The annual season of Hajj is now under way. Every Muslim who is financially capable is required by the Koran - the Muslim holy scripture - to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at the annual season of Hajj, at least once in their lifetime. The culmination of the Hajj is the Id-al Adha, the festival of sacrifice, which this year falls on Wednesday, December 19 and Thursday, December 20. Amin Fekrat describes the Muslim celebration.
The muezzin repeatedly calls to prayer, "God is most great? I bear witness to greatness of God." At the muezzin's call, Muslims, around the world, turn toward Mecca and prostrate themselves in humility before God to say their daily prayer:
"God is great
I bear witness to the oneness of God
And, I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger."
It was in Mecca, close to the year 570, that Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was born. Forty years after his birth, Muhammad began to guide his people and to teach them the oneness of God. By doing so, the Islamic faith teaches, Muhammad completed a tradition begun by Adam and followed by a succession of prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, in order that humanity would be in peace and in covenant with God.
Soon after Muhammad started his teachings, he asked his clansmen from the elite tribe of Quraysh to abandon their worship of idols.
But, faced with defiance and persecution, Muhammad fled Mecca with a handful of his followers and journeyed to Medina, then an oasis 320 kilometers north of Mecca. The flight, or Hegira, of the prophet of Islam in the year 622 marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Muhammad thrived in Median and, eight years after his flight, he returned to Mecca, in triumph, to witness the removal of idols from Ka'ba, the House of God.
Muslim tradition has it that Abraham, the Patriarch, built Ka'ba as the House of God. Located in one corner of Ka'ba is the "black Stone," or "Hajar-al-Aswad," which Muslims believe was given by God to Abraham as reward for his faithfulness. The stone represents the covenant between God and humans.
The great Patriarch, in a test of his faith and rectitude, was ordered by God to sacrifice his son, Ismael. However, God, satisfied that Abraham had passed the test of faith, offered a ram to be sacrificed in place of his son at the last minute. The "Eed-al Adha," or the festival of sacrifice commemorates these events.
For more than 14 centuries, Muslims around the world have cast their eyes toward Ka'ba and looked forward to the day when they would be able to set foot in Mecca, a barren valley, surrounded by harsh hills in today's Saudi Arabia.
Pilgrims to Mecca start their arduous journey stripped of the trappings of class, power, privilege and status. Men don the "Ihram," a two-piece cloth cover. Women pilgrims wear a head-to-toe white garment that reveals only their faces and hands. The pilgrims then head toward Ka'ba, chanting the "Talbiyya," a prayer to Allah:
"Here we come O' Allah
No partner have thee
And the Blessings are yours."
After reaching Ka'ba, the pilgrims start their "tawaf," or the act of circumambulation, a ritual in which they walk seven times, counterclockwise, around Ka'ba. They then make the "Sa'ay," the trip between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. A trip to Mina takes place on the eighth day of the Hajj.
The following morning, the pilgrims make a trip to the plains of Arafat, near the site of Muhammad's "Farewell Address," where they pray from noon to sunset. At night, the pilgrims retreat to a place called the "Muzdalifah."
Then they return to Mina for three days, where they cast stones at the three pillars representing the Satan. A final walk around the Ka'ba and sacrifice of animals bring the Hajj to a close.