Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, an old tradition predating Islam

The annual hajj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, predates the faith by centuries, tracing its roots to the biblical patriarch Abraham - revered by Muslims as a prophet and the first preacher of their religion.

And as some 2.5 million people gather in this western Saudi city for the hajj, a must for every capable Muslim at least once in a lifetime, they begin rituals said to follow millennium-old instructions by Abraham, or Ibrahim, as he is known in the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

Muslims believe that a "sacred house" was built in Mecca by Adam, the father of the human race, in the same spot where Ibrahim and his son Ishmael are said to have rebuilt it and where the Kaaba, a massive cubic structure, lies.

The Koranic version of the story is that Ibrahim travelled with Hagar, the mother of their infant son Ishmael, to a barren valley and left both of them near the sacred house with some food and water that soon ran out.

Hagar's desperate runs between the two hills of Safa and Marwa in search of sustenance have been imitated by pilgrims ever since the prophet of Islam, Mohammed, ordered his followers to perform the hajj to Mecca.

Islamic tradition says Allah answered Ibrahim's prayer to look after his family by sending the angel Gabriel, who scratched the dry soil under the infant, triggering a sudden and continuous gush of water.

The resulting Zamzam Well is believed to have brought life into the area, bringing nomad Arabs to settle around it. Ishmael learned Arabic and married into Arab tribes. For Muslims, Mohammed is an offspring of Ishmael.

Ibrahim is said to have reconstructed the house of worship with Ishmael on returning to the area years later. The Koran speaks of Ibrahim as building the structure as the first house for worship on earth.

But the Kaaba was demolished and rebuilt several times, the last believed to be after floods in 1630.

As an indication of worshipping activities at the "sacred house," the Koran cites Allah's order to Ibrahim to rid the house of idols and purify it for pilgrims. He was also ordered to call people to hajj.

Mohammed did the same in 630 AD when he conquered Mecca with his followers as he entered the Kaaba and destroyed all idols placed there by Arabs to represent their pagan gods.

Islamic tradition says the meaning of Ibrahim's hajj was distorted over time, with the belief in one God that he preached losing ground to polytheism, and Arabs worshipping idols as proxies to God and filling the Kaaba with them.

It also says that, over the centuries before Islam, it turned into something resembling a fun-fair and lost its spirituality, with some pilgrims replacing prayers with clapping and whistling, and others even circling the Kaaba naked.

And just as Muslim pilgrims stand on Mount Arafat at the peak of every hajj, pre-Islamic pilgrims used to spend a day in the barren plain outside Mecca and return to the city circumambulating the Kaaba.

Arab tribes of Mecca, notably Mohammed's Quraysh, used the hajj to bring prosperity to their town, and the hajj became an occasion for several festivities, including poetry competitions. The Kaaba walls for a long time were used as notice boards for the most famous pre-Islamic Arab poems.

Pre-Islamic Arabs also used to perform the ritual of slaughtering animals as a sacrifice to God. That tradition is carried on by Muslims on their most important feast, the Eid al-Adha or feast of sacrifice, the day after pilgrims descend from Mount Arafat.

It is in honour of Ibrahim's obedience to God in preparing to sacrifice Ishmael, which God forestalled by providing the patriarch at the last minute with a lamb to kill instead. That contradicts the Old Testament's story of Abraham, which says he was about to slay his other son, Isaac.

But Islam stopped the Arab practice of splattering the blood of the sacrificed animals on the walls of the Kaaba.

Mohammed ordered his followers to perform the hajj on the ninth year of the Islamic calendar, the first year after he conquered Mecca.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk