Friday, July 01, 2016

Ramadan 2016, Day 24 – Hajj and Umrah Hadiths

(Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers! I’m going to eat something with maple syrup tonight.)

The pilgrimage to Mecca is very important to a Muslim. Performing the Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and requires a Muslim, if able, to perform the Hajj pilgrimage once in his life. Before the advent of air travel going all the way to Mecca was a big journey, one that most Muslims could not afford. Now, on the other hand, it is much easier to get to Mecca so the Saudi Government has to limit the number of Muslims attending Hajj each year by restricting how many Hajj visas they provide, “only” a few million or so.

Hajj has to be performed at a specific time so all of those millions of pilgrims do all the same rituals together, and unfortunately because of the large crowds there sometimes problems with crushing or stampeding, leading to dozens or even hundreds of deaths. The Saudi Government has spent a lot of money over the decades expanding, and expanding, and expanding the facilities to be able to accommodate more pilgrims and prevent problems. It’s a delicate balance, they have to let Muslims perform the Hajj because of how important it is that the same time they have to put some limits in to try to minimize crowding deaths (I’m sure if there were no restrictions more than 10 million would show up to try to perform the Hajj).

Umrah, a mini-pilgrimage, is a smaller event (takes less than a day) and can be performed at any time other than the Hajj. While it is not required for a Muslim to perform Umrah it is certainly encouraged.

Given the importance of the rituals little surprise that there are a lot of hadiths regarding them. My book of hadiths has “The Book of the Rites of Hajj and Umrah” and it’s over 160 pages.

While it is common in some Muslim societies for women to cover their faces with a veil or niqab, during Hajj a woman is not allowed to cover her face. She can cover her hair though.

A woman cannot perform Hajj without being accompanied by her husband or a close male relative, known as a mahram. This hadith restriction on not being able to perform the Hajj without a mahram I think reverberates through many other aspects of some Islamic societies. If a woman cannot perform Hajj without a mahram then, by extension, a woman should not be going anywhere without a mahram (an extremist position best exemplified by the Taliban when they controlled Afghanistan).

Interestingly, on this webpage from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, women over the age of 45 can apply for a Hajj visa without a mahram, provided they are traveling in a group, and provide a letter from their husband or other male relative that it is okay for them to travel.

Children can also accompany their parents or guardians and perform the rites of Hajj but this will not relieve them from the obligation to perform Hajj when they are an adult. The obligation for a Muslim to perform Hajj applies to adults so performing it as a child does not mean you never have to perform Hajj again. The Saudi Government will issue Hajj visas to minors if accompanied by their family, though I don’t think it is common (due to the expense and the crowded conditions) for pilgrims to bring children to Hajj.

Now to conduct a pilgrimage one has to ritually purify themselves before they enter the city. This state of purification is known as Ihram. There's a great wiki page discussing it. Because one has to remain in a state of Ihram during Hajj or Umrah actually there are a lot of hadiths surrounding what is and isn't permissible when in Ihram.

It is fine to conduct trade while in Ihram, there were five hadiths specifically discussing this.

You should not apply perfume or other scents once you are in Ihram. You can apply perfume before you become Ihram though, as the Prophet was known to do so. In modern times this also applies to make-up, scented soaps, and even deodorants. However, you can apply products to your hair, such as gel, that helps keep it together and helps reduce it from getting dirty with dust and sand. One hadith mentions that the Prophet would apply a paste of honey to his hair.

Another key aspect of the Hajj is a requirement for a pilgrim to sacrifice an animal on the third day of the Hajj so there are a number of hadiths around that (how to transport them, what animals are accepted with a sacrifice, what if the animal dies en route to Mecca etc.). Nowadays, thanks to millions of pilgrims being able to reach Mecca for Hajj each year, they don't bring their own animals but there's still the issue of how to deal with the slaughter of so many animals at once, creating far more meat than the pilgrims could possibly eat. Saudi Arabia has started putting things in place to deal with the problem, including flash-freezing meat so that it can be shipped to other countries, and allowing pilgrims to purchase ‘sacrifice vouchers’ after which at an appointed time an animal will be slaughtered in their name, saving the pilgrim from having to find and slaughter their own animal.

More hadiths to come, still 4-5 days to go for Ramadan.

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