On September 2, 60 Rwandan Muslims left for the world’s largest annual gathering, the pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj.
There are two pilgrimages to Mecca. Hijjah – known as the greater pilgrimage and Umra – the lesser pilgrimage. Hajj can only be undertaken between the 8th and the 13th of Dhul-Hijja, the 12th month of the Muslim calendar. At all other times of the year, pilgrims may travel to Mecca for Umra.
Hijjah is the fifth and last pillar of Islam. This act of making a pilgrimage is a mandatory religious duty for adult Muslims who have both the physical and financial ability.
“Hijjah is required to be done at least once in a lifetime but there’s nothing wrong with one doing it several times if he/she is capable,” says Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya, the Imam of Kigali City.
A male Muslim who has performed Hijjah is called a Hajji and a female is referred to as Hajjat. These titles don’t change if one does hijja more than once.
Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the precincts of Mecca and Madina so they cannot perform Hijjah or Umra. To attempt to do so is an offense which, in the past, was seen as a capital crime.
Each country has a company or companies registered with the Foreign Affairs ministry of Saudi Arabia. In Rwanda, there is the Rwanda Muslim Association for Hijjah and Umra Transportation, and another private company called Fast Hijja Company (FAHICO).
“These companies forward the names of people who have registered for Hijja to the Saudi foreign ministry for visa processing. Then a communication is sent to us through the Saudi embassy in Kampala, Uganda,” explains Sheikh Sindayigaya.
When everything is fully processed, a representative of the company travels to Saudi Arabia and books accommodation.
“We are sending 60 pilgrims this year and FAHICO has around the same number. Each paid $2900 but that excludes pocket money. In all, one may say that the hajj costs a minimum of $4000,” says the Imam of the City of Kigali.
Why pilgrimage to Mecca
With the help of his son Ismail (Ishmael), Ibrahim built the House of Allah on the ground where the Kaaba stands today in Mecca.
In the Holy Qur’an, the Kaaba is described as follows:
“Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds.
In it are clear signs [such as] the standing place of Abraham. And whoever enters it shall be safe. And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way. But whoever disbelieves – then indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds.” (3:96-97)
“It is on people for the sake of Allah to perform Hajj of his house, anyone who is able to undertake the journey to him.”(2:196)
The holy journey requires the pilgrim to perform ten rituals before and during Hajj. They include entering the state of ihram whereby a pilgrim recites the Talabiya - an intention to perform Hajj.
Men and women going on Hajj adhere to a specific dress code which is aimed at showing modesty and shedding all signs of wealth. Men don unstitched white garments, while women wear normal stitched clothes and a headscarf.
Day 1 of Hijjah
On the 8th Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims are reminded of their duties. They again don the ihram garments and confirm their intention to make the pilgrimage. The prohibitions of ihram start now.
After the Morning Prayer, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend most of the day praying. The next morning after the morning prayer, they leave Mina to go to Arafat.
On 9th before noon, pilgrims arrive at Arafat, a barren and plain land some 20 kilometres east of Mecca where they stand in contemplative vigil: they offer supplications, repent on and atone for their past sins, seek the mercy of God, and listen to sermons from the Islamic scholars who deliver it from near The Mount of Mercy from where Muhammad delivered his last sermon.
Lasting from noon through sunset, this is one of the most significant rites of Hajj. A pilgrim’s Hajj is considered invalid if they do not perform this rite.
Pilgrims must leave Arafat for Muzdalifah. They spend the night praying and sleeping on the ground with open sky, and gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the ‘Stoning of the Devil.’
After returning from Muzdalifah, the pilgrims spend the night at Mina to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil. They throw seven stones at only the largest of the three pillars from sunrise to sunset. The remaining two pillars are not stoned on this day.
For safety reasons, the pillars were replaced by long walls in 2004 but unfortunately, the deadliest Hajj disaster claimed over 2000 lives last year.
After the casting of stones, animals are slaughtered to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ishmael. At the same time as the sacrifices occur at Mecca, Muslims worldwide perform similar sacrifices, in a three-day global festival called Eid al-Adha.
Starting from noon to sunset on the 11 Dhu al-Hijjah (and again the following day), the pilgrims again throw seven pebbles at each of the three pillars in Mina. This is commonly known as the “Stoning of the Devil”.
On the 12th, the same process of stoning of the pillars takes place. Pilgrims may leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th.
Day 6: Last day at Mina
If unable to leave on the 12th before sunset or opt to stay at free will, pilgrims must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before returning to Mecca.
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise, and if they can, attempt to touch or kiss the Kaaba.
Though not part of Hajj, pilgrims may choose to travel to the city of Medina and see the Mosque of the Prophet which contains Muhammad’s tomb.