Why I’m feeling homesick and the footsteps of Ibrahim (Abraham)
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
I feel rather homesick these days, even though I haven’t technically left my home.
What I mean is that when I’m seeing live footage from the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah these days, my heart is yearning to be back there, in the House of Allah and the city of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم. Once you have been to these amazing cities no other place on earth can truly feel like “home” again, as the believer leaves his heart behind in Makkah and Madinah.
So why am I feeling a heightened sense of homesickness these days? It is because ten days are currently upon us, in which good deeds are more beloved to Allah than any other days in the year. The month is the last month of the Islamic calendar, Dhul Hijjah, and the days in question are its first ten.
This is the time of Hajj, the major pilgrimage in Islam.
A time when the streets of Makkah look like they are swamped with millions of white ants, but on closer observation they are not ants but millions of pilgrims in the white garments of Ihram.
Hajj is truly the journey of a lifetime, following in the footsteps of our beloved Prophet Ibrahim, may peace be upon him. Many of the rituals of Hajj commemorate aspects of the story of this great Prophet and his family. A few include:
1) Sa’ee: Walking between Mount Safa and Marwah seven times
When Ibrahim (as) was commanded by Allah to leave his wife Hajar (as) and baby son Ismael (as) in the barren Makkan desert as a test of faith, Hajar and baby Ismael soon ran out of dates and water. It was the only provision they had been left with. Hajar (as) was breastfeeding baby Ismael, but as the food ran out so did her breastmilk. As Makkah was uninhabited desert at that time, there was no-one nearby to ask for help. As her starving baby cried, Hajar ran between the mountains of Safa and Marwah seven times. Every time she reached the top of one of the mountains she looked for water or any other source of help but found none. Pilgrims walk between Safa and Marwah seven times to commemorate and remember this event.
Pilgrims walk between Safa and Marwah seven times. In modern times the area has been adapted to ease this ritual for the pilgrims.
2) Drinking Zam Zam water
When Hajar (as) returned to baby Ismael after the seventh time, she was amazed to find water with him. This was the blessed water of Zam Zam, which Allah had sent Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to dig from the ground underneath baby Ismael’s feet. When Ibrahim (as) had left her and her baby in the desert, Hajar (as) had told her husband she had faith in Allah. Zam Zam was the reward of her patience for passing the difficult test she had gone through, may peace be upon her. Pilgrims drink Zam Zam, which Allah has gifted to the believers for all time.
The well of Zam Zam today (upper part)
3) Ramy (symbolic stoning of the devil)
When Ismael (as) had grown to be a youth, and was becoming a real comfort and support for his father, Allah again tested Ibrahim (as) through his then only son. Ibrahim (as) told his young son that Allah had commanded that he sacrifice him as a test of faith. Ismael (as) as well as his father submitted to the will of Allah. When the pair set out to fulfil the command, the devil appeared to them and tried to tempt Ibrahim (as) to disobey Allah. Rather than being seduced by the devil’s arguments, Ibrahim (as) responded by throwing stones at the devil to ward him off and this is why pilgrims also symbolically stone the devil in this same place, Mina, as part of the rituals of Hajj.
Special walls mark the places where the devil came to tempt Ibrahim (as). Pilgrims throw pebbles they collect at these walls, symbolically stoning the devil.
4) The Sacrifice
Allah was not interested in the flesh and blood of Ismael (as), he was only testing the faith of His servant Ibrahim (as) by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son. As Ibrahim (as) was about to perform the sacrifice, having placed his knife on the neck of Ismael (as), he was informed by Allah that he had passed the test. Allah sent a ram for Ibrahim (as) to sacrifice instead and it is following in his footsteps that pilgrims are also required to offer a sacrifice. These days the meat from these sacrifices paid for by the pilgrims is packaged and sent to poor Muslims around the world. The celebration of ‘Eid al Adha commemorates the story of the sacrifice and the meat is eaten as part of the day’s festivities.
Muslims offer a sacrifice to remember the test of Ibrahim (as), which he successfully passed. The meat is distributed to the poor worldwide.
The day of ‘Arafah is the height of Hajj. It is when pilgrims stand in the plain of ‘Arafah and ask Allah to forgive all their sins. By sunset on this momentus day their supplications will be answered, inshaAllah. Today is the 5th of Dhul Hijjah and ‘Arafah is the 9th, so the anticipation is building with the pilgrims keen to start Hajj (they put on their ihram on the 8th). How I wish I could be among them, following in the footsteps of Ibrahim (as)! May Allah make easy and accept the Hajj of everyone who intends to perform it this year (including my dear aunty and cousin mashaAllah!) and may He invite those of us who have yet to perform our Hajj, soon. Ameen.
Want to see what it’s like to perform Hajj? Islam Channel present live programmes daily from Makkah, at 10.30 a.m. and from 8 p.m. (GMT). They also share pre-recorded material in the form of a video diary of their experiences of being in Makkah for Hajj 2011 (the “Footsteps of Ibrahim” programme).
To watch Islam Channel online click here
To find out the programme schedule for where you are in the world click here