Hajj 2017: Millions of Muslims enter Mecca for annual pilgrimage

Overview of Grand Mosque, Hajj, millions of pilgrims

The Grand Mosque and its surrounding areas fill with millions of pilgrims during Hajj. Photo by Menj, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30: Mecca is the destination for millions of Muslim pilgrims partaking in the annual pilgrimage: by every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe, adherents are arriving for Hajj 2017, the annual Islamic pilgrimage that is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world. Note: Dates can vary depending on moon sightings.

NEWS UPDATE: Though Hajj won’t commence for another two weeks, pilgrims are already pouring into Mecca. In recent reports, Nigeria and Ghana have already sent their first pilgrims to Saudi Arabia; news publications state that more than 100,000 pilgrims from across the globe have already arrived.

Given that a Muslim may physically, mentally and financially participate in Hajj, this pilgrimage is a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime, as it is one of the five pillars of Islam; despite the term ‘religious duty,’ Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Islamic prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj, in the seventh century. (Learn more, and get news updates, from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.) The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah (God).

THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & THE BLACK STONE

Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, food and water quickly ran out; Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba, and today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

JAHILIYYAH: MUHAMMAD REDEDICATES THE KAABA

During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.

PILGRIMAGE RITUALS:
THE GRAND MOSQUE, MOUNT ARAFAT AND THE ZAMZAM WELL

Before the start of Hajj, pilgrims bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent at the entry station. The first ritual of Hajj is performed inside the Grand Mosque complex: pilgrims circle the Kaaba structure seven times, counterclockwise, reciting prayers (tawaf). Following tawaf, many drink from the Zamzam well. Next, Muslim pilgrims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did (al-Sai). Another statement of intent is made, after which the faithful travel through Mina, and on to the plains of Mount Arafat.

Intense prayer for forgiveness is offered at Arafat, as Muhammad said, “Far more people are freed from the Hellfire on the Day of Arafat than on any other day.” This portion of the Hajj journey is one of the most important. Small stones are gathered, and the following day, pilgrims perform a symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina (rami).

Eid al-Adha: Animal sacrifices are performed as Muslims the world over celebrate Eid al-Adha. Male pilgrims on Hajj customarily shave their heads, and all Hajj pilgrims return to Mecca cross Sara and Marwa, perform additional symbolic stonings and circulate the Kaaba one final time, to do a farewell tawaf.

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Categories: Muslim

Paryushan Parva: Jains enter period of supreme forgiveness, meditation

Temple of stone with worshippers people walking out

Adherents leave the Jain temple at Ranakpur, one of the holiest Jain sites. This temple contains more than 1,000 columns, of which none are identical. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 18: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year. This spiritually intense period is known as the festival of Paryushan Parva, or Paryushana. For eight or 10 days (Swetambar Jains observe Paryushana for eight days; Digambar Jains observe for 10), adherents fast, study sacred texts and make a renewal of faith. A vital element of this festival is the asking of forgiveness—from other persons, animals and any other form of life, whether the offense is known or not. This ritual may be referred to as the rite of universal friendship.

Glass of water on white

Photo courtesy of Free Stock Photo.biz

Did you know? Jains ask forgiveness with the words “Micchami Dukkadam,” or “Uttam Kshama,” which conveys the meaning: “If I have cause you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.”

Jainism incorporates an especially deep concern and respect for all living beings, from animals and insects, to plants and root vegetables (Jain monks uphold this value to the highest level). Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Jains hold that only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.”

Fast fact: Swetambar Jains observe the festival as Paryushana; Digambar Jains refer to it as Das Lakshana. Some Jains in the United States observe the festival for 18 days, which combines the Swetambar and Digambar periods.

PARYUSHAN: DAILY OBSERVANCES

Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too. Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. During the eight-day festival for Swetambar Jains, the Kalpa Sutra is recited, which includes a portion on the birth of Mahavira, the final Tirthankara, or spiritual exemplar. Some Swetambar Jains recite the Antagada Sutra, which describes the lives of men and women who attained moksha, or soul liberation, during the era of Mahavira. In many communities, a procession is made to the main temple during Paryushana.

The end of Paryushan brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification.

NEWS: Last month, 5,000 Jains in India chanted the Navkar Mantra 36 lakh times in two hours, creating a record in the city. Read the story here.

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Categories: Jain

Assumption of Mary, Dormition of Theotokos: Christians honor Virgin Mary

Painting Mary falling asleep

A depiction of the “falling asleep” of Mary. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15: The Eastern Orthodox Dormition Fast has ended, and both Eastern and Western Christians bow their heads, today, for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary / Dormition of the Theotokos. Two names for the same event, both the Assumption and the Dormition proclaim that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven in body and soul. Whether or not Mary died before being assumed does vary by tradition, though—for Catholic Christians, the question remains open, while for Orthodox Christians, firm belief holds that she did, in fact, die a mortal death.

Did you know? In 588 CE, the Emperor Maurice officially adopted the commemoration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin) into the liturgical calendar of the Byzantine Empire.

