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News on Hajj: Hajj for Human Dignity and Unity

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  • Zafar Khan
    Hajj for Human Dignity and Unity By: Dr. Aslam Abdullah IslamiCity* http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC1011-4340 Abu Uthman al-Sabani
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 13, 2010
      Hajj for Human Dignity and Unity
      By: Dr. Aslam Abdullah


      Abu Uthman al-Sabani al-Shafii (d 449) in his book Kitab ul Maitain narrates Prophet Muhammad as saying, "towards the end of the time, four main groups of people will flock around the Kaaba to perform Hajj: The powerful rulers to have fun or to enjoy the occasion, the rich people to promote their businesses, the poor to seek financial support and the reciters (or scholars) to demonstrate their skills."

      Al-Sabuni was not an ordinary scholar. He narrated the Hadith after ensuring that the matan or text and isnad or chains are sound. He once said "I never narrated a Hadith nor a non-Prophetic report in a gathering except if I possessed its chain of transmission; nor did I ever enter the library except in a state of ritual purity; nor did I ever narrate Hadith, nor hold a gathering, nor teach, except in a state of ritual purity."

      Are we living in that period that was predicted by the Prophet? Has Hajj really become a type of ritual devoid of any meaning? Is Hajj an individual ibada (worship) that requires a believer to spend time and resources to get closer to an omni-potent and omni-present God? Has the Hajj become a business in our times? Or has it become a vacation?

      There was a time when people would spend months and months preparing themselves financially and spiritually to live the real meaning of Hajj. However now a days Hajj is offered as a holiday package. Many Hajj agencies all over the world offer value packages with super programs, deluxe programs and short executive program. These programs offer the best and closest accommodation in Makkah and Medinah, best available food and best possible position in the House of Allah. Depending how much you pay, you can get the finest place in Makkah and Medinah. If you happen to be the guest of royalty, then probably, no one can ever compete with your placement in the two mosques. When the Prophet performed his only Hajj, the only provision that he had with him was no more than four dirham as narrated in several books of ahadith.

      Hajj was meant to teach the pilgrims endurance and perseverance for higher causes, yet it has been turned into an exercise in convenience. Hajj was meant to express the utmost humility in the presence of the rest of humanity by declaring that "Here I am, Here I am, I will not make anyone Allah's partner. Allah is the one who is in control of everything and He alone is the one who is the source of all blessings and praise." Yet, today, Hajj, for many has become, a badge, a symbol of spiritual arrogance.

      Hajj is an institution that is supposed to reassure the people that ethnic, cultural, linguistic, geographical, wealth-based, race and color differences that humans have imposed upon themselves have no reality in the presence of God. All are one and the purpose of all is to follow the divine guidance to create a universal humanity to the well being of everyone. Hajj is meant to be a pledge to live example of Hajj beyond the Hajj. It is an occasion to create a personality without a dimension and space.

      Yet, through social engineering and manipulation of resources, Hajj is rapidly adapting social elements that distinguish the rich from the poor, the very institution that it is supposed to demolish. Divisions among Hujjaj on the basis of their ethnicity and money are visible throughout the Hajj journey.

      While the hujjaj coming from poorer regions of the world may find accommodation miles away from the Haram, those who are rich can find accommodation within the vicinity of the Kaaba.

      The Quran describes Kaaba as a center of guidance to humanity. "Indeed the first House of Worship open to all was established in the Noble Makkah. Indeed this House is the center of guidance to all humanity." (3:96) The place was not only a place for bringing together all the people but it is a center for promoting peace. (2:145). It was a place that was meant to help humanity realize its universality rather than divisions (5:97)

      For this great purpose of helping humanity realize its dream of removing all the differences and divisions among themselves the institution Hajj come up with the clear example of making us understand and observe that unity of humanity is possible. For this the Quran asked Prophet Ibrahim to invite people to Hajj, so that they may witness the beauty and magnificence of the guidance of Allah.

      Hajj is like a united nations in its real sense without five elitist powers. With no hidden agenda and security council privileges, each nation and community comes to Makkah with the single purpose of serving God and reiterating their covenant with Him. Hajj provides the opportunity to everyone to witness the common bonds among people regardless of their differences. Hajj promotes the idea of dignity of human beings, male or female, young or old and rich and poor.

