Nearly two million Muslims from all around the world began the annual Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
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“Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (I come to you, Oh my Lord, I come to you), the white-clad pilgrims chanted as they moved to the tent city of Mina at the beginning of the spiritual journey.
On Monday, the pilgrims will ascend Mount Arafat, where Prophet Muhammad delivered his sermon to pilgrims during his last Haj, at the climax of the soul-searching ritual, asking for God’s forgiveness and mercy.
“All pilgrims wear the same dress during Haj because they are all equal before Allah,” Talip Ozdes, a professor of Sharia law at Cumhuriyet University in Turkey, told Anadolu Agency.
“They come together with the feeling of being brothers,” he said.
Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The ritual consists of several rituals, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform Haj at least once in a lifetime.
After sunset, pilgrims will head to Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they stay at least until midnight.
They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil for three days.
The ritual is an emulation of Prophet Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade him from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ismael.
After the stoning, the pilgrims will perform the ritual of Udhiya (animal sacrifice) to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Ismael.
“Prophet Abraham and his son Ismael did not hesitate to surrender to their Lord (Allah),” Ozdes said.
“The son was ready to sacrifice his life and the father was obeying his Lord to sacrifice his only beloved son for the sake of Allah,” he said.
Then, the pilgrims go to the Great Mosque in Mecca to circumambulate the Kaaba, a huge cube-shaped structure into which is set the Black Stone, Islam’s most sacred relic.
“Kaaba is the holiest site for all Muslims and is the direction to which they perform their daily prayers,” Ozdes said.