Samar Yahya : Makkah has always been the spiritual center for all Muslims. All Muslims in the world turn to the Kaaba five times every day to perform prayers.
Moreover, Makkah receives over 3 million pilgrims worldwide every year to perform Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam.
Haj is a unique journey that has illustrious acts of worship that every Muslim wishes to perform at least once in lifetime.
(Haj is (during) well-known months, so whoever has made Haj obligatory upon himself therein (by entering the state of ihram), there is (to be for him) no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing during Haj. And whatever good you do – Allah knows it. And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is fear of Allah. And fear Me, O you of understanding.) (Chapter 2, Verse 197)
Haj is the journey of a lifetime and for many it is a turning point in their faith and their relation to Allah. Others consider Haj as an ongoing journey, when they go back home they teach their families, relatives and friends what they have learned about patience, taking care of others and the pure and complete submission to Allah’s orders and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) teachings.
Haj literally means ‘to set out for a place’. Haj journey take place in Dhul-Hijjah the last month of the year, and rituals starting on 9h Dhul-Hijjah and last for four or five days.
(And remember Allah during (specific) numbered days. Then whoever hastens (his departure) in two days – there is no sin upon him; and whoever delays (until the third) – there is no sin upon him – for him who fears Allah . And fear Allah and know that unto Him you will be gathered.) (Chapter 2, Verse 203)
The Holy Qur’an explained that Haj goes back thousands of years to the time of Prophet Ibrahim. Allah ordered him to leave his wife Hajar and his son Ismail alone in the desert of Makkah with little food and water, that soon ended. Hajar searched for water and desperately ran seven times between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah but she could not find any water. Returning in despair to Ismail, she saw the baby kicking the ground with his leg and a water spring was underneath his feet.
Years later, Ibrahim was commanded by Allah to re-build the Kaaba. Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Ismail, raised the foundations of the Kaaba. Islamic scholar, Shibli Nomani, mentions that the house raised by Prophet Ibrahim was 27 feet high, 96 feet long, and 66 feet wide. He placed the Black Stone in the Eastern corner of the Kaaba. Prophet Ibrahim received revelation in which Allah told him that he should proclaim the pilgrimage to mankind.
(And (mention, O Muhammad), when We designated for Ibrahim the site of the House, (saying), “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand (in prayer) and those who bow and prostrate.) (Chapter 22, Verse 26)
After building the Kaaba, Prophet Ibrahim would come to Makkah to perform Haj every year, and after his death, his son continued this practice. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rituals were changed.
In pre-Islamic time, the Kaaba was surrounded by idols and people from Makkah and outside Makkah used to visit Kaaba during the annual pilgrimage season. Shibli Nomani mentions that the Arabs at that time did not walk between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah nor gather at Arafat. But they used to spend a day in the plain area outside Makkah and return to Makkah circumambulating Kaaba.
During the pre-Islamic period, Haj became an occasion for several festivals and activities like poetry competitions, and the most famous poems used were hung up on the Kaaba walls. Other unacceptable activities and performances also took place during Haj time.
This sad state of affairs continued for nearly two and a half thousand years. But then after this long period, the whole scene changed
The present steps and rituals of Haj were established by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
In 630 AD, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Muslims came back from Madinah to Makkah and claimed Makkah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Muslims cleansed the Kaaba and destroyed all idols.
The following year, Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s companion, led 300 Muslims to perform Haj in Makkah. Ali ibn Abi Talib addressed the people, specifying the new rituals of Haj. He declared that no disbeliever or naked man would be allowed to circumambulate the Kaaba from the following year.
In the tenth year after Hijrah (632 AD), Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) performed his only and last Haj with a large number of Muslims, and he taught them the rituals of Haj and the manners of performing these rituals.
In the plain of Arafat, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his famous speech (The Farewell Sermon) to those who were present there.
(This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. But whoever is forced by severe hunger with no inclination to sin – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.) (Chapter 5, Verse 3)
During the Islamic time and the Middle Ages, pilgrims used to gather in caravans in main cities of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq to go to Makkah. Caravans had tens of thousands of pilgrims. Military groups and physicians accompanied Haj caravans for the reason of protection, security, and care of pilgrims.
All these precautions were taken to protect the caravan from any natural risks, dangers or robbers and to ensure that the pilgrims were supplied with the necessary facilities.
Muslim travelers like Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta have recorded that the Hajj caravans followed well-established routes called in Arabic, Darb al-Hajj, (pilgrimage road).
Today the Haj scene has been transformed. We see a multitude of facilities provided to pilgrims for healthcare and support. Permanent and mobile hospitals are set up in Mena and Arafat. The train cuts the time short for pilgrims to move from Makkah to Mena and is being expanded to Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah. Hotels and restaurants work 24/7 to serve pilgrims. Can you imagine how it was like in the olden times?