      Hajj also creates space for intellectual ideas among people so that they could all remain focused on their main agenda of serving humanity through following the guidance of God.

      It is this spirit of Hajj that was prevalent at the time of the Prophet and his trusted companions. It is this spirit of Hajj is now being challenged by the modern business-dominated society and hierarchy of rich and poor culture. However, among all this razzmatazz, still there are people who come to the Hajj to take the inspiration to transform themselves for a better future both for them and for others. They are the ones who do not care about big hotels or better facilities. They are the ones who spend their days and nights in Mina, Arafat, Muzdalfa, Makkah and Medina. Here they remember the covenant that Allah made with Prophet Abraham, the builder of Kaaba. Prophet Abraham was told by God, Almighty, "I am making you the source of balance and inspiration (The Quran uses the word Imam, that literally means the instrument that a construction worker uses to level the construction) for all people," (2:124). Encouraged by this honor, the Prophet asked: "Is
      this covenant for my progeny too," No" said Allah, "Those who deviate from my path would not qualify for this honor," (2:124)

      In these simple words thus was described the real intent and purpose of the Hajj and all other faith based institutions. The dignity and honor does not come with buying this or that package. It comes through dedication and commitment to the divine values and living up to them.

      Some day, the Hajj will be restored to its original intent by those un-known and un-recognized faces who come from all over the world quietly without any fanfare and who spend every moment of their presence in the noble sanctuaries and the pilgrimage path with the determination to follow their real leaders: Prophets Ibrahim, Prophet Ismail and Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them, in every aspect of this great institution.

      The re-enactment of acts performed during the Hajj are attributed to Prophets Ibrahim and Ismal and Mother Hagar. The are primarily meant for the purpose of reminding the humanity that in order to bring people together, God's guidance is recieved, ackneolwedged, accepted and followed by a small group of people who may not be present physically to see the fruits of their efforts. Prophet Ibrahim created that nucleaus for perpetual change in human behavior and for that he was honored by God who declared him as an Imam (role model) for humanity. The guidance that inspired Prophet Ibrahim to put the dream of one people under God in reality is there in its most clear, puritan, crystal form in the Quran. How ironic it is that despite the guidance, many remain misguided including those who claim to have understood and mastered the divine guidance.

      Dr Aslam Abdullah is director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Vice president of the Muslim Council of America (MCA) and the President elect of the Nevada Interfaith Council. He has authored several books and published more than 400 papers on issues related with Islam and contemporary issues. He has taught at colleges in India as well as in the US.

      12,000 American Muslims to make pilgrimage to Mecca
      Nov. 11, 2010, 5:56PM


      Some 12,000 American Muslims are expected to join an estimated 2.5 million pilgrims in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca for the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage that this year runs Sunday through Thursday.

      The number of pilgrims expected is about the same as in recent years, said Nail Al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, D.C., which limits pilgrimage visits to once every five years.

      Islam requires followers who are physically and financially capable to complete the hajj once in their lifetime.

      Crowding and catastrophic stampedes have led Saudi authorities to issue special hajj visas; since 1990, more than 2,500 pilgrims have been killed in stampedes, and hundreds more die each year as a result of sickness, heart attacks, traffic accidents and other incidents.

      Most problems have occurred at an elevated platform known as the Jamarat, from which pilgrims throw stones at walls representing the devil. To ease crowding, Saudi authorities have gradually expanded the Jamarat to five levels and added exits.

      Despite efforts to limit the number of pilgrims, hundreds of thousands of mainly Saudi residents still try to perform hajj without permits. "Quite a few people get turned back because of overcrowding," Al-Jubeir said.
      Many unauthorized pilgrims evade detection and camp in the hills surrounding Mecca, where Muslims believe Islam's prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from God in 610 A.D.

      For American Muslims, the most difficult part of the journey may be the return home. In recent years, many Muslims returning from travel abroad have complained about religious profiling and lengthy searches and questioning at airports and border crossings.

