In the past, Muslims need months for travelling to accomplish their journey to Mecca. The means for transportation were mainly on camels if by land or through basic wooden made boats by water. From Granada, Istanbul, Cairo, Abyssinia, Damascus, Baghdad, Tashkent, Sumatra, and as far as the wall of China, Muslims regarded this trip as the first, and for many the last visit to Mecca and Madina, where the Prophet Muhammad’s grave is located. Today, it takes only about ten hours flying from Kuala Lumpur, approximately thirteen hours from either Tokyo or Washington D.C, to reach the holy land. Although it is very costly journey, both economically and physically, yet in recent years millions of Muslims have attended the annual pilgrimage in Mecca. The question this article seeks to ask is, what motivates these individuals to perform this ritual, and, what is the religious significance behind this kind of obligation? Is Hajj (pilgrimage) considered only part of an Islamic worship and believe or an individual’s journey for purification the soul?

The first obligation of a Muslim, regardless of where he or she lives, is to worship Allah (God), by carrying out His will in all aspects of life. The nucleus of Islamic teaching and the Islamic way of life is a set of four obligatory acts of worship (ibadat), which, taken together with the confession of faith, are referred to as the “five pillars” of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) has defined the faith (iman), the submission (Islam), and the best models for human behavior to follow (ihsan). The significance of the five pillars for a Muslim is demonstrated in the way the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) spoke about four pillars in his tradition (hadith) concerning submission. According to the Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam):

“Islam been built on five pillars: testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah (shahadah), performing the prayers (salat), paying the poor-due (zakat), making the pilgrimage to the House (Hajj), and observing the annual fast of Ramadan (sawm).”

These acts of worship constitute the five pillars or cornerstones of Islam, each of which has its own spiritual and social values. One who believes in these pillars enters the fold of Islam and becomes a member of the Muslim community (the ummah). It is these ceremonial obligations that draw the faithful closer to Allah and help them fulfil their duty to Him. The purpose of Islamic worship is, therefore, to strengthen the individual’s faith and sense of submission to Allah, and to reinforce the ties of brother and sisterhood among Muslims. In order to examine the significance of Hajj to Mecca in a Muslim’s social and spiritual life, the following analysis on the subject will be introduced.

The Qur’an (the Holy Book in Islam) has reported in several places the importance of Hajj, in both Muslim’s religious as well as social life. It designates the entire chapter # 22 (surat al-Hajj) for this purpose. It was reported in the Qur’an:

“And proclaim among men the Pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every deep ravine”

In this regard, the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said:

“He who makes the pilgrimage to the House (of God), avoiding indecent and immoral behavior, emerges from his sins like a newborn baby.”

He also said:

“If some one sets out from his home as a pilgrim or visitant (mu’tamir) and then die, he (or she) is granted the reward of a pilgrim or visitant till the Day of Resurrection. Anyone who dies in either of the sanctuaries (Mecca or Madina) is not subject to review or reckoning, but is told to enter paradise.”

In addition, the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said:

“Pilgrims and visitants are the emissaries and visitors of Allah, if they petition Him He gives what they ask, if they seek His forgiveness He forgives them, if they call on Him He answers, and if they seek intercession it is granted.”

The performance of Hajj is incumbent upon all Muslims, and should be fulfilled at least once in a lifetime, if they are in a position both physically and economically to undertake the journey to Mecca and to make sufficient provision for their dependents during the period of their absence (Qur’an 22: 27-32).
The Shafi’aiate School of Thought considers the proper time to fulfill this task can be at any time after certain conditions (i.e financial, physical, and security) for Hajj accomplished.

In his book Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (“revival the sciences of religion”), the great Muslim scholar, Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (R.a) had recorded the inner states at various stages of Hajj such as the role of sincerity in intention, the way to respect the noble shrines, the manner in which to contemplate them and to reflect upon their mysterious and meanings, from the start of the pilgrimage to the end. In his conclusion of the subject al-Ghazali (R.a) said, “such are the duties of the heart at all stages of the pilgrimage. When all have been completed, your heart should be beset with sadness, anxiety and fear, for you do not know whether you have had your pilgrimage accepted and been firmly placed in the company of the loved ones, or had your pilgrimage rejected and been included among the outcasts. The pilgrim should discover this from his (or her) heart and its conduct” (p. 119).

Mecca (located in Saudi Arabia) is considered the holiest place on earth for Muslims, since it is where the house of Allah (ka’bah) was built by Prophet Adam (A.S.). The Hajj period has a specific date and time in accordance with the Islamic calendar. A visit to Mecca at any other time of the year to perform the Hajj rituals is called ‘umrah.

