Local Muslims make the hajj pilgrimage
Yaqoob Malik is in Charleston as part of a U.S.-Pakistan partnership program arranged by the International Center for Journalists, in Washington, D.C.
CHARLESTON, W.Va.--At least four couples from the Charleston area were among the more than 2 million Muslims who journeyed to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to the city of Mecca.
Dr. Shahid Masood and his wife, Aliya Masood, a communications graduate from West Virginia State University, were among the pilgrimage group. The couple, originally from Pakistan, have lived in Charleston since 1997.
All of the group left Charleston on Oct. 7 and returned on Oct. 18.
Of the about 200 Muslim families in the Charleston area, about 80 are originally from Pakistan, she said, and many of those had already performed the hajj. Going on the pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam, and she and her husband have now fulfilled that religious obligation.
"You can imagine that about 1.5 million people all around the world, of different colors, languages, races and classes were gathered for the hajj, but there is an ideal discipline, equality unity and brotherhood instead of any kind of indifference and classification," she said.
She said that Saudi government had, as usual, done an amazing job of making arrangements to accommodate the pilgrims. The area was very clean, she said, despite the massive gathering of people.
Upon their return, the pilgrims brought dates, tasbeeh (prayer beads) and ab-e-zam zam (holy water), which they distributed among the relatives and friends. It's a tradition that every pilgrim brings such things from Mecca after performing the hajj.
The trip was the second hajj for another pilgrim, Mrs. Ahmed Khalid, who follows the tradition of some Muslim women by being referred to under her husband's name. Both are doctors, and the pilgrimage was the first for her husband.
Mrs. Khalid said that it's better to go on the hajj while young, because the journey and worship requires hard work and physical exertion. She described the scene as an ideal place of "sakoon," or spiritual peace.
She said it was difficult to describe the emotions of the pilgrims when they entered into what Muslims call the Khana Kaaba, or "God's house," and see it for the first time. The building in Mecca is what Muslims are supposed to face when they pray.
Mrs. Masood said that people to intend to perform the hajj often will register through private operators about a year before the journey. The operators will also arrange training for the pilgrims before they undertake the hajj. Packages can cost between $2,000 and $8,000, she said.
@bodsub1:About the hajj
Muslims believe the rites of the hajj were designed by God and taught through the prophet Muhammad, the last in a line of thousands of prophets, including such well-known figures as Moses, Noah, Abraham, David and Jesus.
The hajj is designed to develop consciousness of God and a sense of spiritual uplifting, and also as an opportunity to seek forgiveness of sins accumulated throughout life. In commemoration of the trials of Abraham and his family in Mecca, which included Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son in response to God's command, Muslims make a pilgrimage to the sacred city at least once in their lifetime.
Before arriving in the holy city, Muslims enter a state of consecration known as Ihram, and dress in clothes that consist of two seamless white sheets for men, and simple white dresses and scarves for women. The white garments are symbolic of human equality and unity before God, since all the pilgrims are dressed similarly.
Upon arriving in Mecca, pilgrims perform the initial Tawaf: a circular, counter-clockwise procession around the Kaaba while saying, "Labbayka Allahumma labbayk," which means "Here I am at your service, O God, Here I am!" The tawaf is meant to awaken each Muslim's consciousness that God is the center of their reality and the source of all meaning in life, and that each person's higher self-identity derives from being part of the community of Muslim believers, known as the Ummah.
Pilgrims also perform the Sai, which is hurrying seven times between the small hills named Safa and Marwah, reenacting the biblical and Quranic story of Abraham's wife Hajar (known to Christians as Hagar) and her desperate search for life-giving water and food.
Next, on the first official day of hajj (the eighth day of the ZilHajj month of the Islamic calendar) all pilgrims travel a few miles to the plain of Mina and camp there. From Mina, pilgrims travel the following morning to the plain of Arafat, where they spend the entire day in earnest supplication and devotion. That evening, they move and camp at Muzdalifa, a site between Mina and Arafat. Muslims stay overnight and offer various prayers there. Then the pilgrims return to Mina on the 10th day of Zilhajj, and throw seven pebbles at a stone pillar that represents the devil. This symbolizes Abraham's throwing stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, re-enacting the story of Abraham, who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. The meat from the slaughtered sheep is distributed for consumption to family, friends, and poor and needy people in the community. After the sacrifice, the pilgrims return to Mecca to end the formal rites of Hajj by performing a final Tawaf and Sai.