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The Hajj: Pilgrimage

     Mecca is also known as Makkah and its full name is Makkah al-Mukkaramah. Mecca is a city in the Hijaz region of western Saudi Arabia. It is known as the holiest site in the Islamic religion. The history of Mecca goes back as early as the fifth century. It was an independent and powerful city in pre-Islamic times. It is the religious center for Islamic people and it houses the Kaaba and the Great Mosque. It is also the birthplace of Muhammad, the first capital of caliphate, and the center of present day mosques. In 630 Muhammad and some of his followers went into the city of Mecca and captured it. Mecca is said to have started one of the most important religions in the world and it brings together the Islamic religion.

     When people think about Mecca one of the first things that might come to their heads is the pilgrimage or the black stone. Muhammad is one of the reasons that Mecca is what it is today. Muhhamad was a prophet born 570 in Mecca. He was orphaned as a child and sent to ended up living with his uncle. Muhhamad would get away from everything by going to the desert to meditate. One night while alone at Mt. Hira he was visited by an angel named Gabriel. After this Muhhamad began to accept Allah and started to believe. Some of the things Muhhamad believed was Jihad, holy struggle. He also began to believe you live for Allah. He believed all those who did would be rewarded and the rest punished. Not everyone believed the way Muhammad did. People at first thought that his teachings were a threat to the religious and material order. He was accused of making up what the Angel Gabriel had told him. He got followers from the poor and people who thought they were being unequally treated. Muhhamad took these people and then left and went to Medina to find more followers. He then returned to Mecca later and took over the city and converted everyone to Islam.

     In the Islamic faith there are five pillars that they must follow to their best ability. The Salaht, the Hajj, they must give to the poor, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and repetition of the creed, "There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." These pillars are more like obligations in the Islamic religion.

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     The pillar that most people remember about the Islamic religion is the Hajj, pilgrimage. This pilgrimage brings together many Muslims for a ritual that is in the Koran as a ritual duty. It is supposed to be performed at least once in a lifetime. If you can not afford to make the pilgrimage to Mecca as long as you tried or in your heart you really wanted to go you will not be punished. People have heard of Mecca, but do you really know what goes on during the pilgrimage? Do you know what is in Mecca that makes it so holy? The Kaaba, black stone,

lies in the center of a stone building, which has large beautiful arches and pillars. The Black Stone is also here and they believe that the prophet Abraham put it there while he was building the Kaaba. The black stone is not worshiped or regarded as anything but as a sentiment that brings people closer to Muhammad. When these believers arrive at Mecca they do not just go in and look around. There is a set of rituals that must be performed before you get to Mecca, while you're at Mecca, and after you leave Mecca. Before setting out, a pilgrim should redress all wrongs, pay all debts, and plan to have enough money for their journey and the support of their family while away. You enter your state of holiness and purity when you are ten kilometers away. They take a shower that helps purify them. They put on this perfume and they also put on two pieces of white sheets that are wrapped around their bodies. There is no head gear. Some of the people that make the pilgrimage to Mecca keep the white clothes to be buried in or hung in their houses. Before entering, they chant from the Koran, "Here I am at your service. O my Lord, here I am. Here I am. No partner do You have. Here I am. Truly, the praise and the provisions are Yours, and so is the dominion. No partner do You have". After all this is done they then can enter and they start a process called tawaf. They circle the black stone seven times in a counterclockwise direction. Three times fast and four times slow. On each lap, they pause to kiss the large Black Stone that sits in the center. The next thing they do is the Sa’i. They go up the stairs to the Safa and praise Allah three times. Then the Muslim comes back down and ends by shaving their heads. When all this is completed the second part of the pilgrimage must begin. The second part of the pilgrimage is known as the Lesser Pilgrimage. They must trot seven times across the valley between Safa and Marwa. The point of this is to celebrate Hagar's journey to search for food or drink for her son Ishmael. The last part of the pilgrimage is the Greater Pilgrimage to the mountain of mercy in the plains of Arafat. This is where from noon to sunset the pilgrims must stand before God. After all this is complete the pilgrimage is followed by an animal sacrifice, a night in the open, and three final days of feasting. The last thing that must be done on the pilgrimage to complete their time at Mecca is to have a final turning of the Kaaba. This is said to be the pinnacle of Islamic joy.

     When they leave Mecca and everything is done with they now can add titles to their names. The females ad the title hajjiyah to there names while the males add al-Hajji to their names. Today Mecca is still very important. In 1924 an Arab leader conquered it and made it part of Saudi Arabia. The government is trying to modernize Mecca, but the people are refusing to give up their history because it is still very important even today. Mecca is still the center for present day mosques. Muslims still consider Mecca the holliest spot on earth.
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