Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has announced that the five-day Hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, starts today, August 19, with a sea of pilgrims proceeding to Mina, the Tent City, for an overnight stay called al-Tarawiya.
Mina, which is inside the holy city, is around 8 kilometers (km) away from Mecca’s Masjidil Haram (Sacred Mosque).
On the other hand, tradition has it that scores of the pilgrims, with the males wearing a uniform white unsewn cloth, called ihram, to signify purity, will go direct to Mount Arafat, some 20 km away.
Women may wear clothes of any color but must cover their body except the hands and face.
The Arab kingdom estimated that 1.3 million pilgrims from abroad have arrived to the holy city to join around 200,000 internal pilgrims.
Some 6,000 Filipino Muslims are now in Mecca for the pilgrimage, which is obligatory to adult Muslims who have the financial means and physical condition to accomplish the Islamic duty.
The Saudi Arabia embassy in the country is processing pilgrims’ Hajj visa every year on the recommendation of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Saudi’s highest court said the first day of Dhul Hijjah—the 12th and final month in Islam’s lunar calendar Hijrah—fell on August 12, its equivalent in Western Gregorian calendar—after a moon sighting confirmed the crescent moon was seen on August 11. Hijrah is now on its year 1439.
Every year, the Islamic event occurs from the 8th to 12th of Dhul Hijjah, which this year falls from August 19 to 23 in the Gregorian calendar.
The Hajj occurs on different dates in relation with the Western solar Gregorian calendar because Hijrah is short by 11 days, as it depends on the movements of the moon.
As announced by the Saudi kingdom’s religious authority, the paramount ritual, Uqof, or Standing on Mount Arafat, of the Hajj will be on August 20 (or 9th of Dhul Hijjah).
The Eid’l Adha—the climax of Hajj—will be celebrated on August 21 (the 9th of Dhul Hijjah) with a qurban (sacrifice) of those who can afford a cow, a sheep or a goat, to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s unwavering obedience to God and his son’s, Prophet Ismael, complete submission to God.
Eid’l Adha will see the pilgrims in Mina—after spending part of the day and a part of the night on Arafat and an overnight stay in Muzdalifah—to pick up pebbles for the ritual called “Stoning the Devil” at three concrete walls called Jammarats, which represent Satan.
The estimated 1.6-billion world Islamic community, called Ummah, will celebrate the first day of the Feast of Sacrifice, or Eid’l Adha in Arabic, with early-morning congregational prayers in mosques, or in open fields, topped by the imam’s (worship leader) sermon about the origins of the festival. The slaughter follows.
In honor of Abraham
Islam has only two major festivals, Eid’l Adha and Eid’l Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking the Fast, which is celebrated at the end of Ramadan.
In some Arab and Muslim countries, the celebration takes a week or longer.
This year, however, like in the case of Eid’l Fitr, a few countries will mark the first day of Eid’l Adha on August 22, such as in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam and Greece. Muslims in the Philippines celebrate it on August 21.
The Essentially, Eid’l Adha is celebrated by Muslims to honor the patriarch Abraham—known in Islam as Prophet Ibrahim—for his unwavering obedience to Allah’s (God’s) command to sacrifice his son Ismael.
Abraham’s obedience to Allah
Islamic religious leaders, quoting the Koran, said that, as Abraham was about to carry out the sacrifice of his son, who submitted himself willingly, God had him replaced with a ram as offering.
In honor of the sacrifice, Muslims during Eid’l Adha slaughter an animal they can afford.
Ustadhz Muhammad Cana, a graduate of Theology in Saudi Arabia and now a translator of Arabic language at NCMF, said God appeared to Abraham in a dream, commanding him to sacrifice Ismael as a test and an act of obedience.
So, how is the Feast of Sacrifice celebrated?
Cana said the first day of the occasion is observed first with the early-morning prayers, after which is the slaughtering of an animal for qurban (for those who have the means); reciting Takbir (“Allahu Akbar,” or “Allah [GOD] is [the] greatest” three times, visiting relatives or friends, reconciling with those one has a misunderstanding and giving gifts; and holding social gatherings.
He said the meat of a slaughtered animal is not an offering to Allah, emphasizing that the meat is divided into three parts: one third is retained by the family; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors, and the third share is for the poor and needy.
He said the greeting used is like in Eid’l Fitr, “Eid Mubarak,” or “Happy or Blessed Eid.”
‘Stoning of the Devil’
Cana explained that “Stoning the Devil” portrays the instance when Abraham was on his way to sacrifice Ismael, but the devil appeared three times and tried to distract and persuade him into disobeying God.
So, Abraham threw small stones seven times at the devil on three different instances, he said.
“In the pilgrimage,” Cana said, “pilgrims throw pebbles at the three Jammarats seven times each in the last three days of the Hajj. In their hearts, the pilgrims are declaring enmity to the devil,” Cana said.
Brisk walking in honor of Hagar
The Saudi-educated religious leader from Maguindanao said another Hajj ritual called Sa’e, or brisk walking between the hills of Safa and Al-Marwah within the Masjidil Haram, is in honor of Hagar (Hajiara in the Koran), the second wife of Abraham, when she gave birth to Ismael in the heat of the desert and without water.
Sa’e is performed by walking briskly seven times the distance of some 450 meters between as-Safa and al-Marwah. The brisk walk covers a total of 3.15 km.
In an article written by journalist Nash Maulana, he quoted the Bible in the Book of Genesis 14:16 that, said that in her search for water, Hagar ran back and forth between the ancient hills of Kadesh and Bered. And spring gushed forth from the arid desert, God hearing the plea of a frantic mother.
Presently, in Mecca within the Masjidil Haram, based on Muslim belief, is the flowing Zamzam Spring, which water has not been exhausted ever since. Many pilgrims every year bring to their country a container of water from the ancient spring.
In the Masjidil Haram is the Ka’aba, “a small square building made of stones in its original form, about 60 square feet” in size.
For Muslims, the Ka’aba is called Baitullah, the metaphorical House of Allah, and the center of Islamic worship to which they face in their prayers from everywhere in the world.
For Muslims, it was God who ordered the building of the Ka’aba.
“Tradition goes that the Ka’aba was ordained by Allah to be built in the shape of the House in Heaven called Baitul Ma’amoor. Allah in his infinite mercy ordained a similar place on Earth, and Prophet Adam was the first to build this place,” according to Al-Islam.org.
It added that the Genesis chapter in the Christian Bible described its construction when God ordained Abraham to build a Shrine for Worship when he commanded him to go to the Southern Desert with his wife Hagar and infant son Ismael.
Cana, of the NCMF, said the Ka’aba has the Black Stone, believed to be a meteorite, on its eastern side, which many pilgrims kiss following what Prophet Muhammad did. Kissing the Black Stone is not obligatory, he added.
“We, Muslims, are not worshiping the Ka’aba, nor the Black Stone; we worship only Allah in His Oneness and has no partner whatsoever,” he explained.
When praying five times daily, all Muslims face the direction of the Ka’aba, which symbolizes unity, Cana said. “It is like a circle with its center; you could say the Ka’aba is the center of the Islamic world.”
Usman is a freelance journalist who is on science, information technology and current events, among others. He won the “Best Science Feature Story” in the first University of the Philippines Science Journalism Award 2018 on February 17, and the DOST-PCIEERD “Kabalikat Award” for Print Media on June 27, 2014.