Hajj: Millions of Muslims travel to Mecca for annual pilgrimage, pillar of Islam

Huge crowds of people dressed in white inside open-air mosque

Hajj pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Kaaba is the most sacred site in Islam. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

More than a billion Muslims around the world look to the Hajj, each year, as more than 2 million pilgrims travel to Mecca for to fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam.

SUNSET MONDAY, AUGUST 20: Eid Al-Adha, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, begins and runs through August 21. On the morning of Eid, crowds spill out of mosques, into open fields and in parks around the world, as Muslims celebrate both Ibrahim’s devotion and the miracle that took place on the sacrificial altar. Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca; Muslims across the globe gather with family and friends and offer prayers in congregation.

Hajj: Hajj is a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime (if it is manageable physically, mentally and financially); despite the frequently used phrase “religious duty,” Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. Muslims believe that 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 Muslim Prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj, in the seventh century. The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to God.

STORIES & TRADITIONS

Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, alone in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, her food and water quickly ran out, so Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael down 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; today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj.

DESTINATION: MECCA

Muslims describe the era of pre-Islamic Arabia as jahiliyyah, a time of what Muslims regard as barbaric practices when 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. While on Hajj, men and women are permitted to perform the rituals side-by-side as a reminder that they will also stand together on Judgment Day.

RITUALS OF HAJJ

Prior to the start of Hajj, pilgrims go to the entry station where they bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent. 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, Muslims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did. 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.

Muslims the world over celebrate Eid al-Adha. Pilgrims return to Mecca to repeat Tawaf, crossing Sara and Marwa, performing additional symbolic stonings and circulating the Kaaba one final time, to do a farewell tawaf.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Muslim

Eid ul-Fitr: Muslims worldwide joyously mark end of Ramadan

White mosque, blue sky

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 24: Ramadan has ended, and Muslims give thanks for the strength to have fasted all month long—and now, it’s time to celebrate! Islamic days start at sunset, and sunrise of June 25 will open Eid ul-Fitr, a grand holiday with Muslims around the world awakening early, heading to a nearby mosque (or, in some cases, an open square or field) and praying in unison, before feasting with families and friends. Government buildings, schools and businesses close in Muslim countries as everyone “heads home” to visit family and friends, dine on sweet treats and wish all passersby a “Blessed Eid.” In some regions, festivities continue for three days.

Note: Muslim festival dates vary globally, and based on early calculations of moon sightings, it’s estimated that Eid ul-Fitr will start one day later in North America, at sunset on June 25. Even within North America, major Muslim centers often schedule more than one day of Eid ul-Fitr prayers to accommodate the faithful who are following slightly different versions of the calendar.

The morning of Eid starts early, with ritual washing, new clothes and a small breakfast, usually of dates. All Muslims, regardless of location, head to Muslim centers for Eid prayer, which must be performed in congregation. Muslims express a unified empathy for the poor and gratefulness to Allah, all the while facing the day with great happiness. A sermon follows, with a supplication asking God’s forgiveness and mercy for all living beings.

Did you know? The length of Eid celebrations varies by country: in Saudi Arabia, events last 23 days! This helpful chart breaks down Eid by country.

Woman dancing Muslim dress

A Muslim woman dances during Eid celebrations in Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo, by Senior Airman Felicia Juenke

Throughout the day, street processions entertain families; services draw visitors to mosques and public parks; large halls are rented for feasts and Muslims invite everyone, even non-Muslims, to partake in the celebratory meals. During this joyous time, parents often give their children small gifts, called Eidi, and relatives save coins to give to children’s Eid-ey-yah, or “allowance,” during the festivities of Eid ul-Fitr. Children often spend Eid-ey-yah on admission to amusement parks, gardens or other public areas.

EID UL-FITR AROUND THE WORLD

How does Eid differ around the world—and how is it the same?

  • In Cape Town, South Africa, many like to gather at Green Point for the moon sighting that will signal the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid. Every attendee brings a dish to pass at the shared meal for breaking the final fast day of Ramadan.
  • In Asia, women and girls apply mehndi, or henna, on their hands and feet. After Eid prayers, some families visit graveyards to pray for the salvation of deceased family members. A common celebratory dish contains toasted sweet vermicelli noodles, milk and dried fruit.
  • In Saudi Arabia, hospitality comes first as shopkeepers hand out free gifts; strangers distribute gifts to children at random; well-off families buy large quantities of rice and other staples and leave them anonymously on the doorsteps of those less fortunate.

NEWS: Saudi Arabia will reportedly extend the Eid holiday by one week this year. In recent years, government employees were given a 10-day break for Eid. Worldwide, many Muslims take vacations during this celebratory time. (Read the story at U.S. News & World Report.)