      In response, Muslim civil rights groups have issued travel advisories for pilgrims, telling them to expect questioning and advising them what types of questions are legal, such as name and residency, and which are not, including questions about religious or political beliefs.

      Troubled passage
      The story of one Panama Canal worker and his attempts to make the Hajj.


      Islam in the Land of the Rising Sun
      Al Jazeera meets the man making Hajj possible for Japan's small Muslim community.


      New Saudi train ready to shuttle hajj pilgrims
      By Ali Khalil (AFP) – 9 hours ago


      ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia — The Mashair Railway, also known as Mecca Metro, rolls out on Sunday to serve pilgrims beginning the annual hajj rituals near the Muslim holy city, bringing a new solution to crowding.
      The dual-track light railway, with its initial number of nine stations, connects the three holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat -- areas that see massive congestion during the five-day pilgrimage.
      It will replace 4,000 buses previously used.
      The first official trip will set off from Mina at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT), as pilgrims gather there, outside Mecca on the Tarwiah Day to prepare for the peak day of Arafat, when some 2.5 million are expected to gather on Mount Arafat and its surrounding plain.
      The Chinese-built railway, only to be used for five days a year now, will only operate at 35 percent of its full final capacity in the first phase.
      It will be open only to Saudi and Gulf pilgrims, forecast at some 130,000 Saudis, 10,000 Kuwaitis and 10,000 Bahrainis, said Saeed al-Qurashi, head of the Hajj and Umra Committee at the Mecca Chamber of Commerce.
      The number is modest in comparison with the total number of pilgrims, but other nationalities will be able to use the train in the second phase.
      While all pilgrims begin the journey in Mecca, the train initially will run only from Mina, to the east, and on to Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat further east.

      Utahns join Muslim millions for annual trek


      For many Muslims, participating in the annual hajj pilgrimage offers a kind of rebirth.

      “You feel totally different, like you were born again after the experience,” says Draper resident Shahid Khan, who went last year to Mecca (the Prophet Muhammad’s birthplace in Saudi Arabia) for hajj. “It was a life-changing experience for me. I felt very blessed to go.”

      A dozen or so other Utah Muslims — led by Imam Shuaib-ud Din of the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy — soon may find out for themselves what it’s like. The group left earlier this week to join about 12,000 other Americans and millions of Muslims from across the globe in the elaborately choreographed rite slated to begin Nov. 15.

      All Muslims who are physically and financially able — no matter where they live — are expected to journey at least once to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, where Muslims believe Muhammad received his first revelation from God in A.D. 610. The ancient ritual is one of Islam’s five pillars.

      “There were oceans of people, all just calm, peaceful and with a sense of unity and harmony among us,” Khan says. “I lost myself in the surroundings and completely surrendered to God.”

      Palestinian pilgrims arrive in Makkah as guests of King


      Bakra Eid, changing from sacrifice to fad


      Muslims from all around the globe are gathering in the city of Mecca to offer Hajj. Those who stay at home pray to Allah to make ways for them to perform Hajj like their Muslim brothers and sisters.

      Hajj is a time that reminds us of the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) who was accompanied by his son, Prophet Ismail (PBUH) in an ultimate show of obedience to Allah. In remembrance of this great sacrifice, Muslims follow sunnat-e-Ibrahimi or the example of the prophet by offering a sacrifice in the month of ZilHajj.

      However, with the passing of time, the essence of this sacrifice seems to have gotten lost. It has become more of a fashion than a sacrifice. The intention doesn’t seem to be to please Allah but something else.

      Today, Eidul-Azha has become an occasion where a difference can be established between the rich and poor. The race to buy the most expensive animal for sacrifice is on. People proudly show off their animals in the neighbourhood becoming a price tag themselves, attached to the creature.

      ‘Yeh janwar kitnay ka liya?’ (How much did this animal cost you?)

      ‘1 lakh ka!!’ (For Rs100,000)

      You can feel that the chest of the owner will explode any minute with the overwhelming pride that he takes in mentioning the price of his animal.

      I was amazed to see so many people stuffed inside a van that was headed towards the bakra mandi to buy an animal. I put myself in the animal’s shoes (not that the animal actually wears any!) to imagine what it would be feeling after the deal is made for it and it heads towards the van.

      It must think:

      ‘OMG! I hope they’re not expecting me to pull this van back to their place, because there seems to be no place for me to fit in to this van. It’s so crowded already!’

      But somehow they do manage to stuff the poor thing in the van and start their journey back home.

      Meanwhile, back at home, the stage is set to welcome what seems to be a newly-wed bride coming home for the first time. All the uncles, aunts and their children gather and wait anxiously for the guest of honour. These are the people who in spite of all their valiant efforts could not manage to fit into the van and go to the bakra mandi themselves.

      Then, the moment arrives. No! The chief guest hasn’t actually reached home. The van only enters the neighbourhood and ‘the crowd’ goes berserk to be the first to catch a single glance of the animal (as if it’s going to go back after giving an acceptance speech for a Miss Universe title to never be seen live again.)

      Comments start flowing in from all directions regarding the health, price and size of the animal immediately after its arrival.

      ‘Bara mehenga jaanwar le aey Zakir bhai!’ (Zakir bhai has overpaid for this animal!)

      ‘Meray khayal mein ziada gosht nahi niklayga iss mein se.’ (This animal won’t yield too much meatl.)

      The owner and his accomplices then roam around the whole neighbourhood holding the rope attached to the animal like they have conquered the world. This, of course continues until a bigger and more expensive animal arrives in the neighbourhood.

      We’ve totally forgotten what the true purpose and meaning of sacrifice is. It’s seems to be more about bargaining and showing off. How many of us actually intend to please Allah with our sacrifice? This is a question worth asking ourselves and we should listen closely to what our heart says.

      Allah doesn’t want the meat of an animal or its skin from us. The philosophy of sacrifice is to have pure intentions and if done with the correct and purest of intents will bring us closer to Allah. It is not a chance to be wasted by showing off how much you have spent but to show how keen you are to gain Divine pleasure.

      Eid-el-Kabir: Islamic injunction of sacrifice of animal as act of worship
      Written by Sheikh Islam AB Muhammed
      Friday, 12 November 2010


      As Muslims faithful prepare to celebrate this year’s Eid-el-Kabir to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah, Sheikh Islam AB Muhammed, in this piece, writes on the Islamic injunction of slaughtering animals for the sole purpose of worshipping Allah.

      “It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah. It is your piety that reaches Him.” (Surat Hajj verse 37)

      It is the fear of Allah (SWT) that is mentioned in the above verse that will assist a Muslim to be able to follow Allah’s injunctions and the Holy Prophet’s (SAW) way of doing things. This include sacrifice of animals for Eid-el-Kabir and for food.

      On sacrifice of animals
      The Almighty Allah instructed the Holy Prophet Muhammed (SAW) in the Glorious Qur’an, Chapter 108 verse 2 to “pray unto your God and sacrifice the animal.”

      To start with, animals permissible for Eid-el-Kabir, which is to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah’s command for him to sacrifice his son, Ismail, to Him (Allah), are ram, goat, sheep, cow and camel. For Muslims to get reward for sacrificing animals during the festival or any other Islamic festival, he must observe the following tenets:

      He must proclaim the intention by mentioning the name of Allah, at least saying Bisimillahi, Allahu Akbar, meaning in the name of Allah, Allah is the greatest. A sharp knife must be used in cutting the jugular vein of the animal sharply to ensure continuous and free flow of blood from the animal. If the animals are killed by any other means apart from using sharp knife, for example, using gun or arrow, such animal must not be eaten. According to the Sharia, animals must be slaughtered with a sharp knife facing the Qibla. However, if for a reason this direction could not be faced, the Sharia permits that any other direction that is convenient can be faced, while such animal is Halal (allowed).

      In the case of camel, however, a very sharp arrow must be used to kill it. Also, an arrow can be used to kill a cow if, for a reason, it is not convenient to use a knife.The Sharia permits such animal to be eaten. In case of camel, if it is killed with a sharp knife, its flesh is forbidden to be eaten.

      If the knife being used to slaughter the sacrificial animal is not sharpened enough to cut the veins at once, such that the person slaughtering it lifted the knife up and finally completed the slaughtering, such an animal is forbidden to be eaten by Muslims. It should be thrown away. If cattle or poultry birds are killed in this manner, such becomes Haram.

