Imagine being at a crowded rock concert. Your favorite band is playing that one song, and everyone knows the words. You sing your heart out. Every syllable resonates within every inch of your flesh and every bit of your soul. The entirety of the heavens and earth seem to be singing along with you. You know what every word means, and you know their meaning.

Angela Cesere
LSA sophomore Manal Peracha (left) and Pharmacy student Maie Saif (right) at the Michigan League yesterday. They traveled to Saudi Arabia over Winter Break to make the Hajj. (BENJI DELL/Daily).

Now imagine two million people. People of all nationalities. They speak different languages. It’s hot and crowded. They are all in the same place for one exhilarating reason. Instead of singing, though, everyone is praying.

But a rock concert cannot compare to one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. In this scene, everyone is Muslim, and everyone is undergoing the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca required of every Muslim with the means and health to undertake it.

This year, Hajj, the dates of which are determined by the 354-day Islamic calendar, fell over Winter Break. For the first time in more than 30 years, Muslim students at the University were able to travel to Saudi Arabia during the break and fulfill their religious obligation.

“Sometimes here, (while praying), your mind wanders,” LSA sophomore Manal Peracha said. “But over there you feel like you’re directly speaking to God.”

Before undergoing the Hajj, many pilgrims travel to Medina to visit the prophet Mohammad’s tomb. Pharmacy student Maie Seif said her experience at the prophet’s resting place went beyond sight and sound. She could smell the sacred space.

“It smelled like a musk that they said the prophet used to smell like,” Seif said. “When I smelled it, that is when I knew it was real.”

For most pilgrims, the experience begins in Mecca.

There, they pray before the Kaaba, the most holy site in Islam. Because Muslims must pray facing the Kaaba, this is the only time Muslims may pray in a circle.

Worshippers circumnavigate the Kaaba counterclockwise seven times and walk seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah.

Although the rite is not technically part of the Hajj, most pilgrims perform it before Hajj begins.

“When you join the people walking around the Kaaba, you can’t even see the end of the circle,” said Peracha. “All you can see is white dots moving counterclockwise.”

Most Muslims also drink out of the Zamzam well, which is considered holy.

“It’s mineral water,” Peracha said. “It’s a little bit heavy, but there is blessing in it.”

Many pilgrims bring Zamzam water back to the states. Because large quantities of liquids are prohibited on many flights, the Zamzam water is sealed in a bag marked “holy water” and checked like any other piece of luggage.

“It was interesting to pick up a gallon of water on the conveyor belt at the airport,” Seif said.

After their stay in Mecca, the pilgrims travel east to Mina for a day of rest and prayer.

The next morning, worshippers travel to Mt. Arafat for the holiest day of the ceremony.

They spend the day in prayer, and at sunset walk to Muzdalifah to spend the night. “(Mt. Arafat) is where I felt closest to God,” Peracha said.

At Muzdalifah, they sleep on the ground and collect pebbles for the stoning of the devil the next day in Mina.

There the pilgrims throw pebbles at three pillars that represent the devil. At night, they stay in tents set up in rows by the Saudi government. Pointing to a picture covered with the white spires of the tents, Seif explained that the tents are arranged according to nationality. They are also air-conditioned.

The pillars represent the three places that the devil appeared to Abraham in the biblical story. In the story, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The devil tried three times to persuade Abraham to defy God and let his son live. Abraham refused. Finally, convinced of Abraham’s devotion, God commanded him to sacrifice a lamb instead.

After the stoning, men shave their heads and women cut off a lock of their hair.

To represent the lamb in the biblical story, an animal is sacrificed. In the past, many pilgrims sacrificed animals themselves. Now, pilgrims often pay someone to sacrifice the animal. The meat is distributed to the poor.

Peracha’s family paid for lambs to be sacrificed on their behalf.

Finally, pilgrims travel back to Makkah for one last circle around the Kaaba.

According to the Saudi government, more than 2.1 million people made the Hajj this year.

“These people save their whole lives to go,” Seif said. “I prayed next to Kazakhs and Afghanis. It’s cool to see people, and the only thing you have in common with them is that you are a Muslim.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *