The most ritualistic religious duty prescribed for Muslims is the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makka which takes place on a grand scale. The word Hajj means ‘journey towards’ and also gives the name to the last month in the Islamic calendar. Muslims from the world over to journey towards Makka, and the religious duty takes days, money and energy to complete. Muslims are required to perform Hajj once within their lifetime, if they can – the majority of Muslims one is likely to come across will not have done this (but hope to).
The various rituals of Hajj are symbolic and rooted in religious history. A common theme across the symbolic rituals of Hajj is the life story of Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim). At the heart of the Hajj journey is the Kaaba, the black cube-like structure Muslims believe was built by Abraham to worship God about 4,000 years ago. The lives of Abraham’s wife Hajira and their son Ishmael are also reflected in the rituals of Hajj. Then, Makka was a barren place without any people but over time, Makka became a populated and busy trading city, in which the Prophet Muhammad was born (as a descendant of Ishmael). However, its people had long “forgotten the religion of Abraham” and would worship idols in their hundreds as (false) gods. Many centuries later, the Prophet Muhammad’s mission then became not so much to bring a new religion but to “restore the religion of Abraham” in the worship of (one true) God.
After tremendous struggles, the Prophet Muhammad succeeded in his mission and today, Hajj sees an ocean of believers journey towards the Kaaba from across the globe affirming the common religion of Abraham and Muhammad in a powerfully moving way. For British Muslims, there are dedicated services for converts to Islam, and support services from the British Government.
The ocean of believers has a tremendous psychological impact upon the pilgrims. Individuals leave their worldly markings behind. Colours, languages, social class, ethnicities, gender, nationalities, incomes and other temporal divisions give way to a melting pot of a human family, where all are equal before God, and only God truly knows who the better human being is. Pilgrims pray with all their heart for wrongs to be put right, and return with a strong determination to lead better, purer, more conscious lives.