      If incidentally the animal is completely beheaded as a result of the sharpened object and the vigour of the person killing it, such an animal is accepted as long as the name of Allah is mentioned at the beginning.

      The following items are permitted by Sharia to be used to slaughter animals, including poultry birds, in case of lack of or inability to get knife: Glass (very sharp), sharpened wood, sharpened sword, sharpened blade. We can also use metal, axe or sharpened arrow.

      It must be noted that slaughtering animals for the purpose of making sacrifice to Allah, as stated above or for domestic consumption, must be properly done, making sure that the jugular veins are thoroughly cut, not at the back of the neck. Eating any animal not slaughtered directly from the neck is not permissible in Sharia. It is prescribed by the Sharia that the name of Allah should be mentioned completely before starting the act of slaughtering. However, if forgotten before killing the animal completely, the name of Allah can still be mentioned and the animal is halal. But, if completely forgotten until the knife is lifted, the animal becomes forbidden for Muslims to eat. Animals killed by mentioning names of idols or names of any other thing, person or even saints apart from that of Allah or combination of His names is forbidden.

      Names of Allah that have to be mentioned when one intends to kill animal are Bisimillahi; Subuanalla; Allahu Akbar; Lau la wa lakuwata illabi lahi; Alhamdulilahi or at least Allah. As long as you mention one of these, kill the animal and it is fit for eating. It is also recommended that after mentioning one of these names of Allah, one should add Rabbana taqabbali mina, meaning “Oh Allah accept it from us.” This is meant not only for animals slaughtered for Eid-el-Kabir but also for all occasions, such as naming ceremony or Hadayah, animal slaughtered by Hujjaj (pilgrims performing Hajj) to atone for Hajj rite or for marriage. The injunction holds also for animals or poultry birds meant for home use only.

      Killing animal for any Islamic rite, according to the Sharia, must be done by Muslim faithful, man or woman by his/herself. But if he/she is unable to do this, he/she can hire someone who is knowledgeable to do it for him/her at a price. It is not compulsory to give such person out of the animal. It is good to get helpers to slaughter animals for a category of people including the blind, deaf and dumb as well as someone who does not know how to slaughter animal properly. The Sharia forbids underaged and non-knowledgeable person to kill the animal. Also forbidden are drunkard; someone under the influence of alcohol; thug: haemaphrodite; an impotent man; an unbeliever or an uncircumcised person. However, the Sharia permits women having their menstruation to kill animal. It is also permitted for faithful with Janabah (sexual impurity), either male or female, to kill animal for worship.

      The time recommended for slaughtering of animals for Eid-el Kabir starts from the sunrise, after observing the Eid prayer till the sun is about to set. The Sharia allows for three days to kill animals for Eid-el-Kabir. It is forbidden to kill animals in the night so as to avoid killing animals in wrong manners as well as to avoid inconveniencing the poor who are to be given from the flesh of the animal. But if it is for home consumption, it can be killed at anytime.

      If Christians killed permissible animals for home consumption that is not for any of their festivals, Muslims can eat from such animals, but animal slaughtered by the Majuus is forbidden for Muslims to eat.

      All these Islamic injunctions on domesticated animals are also applicable to non-domesticated animals that are accepted by Sharia for eating. There is no difference in their injunctions, including birds. Note that you can only consume acceptable undomesticated animals in the bush.

      Let it be stated that acquatic animals are acceptable to eat without having to slaughter them. Example of such animals are fish, among others.

      Equally important here is the fact that Muslims are forbidden to eat pigs; hamstrung animals; animal that falls from a height and dies; animal gored to death by another animal; remnant of hunting animals like dogs; sacrificial animals by the unbelievers; animal that is killed by mentioning name of a sage e.g. Jesus Christ. For more on this see Qur’an 5 verse 3.

