The beginning of the pilgrimage is marked by proclaiming, “Labbayk, Allahumma, Labbayk,” which means, “I am here, O Lord, I am here!” This is then followed by, “You, Who have no partner – I am here! Surely all praise and blessings are Yours, and the Kingdom – I am here, O Lord, I am here!”
During the Hajj, millions of pilgrims who are present engage in circling the Kabah (tawaf). The pilgrim’s circling (tawaf) around God’s metaphorical house symbolizes one’s dependence and needed assistance of the Almighty. The circumnavigating (tawaf) also illustrates how one’s ultimate being constantly revolves around God.
After tawaf, the pilgrims hasten between two small mountains of Safa and Marwa. This rite re-enacts Hagar’s search for water for her infant son Ishmael. Alone in the desert, Hagar and her baby were in desperate need for water. She ran back and forth seven times desperately looking for some hint of moisture in the desert sands. Seeing Hagar’s effort, God produced for her the spring of Zam Zam – a spring of cool, pure water which gushed forth at Ishmael’s feet and continues to flow until this very day. By imitating Hagar’s search, the pilgrims remember her plight, but also assimilate a message within themselves that they cannot sit and wait for God’s blessings to unfold magically upon them. Rather, if people are in need of something, they should work hard for it and hope for the munificence of God.
The most significant day of the pilgrimage is the Day of Arafat. Arafat is a desert outside the city of Mecca in which all the pilgrims must be present from noon to sunset to commune with God. The time spent in Arafat marks the real essence of the Hajj, just as Prophet Muhammad said, “The Hajj is Arafat.” In Arafat, pilgrims leave behind all material possessions except for the two pieces of cloth worn during their pilgrimage—a symbol of returning to the same condition in which one was wrapped in at birth and will be clothed in at the time of death.
The vast gathering consists of millions of people all dressed alike, standing in the same place, at the same time – this surely represents the true origin and fate of humanity! We are created from dust, then we live for a short while, we die and become dust and in the end we are resurrected from dust again.
The scene of Arafat resembles what the Day of Resurrection will be like – countless individuals will be pieced back together from dust to withstand the judgment of God.
Following Arafat, the pilgrims head to a place called Mina, which is on the outskirts of Mecca; and it is here that the pilgrims throw pebbles at three stone pillars symbolizing Satan.
For the pilgrims, this act demonstrates their continuous struggle of fighting against Satan, who is the sworn enemy of mankind. This act of the pebble throwing is also another historical reenactment of Prophet Abraham and Ishmael’s sacrifices for God.
Abraham, along with his son Ishmael were on their way to fulfill the command of God; namely the slaying of Ishmael by his father. Prophet Abraham encountered Satan three times disguised as a man, and attempted to discourage Prophet Abraham from carrying out God’s orders. Instead of listening to Satan’s dissuasions, Prophet Abraham threw stones at him three times at three different areas.
At the end of the Hajj, on Eid al-Adha, each pilgrim must sacrifice an animal similar to what Prophet Abraham did in lieu of his son. The sacrifice denotes the pilgrim’s willingness to adhere to God’s commandments unconditionally. The meat of the animal must not be wasted; one-third may be kept for personal consumption, and the other two-thirds should be divided equally among friends and the indigent.