Monday, January 18, 2010

En Route to Mecca - The Sanctuary

“Behold, the first Temple ever set up for mankind was indeed the one at Bakkah: rich in blessing and a (source of) guidance onto all the worlds.” (Surah Ali Imran: 96)

The Ka’bah has never been worshipped in itself. Instead, it has been the holiest site in Arabia and is central to the lives of Muslims around the world. Since the time of the Prophet Ibrahim its role has been a sanctuary. Retracing the early history of Islam, it is recorded that Ibrahim had left his wife Hajar and their infant son Ismail in the barren valley of Mecca, described in the Qur’an as, “the valley without cultivation.” (Surah Ibrahim: 37)

Mecca became a centre of nourishment for travellers and pilgrims after a spring emerged in that desolate place. This had happened with Ismail crying from thirst and tapping his feet on the ground, which by God’s grace had caused water to burst forth from the ground. In an attempt to contain the spring that appeared in between her son’s feet, Hajar repeatedly commanded ‘zam zam’, meaning enclosing or stop flowing. Is it now known to countless pilgrims as the Well of Zamzam.

With the assistance of his son, the Prophet Ibrahim laid the foundations of the Ka’bah. Many traditions remain from that time. Today, pilgrims will find his footprints on the stone that is known as ‘Maqam Ibrahim’ (the Station of Ibrahim). As the Qu’ran mentions, ‘take the, the place whereon Ibrahim once stood as your place of prayer. And thus did We command Ibrahim and Ismail: “Purify My Temple for those who will walk around it, and those who will abide near it in meditation, and those who will bow down and prostrate themselves (in prayer)”.’ (Surah Al-Baqarah: 125). In addition, adjacent to one of the Ka’bah walls stood a structure known as Hijr Ismail. This was where Hajar and her son Ismail placed their tent after being left in this sacred land. Being part of the Ka’bah, the ritual of tawaf (circumambulation) includes this semi-circular building.

Owing to periodic floods and fires, the Ka’bah has been through several re constructions. The most significant work was during the time of the Quraysh, when the shape became a cube as is seen today. Upon completion of work on the Ka’bah, there was a dispute between the leaders of the different tribes over who should place the Hajar Al-Aswad (the Black Stone) back in its original location. To resolve the issue, one of the tribal leaders suggested letting the decision be made by the first person who entered the mosque on the following day. This turned out to be the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh), whose solution to the problem was to put the Hajar Al-Aswad on a large cloth. Each of the leaders held an edge, and together they returned the stone to it original position. This has since marked the starting point of tawaf.

Reflecting the sanctity of the Ka’bah, it has long been a tradition to cover the structure appropriately. It is reported that during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) the Ka’bah was covered with brocade, Yemeni cloth and a white Egyptian cloth known as qibati. In the period of the Ummayad dynasty (662-750 AD / 41-132 AH), the Ka’bah cover was changed twice every year, once with brocade during the 9th of Zulhijjah and the other with qibati for celebrating Eid Al-Fitr. Transporting the Kiswah to Mecca from Egypt was always a celebration. For centuries a huge annual parade consisting of the Mahmal and military escorts carrying the Kiswah would precede the Hajj season. The tradition of draping the Ka’bah has continued until today. The most significant change was when King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud established an institution that was responsible for producing the Kiswah in Saudi Arabia during the 1920s. Since 1977, every Kiswah has been made in Mecca. Although the factory is fully equipped with the most modern machinery, the embroidery work is still done by hand.

God has provided peace and security in this holy land. As the Qur’an states: “Let them, therefore, worship the Sustainer of this Temple; who has given them food against hunger, and made them safe from danger”. (Surah Quraysh: 3-4). In addition to fellow pilgrims, trees and plants being protected, so are animals, which it is forbidden to engage in hunting.

From the very beginning, members of the Quraysh divided the responsibilities for Hajj affairs among the tribe’s different families. Prominent examples include the Bani Abd Al-Mutallib, who were given the privilege of providing food and drinks for pilgrims, and the Bani Shaiban, who still hold the key to the Ka’bah.

