Pilgrimage or Hajj
Hajj literally means, “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.” The Hajj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca, is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.
The Hajj is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the great prophets and teachers of faith. Pilgrims symbolically relive the experience of exile and atonement undergone by Adam and Eve after they were expelled from Heaven, wandered the earth, met again and sought forgiveness in the valley of Mecca. They also retrace the frantic footsteps of the wife of Abraham, Hagar, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa searching for water for her thirsty baby (which according to Muslim tradition, God answered with the well of Zam Zam). Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for the sake of God. God later substituted a ram in place of his son.
Performing the rituals of Hajj provides a reminder of how the great prophets and teachers of faith established a deep and personal relationship with God. As the pilgrim makes his supplications to God, he realizes that He is asking of the same God that answered the prayers of those before him. These reminders are an important part of strengthening one’s faith, trust and dependence in God.
The faithful hope that the Hajj will bring about a deep spiritual transformation, one that will make him or her a better person. If such a change from within does not occur, then the Hajj was merely a physical and material exercise devoid of any spiritual significance. As all great religions teach, we are more than mere physical creatures in that we possess an essence beyond the material world. Indeed, this is why all great religions have a tradition of pilgrimage. In the Islamic tradition, Hajj encapsulates this spiritual journey toward this essence. Hajj teaches one to show sincerity and humilty in one’s relationship with God. The result of a successful Hajj is a rich inner peace, which is manifested outwardly in the values of justice, honesty, respect, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy.