By Ameena Mughal, Intern at Leeds Museums and Galleries on the Voices of Asia project
Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, is the last and fifth pillar of Islam and occurs in the last month of Dhul Hijjah, which is in the twelfth month of the Islamic Calendar. Muslims around the world of different ethnicity, status and class gather together and pray to Allah. The first member of my family to perform Hajj was my great grandfather in 1976, then later my grandparents and my own parents. My grandmother first went to Hajj in 1985 and acquired many objects including a wall hanging of the Kaaba which was given to my parents as a gift.
It is a large red velour wall cloth showing the Masjid al-Haram of Mecca with the sacred Kaaba stone. The Kaaba meaning cube in Arabic is an ‘ancient stone structure that was built and re built by Prophets as a house of monotheistic worship’. Muslims do not worship the Kaaba, and its environs, instead it serves as a focal and unifying point for Muslims. The wall cloth illustrates Muslims performing Tawaf which is where pilgrims walk seven times around the Kaaba whilst reciting prayers and there are five different types of Tawaf, three of which are performed during Hajj.
Mecca is the most important city to Muslims: it was the birthplace of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), the place of the divine revelation, as well as the location of the holy pilgrimage of Hajj. There are three different types of Hajj: Hajj Al-Tamattu, Hajj Al-Qiran and Hajj Al-Ifrad. Many Muslims in Britain including my family perform the Hajj Al-Tamattu, this is where pilgrims perform Umrah first and then perform Hajj however two different Ihrams are worn. Umrah is an extra pilgrimage and can be performed during anytime of the year. If a pilgrim just completes Umrah they do not perform the rites at Mina, Muzdalifah, and `Arafat which one would do during Hajj. A Muslim must perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime, if they can afford to.
The first stage of the pilgrimage is preparation; one must bathe themselves and be covered in the white garment of the Ihram. An Ihram is a garment that consists of two un-sewn white plain cloths that must be worn by a male pilgrim. A pilgrim before beginning their pilgrimage must be in the state of Ihram which is ensure that pilgrim is pure. For example a pilgrim will not be allowed to engage in marital relations, shave or cut their nails, use perfume or scented oils and are not allowed to fight or argue. Many pilgrims return to using traditional teeth cleaning sticks, called miswak, rather than use their modern toothbrush and toothpaste. This bundle of miswak sticks are Hajj souvenirs, and were donated recently by Nahid Rasool.
Pilgrtims must also express their intention of performing Umrah and Hajj by reciting the Talbiyah which translates into ‘Here I am O Allaah, (in response to your call), here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am. Verily all praise, grace and sovereignty belong to You. You have no partner.’ This declaration is significant as at Hajj a pilgrim must seek redemption and ask Allah to keep them on the path of righteousness. They then perform Tawaf Al-Qudum which is also to show their intention for Hajj. Once a pilgrim has performed Hajj, it strengthens their bond to Allah and Islam, and upon their return to their home, they must take steps in becoming a better Muslim.
A very fond childhood memory of mine is eating dates and drinking Zamzam water once my father had returned from Hajj and my mother would always recall the story of Hajar’s search for water for her son Ismaeel (Ishmael). Therefore on the first day of Hajj, pilgrims have to perform Sa’y and this is the passing between the hillocks of Safa and Marwah. Hajar was sent away to the desert and in Mecca her baby Ismaeel (Ishmael) became very weak and Hajar ran seven times between the two hills of Safa and Marwah in search of water. Allah then sent Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) who struck the ground from that spot to which clear water came gushing out and today is known as the Zamzam well. Pilgrims remember Hajar’s agony, her strong bond with her child and how Allah heard her cry for mercy and helped her. This marks the end of Umrah and pilgrims then wear their second Ihram, make their intention for Hajj by reciting the Talbiyah, as well as perform Tawaf and Sa’y as they have previously done for Umrah.
