Sacrifice

Well, I had another one of those weird dreams. Nothing gory, but it was actually about the physical act of sacrifice, so I might as well spring-step off of that to look at some of the other rituals for the hajj proper besides the three I mentioned before: ihram, sa’iy and tawwaf, (sacred posture/dress, walk-run between Safa and Marwa, and circumambulate around the Ka’aba). After performing these for umrah, with the umrah/ hajj tamattu’, I can clip a bit of my hair, (or the men can shave) and then end my ihram, returning to “regular clothes”. As I said, I do plan to take this break (even if I make a second umrah). I mean I am hoping to stay in the spirit of place without the obligation of ihram. So I will appreciate this complete break.

Anyway, with my date of arrival beginning of the second week of November and the hajj proper not start until the middle of November (or according to the Islamic lunar calendar, the 8th ’til the 13th of Zul-Hijjah), so I have some flexibility. Keep in mind, for example, that people already in Saudi Arabia, and even some minimalists from outside, will only come for the hajj proper. Although it tends to be crowded there starting with Ramadan, there is some semblance of ‘before and after.’ To maximize my before, I think having some time to be there, but not in the ihram for umrah will give me a kind of spiritual quiet in the storm of people and practice. I’ll need it. According to the books, it is also a mandated to wait a bit before assuming ihram for hajj.

Then, once again, I must don the ihram after making my intention for hajj proper. This must be done before noon on the 8th day of Zul-Hijjah, when we will all go about 5-6 kilometers east of Makkah, to a place called Mina. There we stay performing the five daily prayers starting with the mid-day or zhuhr prayer, but these will be shortened. Usually for travel prayers are shortened to two raka’at instead of 4, and zhuhr and ‘asr (mid-day and afternoon) prayers are combined. Here, they will be shortened but not combined. We stay in Mina, in a kind of modern tent (that is with air conditioning and plumbing) until sunrise on the 9th of Zul Hijjah. Then we all proceed to Mt. Arafat.

This day at Arafat and its events mark the hajj.

The books say if you come back before staying at Arafat, called qiyam-al-‘Arafat, your hajj is not accepted. So this is the big deal. Okay, so let me give you a sort of shorthand lay of the land. There really is a mountain (or for the rest of the world we would call it a foothill) with the name Jabal-al-Rahman, Mountain of Mercy. With three million of us convening in this area, very few will get actually up on the mountain, so for the most part we will be in tents stretched across the plains surrounding the mountain.

The photos show a sea of white topped tents. People tell of other politics between these tents and on the ground but for me, I reserve any judgment in order to get to the spiritual focus. We should arrive before noon and the mid-day prayer. At this place, we listen to a sermon given from the mosque there, masjid-al Nimarah, and then combine zhuhr and ‘asr prayers.

Then we have the remainder of the afternoon for supplication, praise and meditation.

That’s it. The whole day is reserved for just that. It is believed that if all the steps for the performance of the hajj have been properly observed and if one is sincere in their worship at this spot on this day, then the Mercy of Allah does descend and all sins are forgiven and one can depart from here with a clean slate. A new beginning, a chance to make internal and moral amends, a chance to observe our love and devotion to Allah even unabated by the regular daytime formal prayer performance. It is here that we should make repentance, and pray for others.

Although this is the day that makes the hajj, per se and the rest is necessary, as well as part of umrah, and therefore can be performed at any time of the year, we still have a number of rituals ahead of us before we return to Makkah.

So at sunset, we move very slowly and if the reports are true at some point there is enough of a grid-lock that we don’t move at all, if we are on the buses. We then go to Muzdalifah. We stay in Muzdalifah only from sunset or whenever we arrive until sunrise on the tenth day of Zul-Hijjah. We should not leave Muzdalifah before fajr prayer that morning, heading back to Mina. Somewhere between Mina and Muzdalifah we should have collected 70 jellybean-sized rocks.

We take these rocks with us to a place called Jamarat al-‘Aqabah. This is the place where it is believed that Abraham’s son was tempted by Satan not to submit to his father’s divine command to be sacrificed. It is said; he threw seven stones at the Devil and proceeded a few hundred meters, before being tempted again and repeating this stoning. There are three effigies here literally named “small”, “medium,” and “large” and over the next few days we will return to this location to throw stones at each of them in turn.

If I had my way I would do this first, because symbolically one is stoning one’s own personal demons. But then I guess, if you think about it, it is sort of like what they say about any vice that you try to get rid of. You are tempted to backslide. So maybe this as a moment of clarifying whatever it is that reduces the person from sustaining the state of ritual and moral purity that the day on Arafat has granted. Sort of reminds me of Shakespeare: out damned spot!

This is also the day of the sacrifice. Everywhere else in the Muslim world there is the celebration of the feast of the sacrifice, or ‘Id al-Adha. We don’t celebrate the ‘Id here, but we do sacrifice an animal. So here is my dream and also my dilemma. Because I am performing hajj tammatu’ I have to pay for the sacrifice of an animal. I don’t actually do it myself, but I do hear tell there are some who step up to the actual function.

I’ve seen an animal sacrificed for this holiday. I also know this is the Islamically prescribed manner for sacrificing all animals to be eaten, dhabihah. The most significant thing is that all life belongs to Allah. We do not take even an animal’s life unless we do so in the name of Allah. That is why the words are recited over the animal: bi-s mi-Lah.

Well from there we do the head-shave or hair-clip thing again to denote the end of the ritual. We eventually return to Mina, throw more stones and end up in Makkah to do the farewell tawwaf some time around the 12th of Zul-Hijjah.

Now that you know the gist of it I can fill in the particular when I get there. God willing.

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