During Hajj period, the second festival (Eid-al-Adha) in Islam, based on the ancient narrative of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) and his sacrifice son Ismail (A.S.), is celebrated. The sacrifice of an animal (qurban) and distribution of meat to the poor, friends and relatives had normally become a social and ritualistic occasion, to commemorate the Islamic tradition of this historical event of Ibraham (A.S.). Sacrificing animals is an act of worship, but the “the flesh of them does not reach Allah, neither their blood, but godliness from you shall reach Him” (Qur’an 22:3).

Although Hajj is regarded as one of the fifth pillar of Islam, it is important to note that not all Muslims can afford to visit Mecca, regardless of whether they are in India or elsewhere. In fact, there are many Muslims who perceive the completion of the Hajj to be important but find it impossible to do so for economic reasons, particularly during the current global financial crisis. While there are many Muslims who have performed the Hajj, this number is insignificant in comparison to the total Muslim population, which is more than one billion and half adherents. For Muslims who can afford it, Hajj is an essential part of their Islamic identification, and for those who cannot, Hajj is still important, however, realistic considerations prevented the journey. Many Muslims view this inaccessibility as an unfortunate reality. The two primary reasons that prevent many Muslims from paying their pilgrimage to Mecca are the individual’s financial status and the lengthy traveling time between home and Mecca.

Hajj appears to create an atmosphere of equality, simplicity, and unity among Muslims, regardless of their gender, linguistic backgrounds, social status, geographical locations, cultural, ethnic, and sectarian differences. Whosoever performs pilgrimage and “honors God’s sacred symbols, that is of the godliness in his heart” (Qur’an 22:23). The concept of ‘ummah, or the global Muslim community, is distinguishably experienced at the time of pilgrimage. Muslim associates feelings and sense of belonging to the ummah during Hajj, suggesting that this practice is not just strengthening of one’s own Islamic identity, but an extension of Muslim identification in a larger sense as well.

Other significant elements of Hajj are related to an individual, community, society, and global levels. On the personal level, Hajj consider to be a time to reflect on one own deeds for past experience and to promise upgrade them in the near future; a practical experience to the psychological progress to examine ones own discipline, patience, level of forgiveness, and tolerance; a feeling that pilgrims gain when he or she is in the state of ihram (preforming Hajj’s rituals; also can mean the white uniform specially used during Hajj). Other significant elements of Hajj are:

• An opportunity to meeting and know other Muslims from different part of the world.
• A time to express a sense of sincere brother and sisterhood in faith.
• To improve and strengthening relationships within the Muslim leaders.
• A proper time for collaboration and cooperation among Muslim nations and international relations.
• A feeling of “real” sense of freedom and equality, since pilgrims come to Hajj with the same goal and doing the same rituals, at the same time, in the same place.
• A time to accomplish personal wishes and to request for assistance from God to fulfil ones own fantasizes in this world, and after.
• By wearing the same uniform (ihram), pilgrims feel they are in the state of purification from worldly temptations, and will be immune from making mistakes after Hajj.
• The white sheet uniform reminds pilgrims of the time of death and eventually meeting with God in the Day of Judgment which is part of the belief system in Islam.
• The ritualistic running between safa and marwah (al-Sa’i) has a great religious meaning as well as a personal significant, like searching for a common goal to seek the mercy and forgiveness from God, beside the spiritual attachment for drinking from the miraculous water of zamzam after a good work out which last about 20-25 minutes.
• Gain an insight of connectedness, solidarity and unity while pilgrims perform all stages of Hajj, such as praying towards the same direction (kiblat), visiting together places such as Mina and Muzdalifah (near Mecca), stand at the mount of arafat, and reciting same texts.
• Pilgrims have the chance to make frequent circumambulations of the Ka’ba, in person.
• Hajj can be trade opportunities for people to make business and also to buy Middle Eastern goods for profits and as gifts to their friends and relatives.
• A great spiritual attachment to every pilgrim, especially those of Southeast Asian backgrounds, is to visit the Prophet personal grave in Medina (about 340km from Mecca) and pray in his mosque.
• Finally, for certain individuals, Hajj can be perceived as a tourist attraction occasion.

In sum, the spiritual rejuvenation experienced by Muslims performing the Hajj is not restricted to those attending, but is transferred to other members of the pilgrims’ communities upon their return home. By relating their experiences about the Hajj, the pilgrims often rekindle devotional feelings and longing in the hearts of their listeners, each in eager anticipation of the day, when they too will have an opportunity to preform it.