The Origins of Islamic Pilgrimages

Going on a pilgrimage is as old as religion itself, the great religions of the world all have significant places where people can make extraordinary journeys to show their faith. In this blog we look at the great pilgrimages of the Muslim faith and why people travel vast distances to visit certain places. In reality there is only one true place that Muslims make pilgrimage to, and that is Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Right back in 628 the Prophet Muhammad set out on a pilgrimage with fourteen hundreds of his devotees and this was the very first recorded journey in the Muslim faith that was actually a pilgrimage.

Before the Pilgrimage

To be ready to make the journey to Mecca the pilgrim has to be in a state of Ihram, which is designated ritual purity. The pilgrim has to make a “statement of intention” to be allowed on the Hajj. Firstly, the person must wear particular clothes called Ihram which are all white, and then the pilgrim has to refrain from shaving or cutting nails, engaging in sexual behaviour, wear any scent, fight, argue, kill or hunt. Also, the clothes that any man wears must not have any stitching, and women cannot wear anything that covers their faces.

The Umra or Ritual

The Hajj is as big if not bigger than any other pilgrimage on earth in terms of attendees and significance. It is a true pilgrimage in every sense of the word, a journey with rituals and rites to be performed along the way. The starting point for the Hajj is just outside Mecca at a place called the Miqat. Whilst at Miqat the pilgrim bathes (not using scented soap) don their white clothes without any stitching and begin reciting a holy prayer, the Talbiya Du’a. From the Miqat the pilgrim then walks to the Masid al Haram and must walk around the Ka’ba a total seven times. When all this done the pilgrim can go to the sacred well the Zam Zam and drink. The Zam Zam is where Is’mail drank water that saved his life, and the sacred water that comes from this well is also named the same. Finally, the pilgrim leaves the Masid al Haram and makes their way to the hills of Marwa and Safa and walk back and forth through the walkway between them a further seven times, this concludes the Umra part of the pilgrimage.

The Hajj

The pilgrim must then travel to Mina and spend the night before departing to the valley of Arafat the next morning, to stand in the heat and give praise to Allah. A further journey that day will take the pilgrim to Muzdalifa to spend the night and to gather about 50 small stones for the next day.

In the morning the pilgrim returns to Mina and throws their stones at the Jamraat. A sacrifice of an animal follows this before a ritual of shaving men’s heads or cutting off a lock from the women. To conclude the ritual of the Hajj the pilgrim returns to Mecca and walks again around the Ka’aba another seven times and goes again to Mina to throw more stones for three to four days. Finally after twelve days the pilgrims make du’a which is asking Allah’s forgiveness and the Hajj is concluded.