No evidence of Mary’s Assumption exists in scripture, yet the belief has been engrained in both branches of Christianity for centuries. With no scriptural evidence, the Church points, instead, to passages in Revelations, Genesis and Corinthians, to mention of a woman “caught between good and evil” and to those fallen asleep after Christ’s resurrection. Theologians and Christians have pointed out that a woman so close to Jesus during his earthly life would have naturally been assumed into Heaven, to be with him there.

To many Christians, Eastern and Western, the Assumption is also the Virgin Mary’s heavenly birthday. Mary’s acceptance into the glory of Heaven is viewed as the symbol of Christ’s promise that all devoted Christians will be received into Heaven, too. The feast of the Assumption is a public holiday in many countries, from Austria, Belgium, France and Germany to Italy, Romania and Spain. The day doubles as Mother’s Day in Costa Rica and parts of Belgium.

THE ASSUMPTION: FROM THE 4TH CENTURY TO 1950 A.D.

Apocryphal accounts of the Assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since the 4th century, and teachings of the Assumption have been widespread since the 5th century. Theological debate continued in the centuries following, and though most Catholic Christians had held belief in the Assumption for quite some time, it wasn’t until 63 years ago—on November 1, 1950—that Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an infallible dogma of faith.

IN THE NEWS: A 2017 INTERFAITH (CONTEST) OPPORTUNITY

The Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has announced a contest, open to individuals of all faith traditions, for submission of a video, photo or thesis that best captures the Orthodox Church’s commitment to interfaith cooperation and dialogue. Three winners will each be awarded $500, in the categories of “Original video,” “Original photography” and “M.A. thesis.” Submissions must be turned in by September 21, 2017. (Find more details here.)

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Categories: Christian

Krishna Janmashtami: Pyramids, chanting, fasting commence in India

Hindus in colorful celebration

A Krishna Janmashtami program. Courtesy of Vimeo. (Click on the photo to view a video of the program.)

MONDAY, AUGUST 14 and TUESDAY, AUGUST 15 (date varies by country): Millions of Hindus worldwide revel in the spirit of Lord Krishna, fasting, chanting, indulging in sweets and celebrating for the grand festival of Krishna Janmashtami. An observance that lasts eight days in some regions, Krishna Janmashtami honors the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. To devotees, Krishna is the epitome of countless characteristics: according to ancient texts, he is a mischievous and fun-loving child, a romantic lover and an empathetic friend. Worshippers relate to one or more aspects of Krishna’s personality, and legend has it that the deity reciprocates devotions in ways unique for each devotee.

Fast fact: Scriptural details and astrological calculations place Krishna’s birth on July 18, 3228 BCE.

On Krishna Janmashtami, events begin before sunrise and last through midnight. Public and private prayer, both in centuries-old temples and in private homes, can include chanting and singing or a more private praise. Feasts of many dishes are prepared, and dances and dramas depicting the life and ways of Krishna are watched with fanfare. Some devotees dress or decorate statues of Krishna, while others string garlands across temples. Many Hindus fast until midnight—the official birth time of Krishna. At midnight, those at the temple watch a priest pull apart curtains to reveal a fully dressed figure of Krishna.

DAHI HANDI, BUTTERMILK & KRISHNA

Human pyramid at nighttime

A Dahi Handi human pyramid. Photo by Ramnath Bhat, courtesy of Flickr

Across India, Krishna’s janmashtami is commemorated with regional variations. In Mumbai, Pune and in other regions, boys form human pyramids in hopes of having the highest boy break an earthen pot (called a handi) filled with buttermilk, which is tied to a string strung high above the streets. If the pot is broken, buttermilk spills over the group and the boys win prize money. Various groups compete in Dahi Handi, in impersonation of a favorite pasttime of the child Krishna: stealing butter. Today, political figures, wealthy individuals and even Bollywood actors contribute to prize money for the Dahi Handi.

In some regions of India, younger boys—typically the youngest male in a family—is dressed up like Lord Krishna on Janmashtami. Hindus across Nepal, the U.S., Caribbean and more revel in festivities for Krishna Janmashtami, offering fruit, flowers and coins to the deity.

NEWS: DAHI HANDI PYRAMID RESTRICTIONS IMPACT 2017 FESTIVITIES

The famed Dahi Handi pyramids, formed by young people in efforts to break a hung pot and earn prize money, now face restrictions as the Bombay High Court banned entrants under the age of 18 and limiting the height of the human pyramids to 20 feet last year.

Now named a “dangerous performance,” the long-standing tradition of Krishna Janmashtami causes injuries that are often fatal, as pyramids may reach up to nine stories tall with no means of assistance in the occurrence of falls. (The Hindu reported; The Indian Express has updated on the story, this year.) Still, officials voice uncertainty in verifying the age of Dahi Handi participants, as well as in the heights of the pyramids amid the excitement of the crowded festivities.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Raksha Bandhan: Brother-sister bonds honored across India

Women at marketplace looking at bracelets

Women shop for Raksha Bandhan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 7: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

The simple gift expresses renewed love between siblings and sometimes between others who share a bond of brotherhood. Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has now reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.