      Animals that are recommended for worshipping Allah
      The Holy Prophet (SAW) says that Allah is Holy and will not take anything unholy from any one. In view of this, any one who has the intention of slaughtering animals to worship Allah (SWT) must do so with the best intention devoid of any mundane motive. Also, he/she must buy animal that are fit and really worth it to use in worshipping our Creator. Animals that are recommended for worshipping Allah must be up to six-year-old camel, four-year-old cow, while a ram, goat or sheep should be, at least, a year old. Note that it is allowed for people up to seven in number to contribute money and buy bigger animal jointly.

      On the other hand, the following animals are forbidden for worshipping Allah or for home consumption: a blind animal, either one or the two eyes; animal with any form of disease; deformed animal, either in the leg or any part of its body; emanciated animal; animal which tail is cut more than one-third, but if it is not up to one-third and the tail is healed, it is accepted; animal which lenght of its ears is torn over one-third, however, if it is not more than one-third it is acceptable; any animal that is deformed by accident and the lenght of its horn is broken up to over one-third. If it is not up to one-third and it is healed, it is allowed.

      The Eid prayers
      The Eid prayer consists of two rakats of Salat and it is performed between sunrise and noon. The Takbir, that is saying Allahu Akbar, is pronounced seven times in the first rakat, while it is said six times in the second. The prayer can be observed at any clean place that is spacious. In fact, we Muslims are blessed as, according to Prophet Muhammed (SAW), the surface of the earth is place of worship for the Ummah in as much as it is clear, devoid of any impurity.

      However, the Schools of Jurispudence in Islam differ on the number of times Allahu Akbar can be pronounced in the Eid prayer. Imam Ahmad said it was related by Ibn Umar who said that he obseved Eid prayers behind Abu Hurayrah (RA) who prayed and mentioned Allahu Akbar seven times in the first rakat and six times in the second, which the great Sahaba (companion of the Holy Prophet) related that he saw the Prophet (SAW) prayed in the same manner.

      Imam Shafiy’s opinion is that Allahu Akbar should be mentioned seven times after the first compulsory Allahu Akbar (Takbir Ihram) to make eight in the first rakat and six in the second.

      Imam Abu Hanifah said that we should pronounce Allahu Akbar three times after Takbir Ihram to make four in the first rakah, while it should be pronounced three times in the second without raising our hands up. Ibn Abbas, Anas Ibn Malik, Sheikh Nawawiyy and Sayyid ibn Musayyib all agreed that the pronouncement should be nine times in each rakat.

      Please note that all these submissions are correct and authentic but the most appropriate is the first one. This is in reference to the wife of the Prophet (SAW) that the first one is the best.

      Sheikh AB Muhammed is the Chief Missioner of Islaudeen Missionary Association of Nigeria.

      Aussie Muslims prepare for Hajj
      11 November 2010 | 04:32:56 PM | Source: SBS Radio - Caroline Davey


      As Muslims from around the world gather for the Hajj pilgrimage, SBS asked several Australian Muslims to explain what's the meaning of this event for them.

      The annual Hajj pilgrimage to the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina begins on Sunday. It is the largest annual gathering of people in the world, with authorities predicting more than two-million people will converge on the two holy cities.

      The pilgrimage occurs in the last month of the Islamic calendar and is based on the sighting of the crescent moon.

      But while the Hajj is a religious practice of Muslims today, the pilgrimage began thousands of years before the birth of Islam's prophet Mohammed.

      According to religious scholars, it goes back to the time of biblical prophet Abraham, when he was commanded by God to sacrifice one of his sons, to prove his devotion.

      The vice-president of the Islamic Council of Victoria Sherene Hassan says the rituals performed today are symbolic of what Muslims believe Abraham and his wife did more than two thousand years ago.

      "It is all about honouring Abraham and his wife, Hajar in Arabic, or Hagar in English. In fact some Muslim scholars have stated that the word Hajj actually derives its name from Hajar, Abraham's wife," she told SBS.

      "Basically it involves visiting Mecca, circumambulation of the black building, the Kaaba. Also visiting Medina.

      "And there is a ritual where individuals go and actually throw stones at pillars which are supposed to be symbolic of throwing stones at the devil. So you make this pact that when you go back to your home, that you make a pact that you are going to try and not listen to the whispers of Satan and you are going to try to lead a very good life," Mrs Hassan said.