One of the five pillars of Islam is to pray five times a day therefore pilgrims must ensure that they read all prayers. After performing Sa’y, pilgrims go to Mina and perform their prayers before leaving for Arafat on the second day. Pilgrims perform Wuquf at Arafat, where they pray at the Mount of Mercy, reflecting on their lives, seeking redemption. A Muslim comments ‘that standing at Arafat was extremely emotional and overwhelming’, and as well as mentally enduring, Hajj is also physically enduring. On the second day some pilgrims climb Jabal Rahmah where the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) delivered his last sermon and once the sun has set pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah. There they collect forty nine pebbles which they will throw at the three pillars of Jamarat over the next few days.
On Eid al-Adha pilgrims set off to Mina where they perform the stoning (ramy) in which they must hit each of the three pillars of Jamarat with seven pebbles going from east to west. This is done because it is said that devil appeared to Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) at three different stone heaps and that he tried to tempt and misguide him. Thus Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) ordered Ibrahim (Abraham) to throw stones at the devil so that he withdrew from him. The three pillars represent the devil however the largest stone signifies his temptation of Ibrahim (Abraham) against sacrificing his son Ismaeel (Ishmael), the middle stone illustrates the temptation of Ibrahim’s wife Hajar to induce her to stop him and lastly the small stone symbolises the persuasion of Ismaeel (Ishmael) to avoid sacrifice. The aim of this is to dispose of the devil and become closer to Allah. According to a Muslim woman ‘performing stoning made me realise I can stop myself from doing bad things and I can say no to temptation’. Hajj teaches discipline and provides millions of Muslims with strength and guidance.
Another pillar of Islam is to give Zakat (charity) therefore once the stoning has been performed; an animal such as a sheep or a goat is sacrificed as commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Another duty is that men have their hair shaved off and women have a lock of hair cut off. They then proceed to Masjid al Haram in Mecca to perform Tawal Al Ifadah and this is a formal rite of Hajj in Mecca. Pilgrims also perform Sa’y, drink Zamzam water and they no longer have to wear the Ihram. During the last days of Hajj pilgrims go back to Mina and will stone the three pillars, and return to Masjid Al Haram and perform their last seven circuit circumambulation of the Kaaba which is known as Farewell Tawaf and this is the completion of Hajj.
It is difficult for many non Muslims to understand the journey of Hajj but it is both mentally and physically rewarding, the view of the Kaaba overwhelms many Muslims, the beauty of Mecca and the unity of people is outstanding. During Hajj Muslims display strength, kindness, commitment and harmony and pilgrims gather from many different cultural backgrounds to worship Allah. It is truly mesmerising to see the equality and, the bond between Muslims, as one individual explains ‘I do not think I will be able to describe the appreciation of being amongst a large gathering, in which we are all engaged in the same activities to achieve the same goal.’
During the recent Ahlul Bayt Islamic Society display in Parkinson Court at the University of Leeds, (23-24 April 2012), visitors were able to see a model of the Kaaba, as well as the items illustrated here. From 21 May to 1 June 2012 Leeds Museums' Hajj items will be part of a larger Islamic display for schools at Leeds Grand Mosque on Woodlea Rd. The star Hajj item is this fragment of Kaaba cloth given to Hussein, King of Hejas (Arabia) in 1917, to a Mr Fox as a diplomatic gift.
In the forthcoming ‘Voices of Asia’ displays, which will be installed in the World View Gallery at Leeds City Museum from 2014 onwards, one of the focuses will be Faith and Worship. Islamic items will be shown, as part of a series of Faith installations enriched by the involvement and personal comments from each Leeds faith community. The above Kaaba covering cloth fragment will definitately be shown, and these newly acquired Hajj souvenirs. In the autumn of 2012 we plan to run a discussion forum for this project, to bring together the communities who want to take part and open up the debate on which topics to highlight. If you are interested in participating please contact the curator, Antonia Lovelace, or by e-mail at email@example.com