone and praying anywhere inside the Mosque becoming acceptable substitutes.
Although this is an obligatory religious duty, many consider Hajj to be a place of spiritual awakening, providing Muslim’s with the opportunity of self-renewal. The Hajj maintains the focus of equality and harmony. Uniting all under the white of the Ihram, to stand shoulder to shoulder before God. One spiritual journey that is made by millions to reach the same end, a pure religious experience that is considered as an indescribable sight and enhancer of tolerance and equality.
What might the destination be, on an individual’s journey of spirituality?