It is normally important to begin discussion of any religious duty by defining its importance within the overall religious framework and its value to the individual and the community. All Muslims regard the pilgrimage as the duty which they most dearly wish to fulfill. People come from every part of the world, each spending his or her life savings, undertaking a very hard journey in order to do the pilgrimage. Two factors contribute to this:
The first is that in pilgrimage the very essence of Islam is felt as a practical reality. Islam means submission to God, which is true, sincere and real. It is not a verbal statement or claim. It is a lifestyle. Perhaps no other duty of Islam symbolizes this reality in a very tangible manner as the pilgrimage. This meaning of submission to God is felt and appreciated by all pilgrims, naturally, regardless of their standard of education. Every duty and every action the pilgrim does reminds him of his place in relation to God, that is, he is a servant of God, his Lord and sustainer, and he does what God bids him to do.
The other factor is that of the reward God has promised His servants for a proper pilgrimage. Every one of us commits mistakes. Everyone is guilty of sins. Sin is not inherent in man. He is not born a sinner as some other creeds maintain. According to Islam, every human being is born pure. Nothing is taken against him until he has come of age. In this, men and women are alike. It is only when people are of mature age that their actions are counted for or against them. Indeed, good actions done by a child earn him and those who have taught him to do good a reward from God. If a child gives money for charity both the child and the person who has encouraged him or her to do that are rewarded. If a child is taken by his parents on pilgrimage, both they and the child are rewarded. Sinful actions, however, are not counted against any child until the child is old enough to distinguish good from evil, permissible from forbidden.
We are all sinners because there are many incentives for us to either neglect our duties or to indulge in what is forbidden. Every one of us yields to temptation at one time or another in his life. We do not need to give examples of the many temptations that offer themselves to us every day to commit all sorts of sinful actions, petty or otherwise. Over the years, we accumulate a long list of sinful actions which become a heavy burden on us. We may pray God for forgiveness, and He is sure to answer our prayers when He knows that our repentance is true, serious and sincere. We cannot, however, be absolutely certain of being forgiven because there will always remain the element of doubt in our repentance. We may not be truly sincere or truly serious. We can always relapse into our bad habits. We can never be certain that should temptation offer itself again tomorrow we would be able to resist it. Hence, we need something tangible to assure us of our forgiveness. God has given us several ways to ensure such forgiveness. Most prominent among these is the pilgrimage.
The Prophet says: “He who offers the pilgrimage purely for the sake of God, without committing any indecency or evil deed, returns as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him.” (Related by Al-Bukhari). What earns this reward is the fact that the pilgrimage is an act of worship which requires us to make our submission to God a reality by totally disregarding all values and considerations that may be in conflict with that submission. We put aside all values in our lives, and come forward as ordinary individuals, without position or rank, except that of being obedient servants of God.
God’s compassion is far greater than the compassion we feel toward our own children. He never turns away anyone who stands at His doorstep, seeking His forgiveness. He only requires us to be serious and sincere in our repentance. Once we are, He is certain to forgive us. Nothing shows our seriousness better than the pilgrimage.
Therefore, it is only natural that the Prophet explains the qualifications which make a pilgrimage pure and appropriate in order to earn the desired reward. In the above quoted Hadith we have two conditions: that no indecency or evil deed may be committed during the pilgrimage. ‘Indecency’ refers to sex. Sexual intercourse with one’s wife is absolutely forbidden during the time when one is in the state of consecration, or ihraam. The prohibition, however, includes speaking about sex or hinting at it. ‘Evil deeds’ refer to every action that represents disobedience to God. It is only natural that during the period when we are demonstrating our repentance from past sins, and declaring our total submission to God, we should be required not to commit any new sinful action.
If we meet these two conditions, namely, no indecency and no fresh sins, we merit the great reward of forgiveness of all our past sins. Our slate is wiped clean. We are re-born. We are as free of sin as a baby just born.
God has made the pilgrimage full of tangible evidence that reminds us of our submission to Him. He knows what is in our hearts. He knows whether our repentance is sincere and serious or not. It is we who need to have the tangible evidence. The restrictions during the pilgrimage are part of that evidence. We spoke last time of the restrictions of ihraam.
These restrictions begin when we arrive at the point of meeqat, on our journey to Makkah. We change our clothes, and wear the garments of ihraam, and observe all the restrictions of that state. Since people come from various parts of the world, the Prophet defined for us the points where we enter into the state of consecration or ihraam. Al-Bukhari relates: “The Prophet has named as a starting point for the people of Madinah the place called Thul-Hulayfah, and for the people of Syria, Al-Juhfah, and for those coming from Najd, Qarn Al-Manazil, and for the people of Yemen, Yalamlam.” He also said: “They (the starting points) are for the them (i.e. the people of these areas) and for anyone who comes through them of people of other places who intend to do the pilgrimage or the Umrah. Those who are nearer (to Makkah) than these places start their consecration where they begin their journey, so much so that the people of Makkah begin in Makkah.”
The Prophet has thus defined four places in the four directions from Makkah. The distance between these and Makkah is unequal; the furthest being Thul-Hulayfah, which is very close to Madinah. It is known nowadays as Abyar Ali, after the well at that point. The other three places are roughly at equal distance from Makkah. Al-Juhfah, which is the starting point for people from Syria, applies also to people coming from Egypt and areas further to the northwest. Nowadays, people from these parts of the world start their consecration at the town of Rabigh, which is very close to Al-Juhfah.
We note that the Prophet named the starting points for the areas where Islam had taken hold in his own lifetime. When Islam spread into Iraq, its people put their case to Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph. They said that their route to Makkah was far from Qarn Al-Manazil, the starting point for the people of Najd. If they were to come to it, they would add to the hardship of their long journey, taking one day extra. Umar told them to take a parallel point to Qarn Al-Manazil on their route, and start their consecration there. The place he chose for them was known as That Irq.
If we draw a line connecting these five points we have an area which has come to be known as the Hil area. Pilgrims who are coming to Makkah must begin their ihraam when they reach the borders of this area, without necessarily going to their particular places, or meeqats. Nowadays, with most pilgrims traveling by air, it is not necessary that flights should change their routes in order to fly over one of these five particular points. Pilgrims need only to begin their state of consecration when their plane reaches the Hil area.
There is some disagreement among scholars with regard to people from the places named by the Prophet and their starting points. Would a person from Syria who comes through Madinah start his ihraam at Al-Juhfah, which is the starting point if he was coming directly from Syria, or at Thul-Hulayfah, the starting point of people from Madinah. The weightier view is that he starts his ihraam at Thul-Hulayfah, joining the people of Madinah. This is indicated by the Prophet’s statement that those points are for the people of the areas he named and all others who come through them.
We also understand from the Prophet’s statement that it is permissible for people who visit Makkah for reasons other than doing the pilgrimage or the Umrah to go there without entering into the state of consecration. People who live within the Hil area, and those who arrive in that area on their business then decide to go to Makkah for the pilgrimage or the Umrah, start their ihraam at the place where they find themselves when they are about to start their journey. It is not necessary for them to go back to the point of meeqat.
A number of contemporary scholars have expressed the view that pilgrims traveling by air or sea and landing at Jeddah should start their consecration when they arrive in Jeddah. These scholars consider that such pilgrims do not cross any point of meeqat while flying or at sea. Hence, they reach the Hil area when they are on land, i.e. at Jeddah. This view has strong validity, and it makes things easier for all pilgrims coming from distant places. However, the majority view is that Jeddah is within the meeqat and pilgrims traveling by air or ship should start their consecration when they reach a point on their journey parallel with the meeqat.