Friday, November 04, 2011

Hajj starts in the heart

03 November 2011, Thursday / BÜŞRA ERDAL, İSTANBUL

The sacred journey, the hajj, that begins with the phrase “Labbayk, Allahumma labbayk” (O God, I have answered Your call) is a ritual most people are only able to fulfill once in a lifetime.
Those who do well financially carry out this act of worship, an obligation of Muslims with no financial hardships, with no significant obstacle, whereas some of their fellow Muslims have to wait a long time before they can afford to do it.

All perform the same preparations before setting out on the pilgrimage. Pilgrims have to prepare their souls before paying a visit to the land where the Prophet of Islam was born, raised and then died. To do this, they should find books that give extensive details on the specific prayers to be performed while on the hajj and information on places to visit. They should listen to knowledgeable clerics who speak on hajj-related issues. To make sure they get to the sacred lands with minimum difficulty, they should discipline their souls, vision, ears and all senses because they are set to go to a land upon which the feet of the Prophet of Islam once walked, his eyes looked and his hands touched. This is no ordinary journey.

It is an exclusive journey during which you go back 14 centuries, kneel in front of the Baytullah (the House of God), and spend a whole night at His gate like believers had done before. This makes the visit a reunion. It is a hard but also a very easy journey -- a journey like water that moves you from one state of mind to another -- to rise like a cloud and fall like rain. Taking such a journey requires grand preparations that include those of the soul as well as preliminary work to ready your body. Women in particular take this journey so seriously that they prepare for it as if they are preparing for a wedding. Men like to convert it into a grand ceremony that involves relatives and friends.

Shopping in Süleymaniye

Because it is usually the elderly in our country who are interested in the hajj, the preliminary preparations are ordered based on this fact. Many pilgrims had already completed their preparations before the hajj season began in October. However, it is still possible to see people shopping in İstanbul's Süleymaniye neighborhood. After taking care of official requirements with the Directorate of Religious Affairs, pilgrims take the hajj information package prepared by their mufti's office. However, because this package does not include everything they will need during their journey, they have to do some additional shopping as well. Because they have to wear clothes made out of seamless cloth, men have fewer needs for the hajj. However, for women, clothing and attire are important because they will need to cover their entire bodies. Additionally, hajj stores sell cream and beige colored tunics and pants. This outfit is particularly useful in the Jamarat (“stoning the devil”) ritual, an important phase of the hajj performed in Muzdalifah and Mina, wherein pilgrims gather pebbles and cast them at a symbolic structure as part of their worship. This enables the body to move more comfortably in a crowded environment. The outfit, mostly preferred by elderly women, also protects against heat owing to its light color.

Women prefer abayas

Young ladies, on the other hand, prefer the black abaya (a loose, light, button-down gown) that the women of Mecca traditionally wear. The abaya, or “ferace” in Turkish, is still an item that a woman of any age would wear, though, and it covers the entire body. Women must be dressed in Islamic attire while performing this duty, however, they must leave their faces uncovered, even if they normally chose to wear the face veil. Pilgrims are not required to purchase items from hajj stores. They may order any custom-made clothing that is comfortable and elegant.

Because the gist of the prayer is to concretize the principle of being a servant of God among millions of servants around the world, it is necessary to symbolize this through clothing as well. People must minimize their differences in appearance from those around them. During the hajj, ladies have to wear shoes with a closed toe whereas gentlemen wear sandals. You should make sure that you have slippers and odorless soap in your baggage. It is possible to buy odorless soap in hajj stores. Because you are supposed to take your shoes off during the circumambulation, you may want to take thick socks with you as well.

On the other hand, because Mecca and Medina are so hot, you should heed the recommendations of those who have previously been there. The hajjis I talked to note that you may get scars on your body from the heat and blisters and it is necessary to use cream to address this. Men in particular are advised to use heel cream because they take part in this ritual with bare feet. However, because the hajj is an act of worship that involves difficulty and hardship, it is questionable whether it is proper to use such facilitators.

Zamzam water from Mecca, souvenirs from Turkey

There is another aspect of the hajj that concerns friends and relatives as well. Preparations on the way back from the hajj are also important. It is necessary to give presents to those who come to visit you after your pilgrimage. This has become an indispensible custom and a part of our culture. Store owners in Turkey are pretty happy about this and favor the preservation of this tradition. They hold that water from the Well of Zamzam, miswak sticks and dates should be brought back from Mecca. However, all other souvenirs and gifts can be purchased in Turkey, having been imported from Mecca, so hajjis almost always buy other trinkets from Turkey because they are less expensive and pilgrims should not be thinking about what to buy while performing the hajj. 

In conclusion, clerics hold that the hajj is an act of worship performed by the soul, not the mind. The pleasure that the soul feels during this ritual is indescribable. The soul should be purified, so you should make thorough preparations before taking off for the homeland of the Prophet of Islam....

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