“And proclaim the Pilgrimage among people,” says the Qur’an in Chapter 22 (“Hajj”), Verse 27. “They will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways.” And in Verses 29 and 30, “Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House. Such (is the Pilgrimage): Whoever honors the sacred Rites of God, for him it is good in the sight of his Lord.”
Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah, is one of the five pillars of Islam, the duty of every Muslim who is physically and financially able to perform it, and a journey different from any worldly travel. In the 19th century BC, Muslims believe, Ibrahim—the Patriarch Abraham of the Bible, revered by the followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism—was instructed by God to build a house of worship in a narrow valley between two barren ridges. He built it in a place called Bakka, today called Makkah, on the present site of the Ka’bah, the cubical structure inside the Grand Mosque.
Since that time, Makkah has been the fifth century of our era, under the dominance of the Quraysh, one of the Makkan tribes, both commerce and pilgrimage flourished in the city, yet the monotheism that Ibrahim had preached had been nearly forgotten: Idols representing as many as 360 different deities are believed to have been erected in and around the Ka’bah during this era, many placed there by travelers of the caravan routes. These remained until the Prophet Muhammad’s return to Makkah from Madinah in 629.
Two years later, Muhammad himself made the first Hajj and by his example showed Muslims the rituals that have been followed ever since. Near the Mount of Mercy on the plain of ‘Arafat, he gave his farewell sermon, in part of which he emphasized kindness toward pilgrims: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve,” he said. “Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”
For the better part of the next 14 centuries, the journey to Makkah remained arduous and lengthy, with many pilgrims taking not days but months or years to reach Makkah. On their way, they were exposed to storm, shipwreck, banditry, heat, disease and extortion, to name a few of the common hardships. It became incumbent on the tribes of Makkah to receive the pilgrims warmly, in recognition of the hardships they had endured en route.
Caliphs who followed the Prophet honored the Hajj in two major ways: First, by caring for and improving the Sacred Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah; and second, by working to mitigate the journey’s hardships by providing caravan security, clear roads, fresh wells and khanas, or rest areas, along the routes. However, it remained the duty of the Makkan people to host the pilgrims. Jurists have long debated whether a Makkan may even charge a pilgrim—who is God’s guest, really— for accommodation at all, or whether a modest charge is acceptable. The modern outcome of this debate is that the Saudi government currently regulates the prices pilgrims may be charged for most necessities, and many people do indeed provide accommodation to pilgrims without charge, as an act of charity.
||Ahmad ibn Saifuddin Turkistani, Ph.D., is director of the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, based in Fairfax, Virginia.