“Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah - blessed and a guidance for the worlds.” (Quran, 3:96)
Hajj is the fifth and last pillar of Islam. Circumstances permitting, Muslims are required to go to Makkah during the month of Dhou al-Hijja, the twelfth month of the Hegira calendar, to perform a number of rites. The importance of pilgrimage is highlighted in the Quran: “Behold, the first House (of Prayer) established for mankind is the one at Makkah: it is full of blessing and a centre of guidance for the whole world. “(Quran, 3:96) and the Sunnah as Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) cited Hajj as one of the five pillars on which Islam is built: “Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the Salah (prayer), paying the Zakat (obligatory charity), making the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the House, and fasting in Ramadan" [Bukhari & Muslim]. The faithful who are successful in both performing the rites of the pilgrimage in devotion, and withstanding the trials with patience and consistency, will be rewarded with paradise, as the prophet said: “…an accepted Hajj brings no reward but Paradise” (Al-Bukhaari and Muslim).
Today, as Muslims around the world perform the sacred Hajj pilgrimage or prepare to fast, pray and contribute charitably during the Dhul Hijjah period, it’s important that we remind ourselves of the story behind Hajj. It began with our father, Prophet Ibrahim (as), who came to be known as The Friend of Allah through his sincere submission and unflinching faith. Allah (SWT) instructed him to prepare his wife Hajjar and baby Ismail for a long journey. Ibrahim told Hajjar and Ismail to climb a hill called al-Marwa and leave his wife and child under the shelter of a tree, equipped with a bag of dates and some water. Searching for water to survive, Hajjar collapsed between as-Safa and al-Marwa. Then Angel Jibreel came and hit powerfully the sandy ground. A stream of water called Zamzam came out.
Years later, when Prophet Ibrahim returned to Makkah, he learned about the death of his wife. Prophet Ibrahim and Ismail called people to worship Allah (SWT). Ibrahim wanted a special place where people can completely focus on the praise of Allah (SWT). Soon after, Prophet Ibrahim was told by Allah (SWT) to build a shrine dedicated to Him. Kaaba was ordained by Allah (SWT) to be built in the shape of the House in Heaven called Baitul Ma’amoor. Allah in his infinite Mercy ordained a similar place on earth and Prophet Adam was the first to build this place.
Prophet Ibrahim and his son worked together to build the Kaaba. When the construction was finished, the Angel Jibreel came down from heaven to teach Ibrahim the rituals of Hajj. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving city thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zam Zam.
When Prophet Ibrahim had completed the structure of the Kaaba, Allah commanded him to call the people to Hajj “[mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], "Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass. That they may witness benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. So eat of them and feed the miserable and poor. Then let them end their untidiness and fulfill their vows and perform Tawaf around the ancient House, (Quran; 22:26-29).
However, gradually the people began to adopt polytheistic ideas, and worship spirits and many different gods. The shrine of the Prophet Ibrahim was used to store idols. The Quraysh tribe, who ruled Makkah, rebuilt the pre-Islamic Kaaba with alternating courses of masonry and wood. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was driven out of Makkah in 620 CE to Medina.
Upon his return to Makkah in 629/30 CE, the shrine became the focal point for Muslim worship and pilgrimage as Allah told Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) that he should restore the Kaaba for the worship of Allah (SWT) only. In the year 628 CE the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) set out on a journey with 1400 of his followers. This was the first Islamic pilgrimage, and it would re-establish the religious traditions of the Prophet Ibrahim. Since that time, once a year, Muslims of every ethnicity, racial background, social status, and culture gather together in Makkah and stand before the Kaaba praising Allah together. Indeed, the pilgrimage of Hajj to Makka in Saudi Arabia is considered the world’s largest human gathering with almost 2.5 million pilgrims in 2019.
Thinking about trusting our safety to Allah (SWT), Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” (Al-Tirmidhī). It should also be mentioned that Allah (SWT) says: "And We made this House (Ka'bah) a resort for mankind and a place of security…." (Quran, 2:125). My understanding from this Quranic verse is that the Kaabah during Hajj should always be made safe for pilgrims. While considering safety and security of Makkah, it’s important to note that even during the pre-Islamic era (the Age of Ignorance in Arabia) this sanctuary enjoyed such veneration that even those who thirsted for each other's blood saw their enemies in the sacred territory but dared not attack them.
In 2020, a pandemic created by COVID-19 has gripped the world. This situation is a clear sign of the presence of Allah (SWT). However, many hundred years before the advancement of modern sciences, Islam identified the importance of behavioral practices to keep us safe, such as cleanliness, personal hygiene, consumption of Halal food and quarantine which are essential to prevent the spread of endemic diseases. Muslims take daily precautions to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria, a practice called Wudu (Ablution), as we wash our hands, arms, faces, and feet 5 times a day. Moreover, in the case of an outbreak of epidemic disease, the Prophet (PBUH) advised us “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place” (Bukhari). Therefore, for the safety and protection of the health and well-being of the pilgrims, officials of Hajj in Saudi Arabia must rely upon data and other information collected about the coronavirus by the trusted global institutions as The World Health Organization (WHO), and follow their recommendations. Indeed, Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Quran “So ask those who possess knowledge if you do not know” (Quran, 16:43). Therefore, around 1,000 pilgrims from different nationalities already present in the Saudi Arabia will perform Al Hajj respecting all safety measures. This upcoming Hajj pilgrimage will be a testament to the harmony between safety and faith, and will serve as proof that protecting one another is truly part of faith.
In addition, as mentioned in the Quranic verse “Complete Hajj and 'Umrah for Allah. And if you are prevented from doing so, then make the offering which is available to you, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches its appointed place” (Quran 2:196). If any obstruction prevents a person from proceeding with the Pilgrimage and he is forced to stay behind, he (she) should make a sacrificial offering to Allah (SWT) of whatever is available - for example, either a camel, a cow, a goat, or a sheep.
On a final note, The Merciful (SWT) Loves us and certainly does not want to harm us as He mentioned, “Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you…” (Quran; 2:185).