Comments: (0)
Categories: Muslim

Eid al-Fitr: Muslims celebrate Feast of the Breaking of the (Ramadan) Fast

Thousands of white-clad Muslims on floor of giant building, pillars among crowd, tiers filled with devotees

Muslims gather for Eid al-Fitr prayers at Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JULY 17: An entire month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting has ended for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and the Islamic community transitions from the month of Ramadan to Shawwaal with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr.

The beginning date of Shawwaal—the 10th month of the Islamic calendar—varies slightly by location, as the date is determined by the sighting of the new moon. Many families excitedly await news of a new moon from Saudi Arabia, when an official sighting is declared from the land of Muhammad; others look to scholars or predictions closer to home. The atmosphere of revelry and celebration overflows out of mosques, homes and neighborhoods worldwide.

The first Eid was observed by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 CE, and today, Muslims everywhere wear their best clothing for special prayers, processions and elaborate shared meals.

Did you know? The common greetings on Eid al-Fitr are Eid Mubarak (“Blessed Eid”) and Eid Sa’id (“Happy Eid”).

The grand holiday of Eid al-Fitr is referred to in many ways: the Sugar Feast, Sweet Festival, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, Bajram and Lesser Eid name just few. Though the month of Shawwaal officially begins just after sunset, most of the customary rituals of Eid al-Fitr begin several hours later.

Before sunrise on Eid al-Fitr, Muslims pray, bathe and put on their best clothing. (Wikipedia has details.) Perfume is sometimes worn for the occasion, and a small breakfast—usually dates—is consumed before heading to a nearby mosque, hall or open area. Muslim tradition holds that Eid prayers should be offered in congregation, and so this morning, Muslims fill mosques, parks, halls and even open fields for joyous prayer services. Zakat (charitable giving) has been completed, and adherents spend ample time enjoying the company of family and friends, attending carnivals and fireworks displays, giving gifts and expressing thanks to Allah.

Did you know? Eid al-Fitr is referred to as “Lesser Eid,” while Eid al-Adha—a separate holiday—is “Greater Eid.”

Tradition states that when Muhammad migrated from Mecca and arrived in Medina, he found the people there to be celebrating two special days, set aside for cheer and leisure. At this, Muhammad declared that the Almighty designated two alternate days for these purposes: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

FROM ARABIA TO AUSTRALIA: EID AL-FITR ACROSS THE GLOBE

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for one to three days, and in many Muslim communities, a central activity is the Eid prayers. Where possible, Muslims walk to the location of Eid prayers, and many use separate routes to and from the prayer grounds. Eid prayers are followed by a sermon, along with a request for God’s forgiveness and mercy. In turn, Muslims are urged to forgive others and put aside differences.

Desserts, sweet, sesame seeds, dried noodles, cream and nuts

Sweet treats are commonly consumed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Photo by Dani Armengol Garreta, courtesy of Flickr

In Saudi Arabia, it is not uncommon for shopkeepers to offer gifts with purchase prior to Eid, as a display of generosity. In some areas, men purchase large bags of rice and other basic food staples to leave anonymously on the doorsteps of the poor. In major cities, enormous fireworks shows take place each night of Eid celebrations. (View a slideshow of 2014 Eid activites here.) Egyptians observe Eid al-Fitr with days off from school and work, visiting family and spending days at local parks, theaters, beaches and carnivals. Television programs focus on Eid al-Fitr with movie marathons and live interviews featuring Eid commentaries. In Indonesia, one of the largest temporary human migrations takes place with Lebaran, the custom of workers returning to their home town to join in the revelries with their families. Since 1987, Australia has hosted the Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair in Sydney, catering to tens of thousands of attendees.

NEWS: A SCHOOL HOLIDAY, DATES & A $100 BILLION INDUSTRY

Last March, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio officially declared Islam’s two most-observed holidays—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—public school holidays. (Huffington Post reported.) The duo was the first religious addition to the academic calendar since the Jewish High Holy Days, in 1960. Throughout Ramadan and during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, dates are one of the most commonly consumed foods: Muslims eat the fruit alone, as part of a sweet dessert or even incorporated into a savory dish. Learn all about the variety and uses of dates—plus access a wide array of tantalizing recipes—in this article from the New York Times. As experts estimate that Muslim spending in America comprises a $100 billion industry, top designers like Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and DKNY are taking to the runway with Muslim-inspired designs for Ramadan and Eid. (Read more here.) The largest celebrations take place during the Eid al-Fitr holidays, though industry specialists are advising incoming brands to understand the holidays before trying to “break in” to the market.

Looking for both savory and sweet recipes for Eid al-Fitr? Check out the BBC.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Muslim