      Scholars say that tribes from all over the Arabian Peninsula - including Christians and pagans - performed the pilgrimage before the 7th century, but that Mohammed led his followers in the first Muslim pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca in 631AD.

      They say after Mohammed cleansed the sacred Kaaba building, the Hajj pilgrimage became one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

      Sherene Hassan performed the Hajj with her husband a couple of years ago, and says it is just as important for Muslim women as it is for Muslim men.

      "Prayer five times a day, Fasting, Ramadan, Charity to the poor, and Pilgrimage.

      "And those five pillars are mandatory for all males and females. So it is just as important for females as it is for men," she added.

      President of the Australian National Imams Council Abdul Azim Afifi says every Muslim is encouraged to do the pilgrimage once in their lifetime, if they are both physically and financially able to do so.

      Imam Afifi says men are expected to shave or cut their hair short, while they are on the Hajj.

      "It's part of the Hajj, it's part of the cleanliness, because even if some people don't go to Hajj in some Muslim countries, before they do the sacrifice, before they slaughter the lambs, they are allowed or required to do that," he told SBS.

      Khodr Saleh is a councillor with Canterbury City Council in western Sydney, where Australia's largest mosque, Lakemba Mosque, is located.

      He performed the Hajj last year and says both male and female pilgrims have to wear very plain clothes, that show no adornments or wealth.

      "They must enter a holy state - city of Mecca - wearing the Hajj garment called ihram. For men this garment consists of two links of white material, one covering the body from waist to ankle, the other thrown over the shoulder," he said.

      "Women wear normal clothes, a white robe, and do not wear a veil. It's a sign of purity, a sign of cleanliness, because we believe actually when we finish the Hajj, we just be clean like a newborn baby".

      Councillor Saleh says the Hajj is a massive logistical exercise for the Saudi authorities each year, spanning health and sanitation, food, accommodation and transport.

      But he says for the first time this year, there will be a train service to assist in the mass movement of people going between the different holy sites, in addition to cars, buses and going by foot.

      The Islamic Council of Victoria's Sherene Hassan says the accommodation varies - from hotels, to sharing air-conditioned tents with other pilgrims in a huge tent city that she describes as being set up a bit like an Olympic Village in country groupings.

      While no intimate contact is allowed between married couples during the Hajj, Mrs Hassan says she was surprised by the different arrangements for praying.

      "Males and females pray completely together. There is absolutely no segregation between the sexes during the prayers and also during most of the rituals," she said.

      "Which is in stark contrast to what it's like in suburban mosques here in Australia. So I found that really interesting that males and females completely worship freely together".

      For Councillor Saleh, the spirit of the Hajj means that pilgrims do not focus on the physical and practical discomforts presented by the crowds or the facilities, even if they experience flooding in their tents, like he did last year after heavy downpours.

      "You should be able to handle the pressure and handle all the challenges... of the patience. You focus not about the facilities as such, you focus on how you can perform Hajj. When you get more tired you get more enjoyment, if I can say".

      Ms Hassan says it was a gruelling physical challenge over one week, with long days, millions of people, and sometimes involving walking more than ten kilometres a day.

      But she says the Hajj was one of the most spiritually uplifting things she has ever done.

      "You go to a place towards the very end - it's called Arafat. It's basically a mountain. And you spend from about 2 o'clock in the afternoon til about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, just supplicating, just praying to God.

      "And initially I thought, oh goodness, I am not going to be able to pray for three hours, I've never prayed for more than ten minutes in my life," she added.

      "But it's just amazing, you just feel that closeness to God. And what's so uplifting, there are millions of people. But people are not arguing, people aren't losing their temper, everyone seems to be on this spiritual high. And it's really quite amazing".

      The head of the Australian National Imams Council, Imam AFIFI, agrees that performing the Hajj is very special.

      "You feel that you are very close to God. You are visiting his house, you are doing something for Him, you leave your family, you leave your kids, you leave everyone, just go there to repent, to pure yourself. To be just there for Him.

      "Actually, you feel that you want to stay there if you can, in that particular place of worshipping, So you feel that you don't want to go back to your normal life. (chuckle) It's a beautiful feeling," Mr Afifi said.
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