The focus of Mecca was not solely as a place of worship. Visitors from near and far came for another reason: trade. They travelled to this arid land, bringing with them goods and merchandise, transforming a desert into a fertile centre of commercial activity.

The Fifth Pillar

In Islam, the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was decreed on every Muslim adult, male and female “who can afford the journey” (Surah Ali Imran: 97). In addition to having the financial means to undertake the journey, the health of pilgrims is a vital concern, as is preventing hardships for their dependants.

The five pillars of Islam describe the obligations of every Muslim towards his Creator and to his fellow Muslims. Hajj, the fifth pillar, combines a Muslims’s duty towards God and humanity. Acknowledging the Oneness of God with sincerity is essential to carrying out the pilgrimage rituals. At the same time, the hajj offers a strong sense of kinship and sharing among Muslims as an ‘Ummah’.

Each year, around two to three million pilgrims camp at Mecca during Zulhijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. As well as being performed within the area of the Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca, this journey of a lifetime continues to a number of other locations, including Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina.

The Farewell Hajj

During the ‘era of ignorance’ (Jahiliyyah) before the widespread acceptance of islam, the Ka’bah changed its role. The Quraisy converged at the Ka’bah with numerous idols and performed rites and rituals which were quite unlike those introduced by the Prohpet Ibrahim. Pagan poetry was hung on the walls of the Ka’bah. During the Conquest of Mecca in 630 AD / 8 AH, the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) destroyed all 360 of the idols that were placed at the Ka’bah. The purpose and integrity of the House of God were restored in a great victory for the Muslims.

In the 10th year after the migration to Medina in 622 AD / 1 AH, the Prophet Muhammad’s (bpuh) mission had almost come to an end. Up to that point he had not yet performed the ultimate obligation upon all Muslims, the Hajj. On hearing the announcement of the Prophet’s intention to march on a blessed journey to Mecca, Muslims from a wide area of the Arabian Peninsula congregated in Medina. The crowds were massive and tents were erected to welcome their Muslims brothers.

Together with the Prophet Muhammad (BPUH) they prepared themselves for the journey. In the afternoon of the 25th of Zulkaedah, the roads of Medina filled with thousands of Muslims who setting forth to Mecca. Either on foot or mounted on the back of horses and camels, from every plain and desert they came with the same intention. As they rode, the talbiyah chant filled the air: “Here I am, O’Allah, here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, here I am. Verily the praise and blessing are Yours, and all sovereignty, You have no partner.”

A few days later, on the 4th of Zulhijjah, the Prophet and the other pilgrims reached the Masjid Al-Haram. All were in their state of consecration (ihram). Led by the Prophet, they performed tawaf, circumambulating the Ka’bah seven times. Then they strode to and from Mounts Safa and Marwah.

The pilgrims stayed for a few days before they departed to Mina. After spending a night there, their journey continued to Arafah. Mounted on his she-camel, Al-Qaswa, the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) went down to the Valley of Uranah. Surrounded by other pilgrims, he delivered his sermon. In simple words he laid the foundation and guidance for Muslims in their daily life. Among the issues he covered were those relating to ownership, commercial transactions, relationships between husbands and wives, and between all the different components of humanity. As he completed his speech, a verse of the Qur’an on the perfection of the religion descended upon him. “Today have I perfected your religious law for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your religion.” (Surah Al-Ma’idah: 3)

The journey continued, with the pilgrims camping next at Muzdalifah, where they picked up pebbles and threw them at the Jamarat pillars, symbolising stoning the devil. After this they continued to Mecca for the sacrifices that are now known as Eid Al-Adha. Next, they returned to Mina. Before leaving for Medina, they once again performed tawaf around the Ka’bah.

All of these rituals were to commemorate the actions of the Prophet Ibrahim. They marked the same rites of hajj that are still practised by Muslims today. This event, known as Hajjatul Wada’ (the Farewell Hajj), took place in the year that the Prophet Muhammad (bpuh) was called by his Creator.

Extracted from the book: En Route to Mecca – Pilgrims’ Voices Throughout the Centuries

Publisher: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

(This book is published in conjunction with the En Route to Mecca: Pilgrims’ Voices Throughout the Centuries exhibition, launched in October 2009.)

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