"Pilgrimage [Hajj] is a duty men owe to Allah, those who can afford the journey thither” (Holy Qur’an 3:97)
It is considered the largest annual gathering of the human race. The Hajj pilgrimage is that supreme symbol of universal brotherhood, where class, color, race, language and all other outward differences give way to devotion to the One and Only Creator of the universe. Those who can afford the journey converge on Holy Mecca in the first week of the month of Dhil-Hijja, to make obeisance at that ancient edifice, the first house made for mankind.
The pilgrims come chanting in unison the glory of God:
"Labbayk, Allahumma labbayk! La sharika laka labbayk; Inn-al-hamda wan-ni`mata laka wal-mulk. Lasharika laka labbayk."
(Yes, here I am O Lord, here I am. There is no partner for You, here I am. Surely the praise, the bounties and the kingdom are yours; There is no partner for You, here I am.)
Attired in the simplest of clothing, the two-piece white colored Ihram which resembles the shroud that we all have to wear one day on our final journey from the material world, the faithful do the rounds of the House of God and perform the other rites.
The simple cube-shaped structure, the Holy Ka`ba, which was reconstructed by Abraham (AS) and his first born son Ishmael (AS), continues to stand as solemn testimony to faith, virtue, purity of purpose, and above all the concept of universality that is not found in any other religion other than Islam. It is regarded as the sanctum sanctorum. It is the focal point of Islam. Wherever a Muslim might be around the world, at the time of the five daily prayers, he has to face the Ka`ba.
"And [remember] when We made the House a place of assembly for mankind and a sanctuary [saying], take you to the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We enjoined Abraham and Ishmael [saying], purify My House for those who circumambulate and those who abide for devotion and those who bow down and those who prostrate.” (Holy Qur'an 2:125)
Father and son had erected it from the state of rubble in which it was lying for centuries since the deluge in the time of Noah. And when the foundations were raised and when they re-installed the sacred black heavenly stone (Hajar-ul-Aswad) which was recovered from the nearby Mount Abu Qubayss, God commanded them to invite mankind for the pilgrimage to the then remote and uninhabited place. No soul other than the family of three (the third being Abraham's wife Hajar) was in sight, yet father and son dutifully did the bidding of the Lord.
“And proclaim unto mankind the Hajj; they will come to you on foot and on lean camel, coming from every [remote] path.” (Holy Qur'an 22:27)
The response to Abraham's call was electric. The faithful have never stopped visiting, and each year multitudes gather to perform the pilgrimage rites.
Mecca was a wilderness in Abraham's days, and as a divine test the great Patriarch had been commanded by God to leave his wife and son in the barren waterless land. He had obeyed and left. Pilgrims continue to commemorate Hajar's frantic running between the two hillocks of Safa and Marwa in search of water when the infant Ishmael became restless with thirst. As a tired Hajar tried to avoid watching the moving spectacle of her thirsty infant restlessly drubbing the earth with his legs, the elixir of life gushed forth from beneath his feet.
“Surely the Safa and Marwa are among the signs of Allah...” (Holy Qur'an 2:158) It was not a mirage. It was precious water and it continued to flow after quenching the thirst of the mother and child, until Hajar cried: “Zam-Zam” (stop). The water calmed down and settled in the shape of a well.Years later, Abraham returned to find his dear family safe and secure in the Balad-ul-Amin (Secure Land), to quote the Holy Qur'an's term for Mecca. He was commanded to rebuild the sacred edifice.
God then put Abraham to another ordeal, ordering him to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The Prophet instantly obeyed but while executing the order, miraculously a ram was substituted for Ishmael. He was aghast that perhaps his sacrifice was not accepted. But the Merciful God reassured His faithful servant of his great success, saying "...We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.” (Holy Qur'an 37:107).
Yes, Abraham had passed the test. Hajj pilgrims commemorate the ordeal of faith in Mecca by spending the 9th of Dhil-Hijja in the nearby plain of Arafat in prayer and in awakening the proper consciousness of God in their inner conscience. They then march on to Mina the next day, having spent the night at Muzdalifa where they gather pebbles for the symbolic stoning of Satan at the three spots where he had tried to dissuade in vain, first Abraham, then Ishmael and lastly Hajar against carrying out God's commandments. Then follows the slaughtering of an animal (preferably a ram) in remembrance of Abraham's sacrifice, after which the pilgrims move on to Mecca for the circumambulating of the Ka`ba and the symbolic running between Safa and Marwa.
“Then let them get cleaned and smarten themselves and fulfill their vows, and let them circumambulate the Ancient House.” (Holy Qur'an 22:29)
After another night or two in Mina and the renewed stoning of the Satan, the pilgrims visit the Holy Ka`ba for Tawaf-un-Nisa and the end of the ritual. They are supposed to come out clean and purified with a new sense of brotherhood and a resurgent faith which should make them extra cautious of the whispering satans that lurk everywhere around, even in their own hearts, waiting for an opportunity to push them into error.
But what was that Great Sacrifice which ransomed Ishmael? Surely the ram which the Archangel Gabriel substituted at the last moment for Ishmael was too insignificant a creature to serve as ransom for the noble son of Abraham. God uses the adjective “Great” before sacrifice which means the ransom should be of equal worth if not greater than Ishmael. As Islamic scholars including those of the Sunni school have pointed out, the actual ransom had to wait for more than two millennium before appearing on the plain of Karbala in 61 AH (680 CE) when Imam Hussayn (AS), that great scion of the house of Abraham and Ishmael, was martyred in order to ensure eternity for divine principles of humanitarian values.