What is a rakhi? A rakhi is a type of bracelet—intricately designed or simple, expensive or handmade—tied onto a brother’s wrist by his sister. The fragile thread of rakhi represents the subtle yet impermeable strength that exists between siblings. The sacred relationship between brother and sister is considered unparalleled, as even when a woman marries, her brother’s duties as protector do not cease. On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Rakhi Ganesha

A rakhi featuring Ganesha. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother promises, in return, to protect his sister under all circumstances—even if she is grown and married—and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

IN THE NEWS: 2017 AUSPICIOUS TIMES & MUSLIM-HINDU BONDS

The most auspicious times to observe Raksha Bandhan are discussed at India.com, and also in the news, Indian Prime Minister Suraksha Bima Yojana has announced the gift of insurance coverage for 11,000 girls and women in need for Raksha Bandhan. The prime minister will also build 100 toilets in houses for women who cannot afford them, according to Times of India. A rahki campaign will also be run throughout August across India, for which Muslim girls will tie rakhi onto Hindu boys and Hindu girls will tie rakhi onto Mulsim boys. The boys will promise protection to the gift-bearers in this effort of brotherhood between religions and castes. (Read more in The Hindu.)

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHinduInterfaith

Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans, more welcome harvest season

Loaves of bread, various sizes and shapes

Photo courtesy of Pexels

TUESDAY, AUGUST 1: As July breaks into August and grains turn golden in the fields, Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark the feast of Lammas. An ancient festival of the wheat harvest, Lammas—or Lughnasadh—has long been called “the feast of first fruits.” In England and in some English-speaking countries, August 1 is “Lammas Day”; historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing.

Did you know? The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. Lughnasadh customs were commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair.

Morris dancing on green grass

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

In the Neopagan and Wiccan faiths, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbats and is the first of three harvest festivals. Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnasadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnasadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries.

IN THE NEWS: 2017 EUROPEAN LAMMAS FESTS

Residents and visitors of Eastbourne, England marked Lammas this year with a two-day festival flanked with traditional Lammas Morris dancers, a parade, food and crafts, storytellers and a special-edition Lammas Ale. (Read more in the Eastbourne Herald.)

Watch a video of traditional Morris dancing, in Oxford, at this YouTube link.

In Keighley, baker and baking columnist Mike Armstrong will demonstrate breadmaking and talk about Lammas on August 1. Armstrong will give his bread-making demonstration in a local historic kitchen. (Learn more here.)

Interested in making a Lammas loaf? Try this recipe, from Recipes for a Pagan Soul:

4 cups all purpose/bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and raisins together. Separately, fork-blend eggs and buttermilk, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until sticky batter is formed. Scrape batter onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. Shape batter into a ball, then place in a round, non-stick casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake uncovered in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1-1/4 hours.

Wait 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove bread from casserole, then cool on wire rack. If desired, cut loaf into quarters and then slice thinly.

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Categories: ChristianWiccan / Pagan

Tisha B’Av: Fasting on an ancient day of lamentation

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, sunny day, pilgrims at wall

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 31: On the annual Jewish milestone of Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), men and women traditionally fast for 25 hours, refrain from bathing, set aside pleasurable activities and focus on communal lament.

But the observance gets mixed response as modern-day Jewish families balance the demands of contemporary life with this call from the past.

Author Debra Darvick wrote in an earlier column: “Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that falls during the summer, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. … I have attended services sporadically, more out of a sense of responsibility than any feeling of true mourning. How do I mourn something absent from Jewish experience for nearly two millennia?”

Debra also wrote about the holiday for her book This Jewish Life.

A CASCADE OF MEMORIES

Historically, the First Temple was destroyed on 9 Av 586 BCE; the Second, on 9 Av 70 CE. (Wikipedia has details). The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; the Second Temple, by the Romans. According to Jewish tradition, 9 Av is associated with other tragic milestones, as well, which have been added to this annual day of remembrance.

Also on 9 Av: The Romans quashed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing more than 500,000 Jewish civilians; Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE; Germany entered World War I, the aftermath of which led to the Holocaust; and SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”

2017: PAINFUL DISAGREEMENT

This year, as the holiday approaches, Jewish newspapers and magazines around the world are covering a current, painful disagreement concerning the Western Wall (or Kotel)—a remnant of the Temple Mount that is a spiritual focus for Jews around the world. A recent decision by the Israeli government places even more authority in the hands of what are often described as “ultra-Orthodox” rabbis in Israel—rejecting the widespread hopes of American Jews for more inclusive access to the Wall, among other issues.

Care to read more? Here is recent coverage in The Jerusalem Post, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and The Jewish WeekFor a sampling of regional Jewish media across the U.S., check out The Jewish News of Northern California, or New Jersey Jewish News.

 

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Categories: Jewish