W-a-a-a-a-y interesting. At lunch yesterday we had what we here in Cube City (15 Floors Up) call a Lunch-N-Learn. "Learning More about The Hajj".
We use these Lunch-n-Learns (usually about diversity of some kind) as extra training credits here at "The Big Clam". Most are very informal and have a speaker or two and you bring your own lunch and 'Management' provides drinks and cookies.
For those that don't know - I've spent 27 years working in one capacity or another for what I call "The Big Clam" here in Texas. It is, of course, a multinational petro corporation. But for reasons such as I would like to keep my job and retire one day I don't use the "real" name of the company. I'm sure if you think about it you'll figure it out...
Today's topic was timely as we have a colleague that is going on his first and possibly only Hajj this December. Good topic for our group - being mostly white, Christian middle aged Texans. There are a couple hispanics, and one black person. Oh yeah and one redneck...And the fella going on Hajj is of Pakistani decent. We do have a few Indian contractors working in the group as well. For "The Big Clam" it is a fairly small group. We also had a self described “Content Expert” from down the hall. He has been on Hajj four times! His family was originally from India.
Most of us were there today...Must have been the free food! *grins* Our group motto is: If you want us to show up - Feed Us!
We had a selection of halal foods:
- Greek salad
- K-babs - beef and chicken
- Hummus with flat bread
- Iced Tea.
Toured a few website as we ate, because this bunch of white folks had questions, boys and girls. "What is halal?" "What is hummus?" "WHAT DID you say HUMMUS IS?" "Is halal different from Kosher?" "What is the white dressing?"
After most of us finished eating we watched a video from National Geographic called "Inside Mecca". It is about the Hajj. I found this to be most interesting.
A hajj, for those of you that don't know, is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in the last month of the Muslim calendar, that Muslims are required to make, if they are able, at least once in their lifetime. This is for most Muslims, a life changing event! A turning point in their spirituality!
Did you know that no non-Muslims are allowed to journey to Mecca? Ever!
This is not an undertaking to be taken lightly. It is very exhausting, and can be quite dangerous as well!
First steps -
While in Mecca for the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in an Ihram, a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash or belt; plus a pair of sandals. The ihram is intended to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah, symbolizing the idea that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper when everyone is dressed equally. The Ihram also symbolizes purity and absolution of sins. Many female pilgrims traditionally wear a simple white or black dress with a head covering.
While the pilgrim is wearing the Ihram, he cannot shave, cut his nails, or wear jewelry.
Upon arrival in Mecca, the pilgrim (locally known as a 'Hajji'), performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Abraham (Ibrahim) and Hagar (Hajarah), and of solidarity with Muslims worldwide. These acts of faith are:
- a tawaf, which consists of walking around the Kah'ba (in the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca) four times at a hurried pace, followed by three times, more closely, at a leisurely pace, in a counter-clockwise direction.
- the sa`i, walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah now enclosed in the Masjid al-Haram. This is a re-enactment of Hagar's frantic search for water, before the Zamzam Well was revealed to her by an angel sent by Allah.
These rituals comprise the Umrah, sometimes called the lesser Hajj. The Umrah can be taken at any time throughout the year and although completing it is highly commendable, Muslims are still required to perform the greater Hajj, during the appointed time.
Despite not being part of the ritual, most pilgrims drink water from the Zamzam Well when the Umrah is completed. Also, men and women trim off approximately one inch of hair
The greater Hajj (al-hajj al-akbar) begins on the eighth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah. Pilgrims put on ihram. They must go to the nearby town of Mina, where they spend the rest of the day.
The next morning, on the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah, the pilgrims leave Mina for Mount Arafat. They must spend the afternoon within a defined area on the plain of Arafat until after sunset. There are no specific rituals or prayers are required. Many pilgrims do spend the time praying, talking to God, and thinking about the course of their lives.
After sunset they leave for Muzdalifah, an area between Arafat and Mina, where pebbles are gathered for the stoning of the jamarat. The stoning is symbolic of Abraham casting out the devil three times. Legend has it that the Prophet threw stones at Satan.
Having spent the night in Muzdalifah, the pilgrims now go back to Mina. It is now the 10th of the month, the day of Eid ul-Adha. As the first part of the stoning of the jamarat ritual, pilgrims throw seven pebbles at the large jamrah (wall) in Mina.
In the video it is easy to see that the stoning rituals are easily the most dangerous part of the pilgrimage. With so many people crammed into such a tight space, it just looks like this would be the place where one could get seriously injured. Plus every one is throwing stones(!). At the height of the ritual people throw anything…Shoes. Backpacks, etc. Pretty much you name it!
After this, an animal is sacrificed. Traditionally the pilgrim killed the animal himself (and they still can) or oversaw the killing. Today many pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Mecca before the greater Hajj begins; this allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th without the pilgrim being physically present.
Literally hundreds of thousands of animals are sacrificed. The meat is cut up by butchers and sent to poor folks in the names of the pilgrims. Very little is wasted.
On this day pilgrims are released from most ihram restrictions; they have their heads shaved and change out of the ihram garment. The head shaving is a symbol of rebirth, signifying that the pilgrim's sins have been cleansed by completion of the Hajj. On this or the following day the pilgrims visit the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca for a tawaf called the Tawaf az-Ziyarah (or Tawaf al-Ifadah) which is an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina.
On the afternoon of the 11th, pilgrims must stone all three jamarat in Mina. The same ritual must be performed on the following day. Pilgrims must leave Mina for Mecca before sunset on the 12th. (If they are unable to leave Mina before sunset, they must perform the stoning ritual again on the 13th before going to Mecca.)
Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wada.
This documentary focused on three very different pilgrims. A very well to do man (and his wife) from Indonesia. A young very devout young man from South Africa. (I liked this fellow. He seemed very well put together and was charitable to a fault.) The third was a lady that was a professor at the University of Texas! She converted to Islam from the Catholic Church, much to the consternation of her family. She suffered a lot of discrimination on the hajj. Not only was she an American. But she was also a very tall blue eyed blond. Stuck out like a sore thumb where ever she happened to be. She seemed to be questioned about her faith at every turn. Not very fair, but that is apparently the way it is.
After the video, which for some reason I found to be very moving, our “Content Expert” and my team mate opened the floor for questions. I must say they answered every single question put to them. We must’ve sat in that conference room talking for an hour and a half after the video was finished.
All in all I’d have to say that this was probably one of the most informative one of these lunch-n-learn’s we’ve had all year.
I learned an awful lot about why Muslims are the way they are. My eyes have been opened! (Again!)
Plus I borrowed from the team mate a huge Nat’l Geo book entitled, “The World of Islam”
Been pretty informative so far. Plus since it is from National Geographic it is chock full of great photos as well. It has stories, written by white men (of course) and women from the beginning of the twentieth century. They chose not to change the text of the articles so you get an idea of just what people really thought of those folks at that time. Way interesting to me!
What else can I say, but Well done, guys!