One of the most important duties of the pilgrimage and the Umrah is tawaf, which means walking around the Kaabah seven times. It starts about one yard before the Black Stone, which is easily identifiable, even when the number of people doing the tawaf runs into many thousands, because of the several marks that are specially placed for guidance, such as the different color of the flooring and the light on the wall opposite the Black Stone.
The tawaf is done in an anti-clockwise movement, with a full circle completed every time a person is back at the Black Stone, or parallel with it. Normally, a pilgrim does the tawaf three times for his pilgrimage, and once for the Umrah. Moreover, the tawaf may be offered as a voluntary act of worship at anytime. In other words, it is not necessary that a person should be on a pilgrimage or an Umrah in order to do the tawaf. When we enter any mosque, it is recommended that we offer a voluntary prayer of two rak’ahs as a greeting to the mosque. This is, however, not done when we enter the Sacred Mosque which houses the Kaabah. The greeting in this mosque is tawaf. Hence, it is important to know the requirements of the tawaf and what is recommended for it so that we may be able to do it properly.
1. The first requirement is purification, in the religious sense of the word. Thus, a person who intends to do the tawaf must make sure that he has removed any impurity from himself or the garments he is wearing, and he should perform the ablution, or wudu. Most schools of thought are of the opinion that without ablution, the tawaf is not valid. The Hanafi school of thought, however, considers purification a condition of tawaf. This means that a person who does the tawaf without having performed the ablution first is required to slaughter a sheep in compensation for violating this condition, but his tawaf is valid. A person who performs the tawaf when he is in the state of ceremonial impurity, or janabah, which results from ejaculation or sexual intercourse, or a woman who does so during her menstrual period, is required to slaughter a cow or a camel in compensation for this violation.
The tawaf is the only duty of the pilgrimage, which is not done by a woman in her period. Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, reports: “When I arrived in Makkah I was in the middle of my period. I did not do the tawaf around the Kasbah, nor the sa’ie between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. I complained of this to God’s messenger, and he said to me: ‘Do as all pilgrims do, but do not walk around the Kaabah until you have regained your state of purity.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
2. Covering the awrah. The Prophet says: “The tawaf is a prayer, except that God has made it lawful for us to speak while doing it. He who talks, then, must only say what is good.” With such a comparison, all scholars are in agreement that the parts of the body, which must be covered during prayer, must also be covered during the tawaf. A man must cover himself from the waistline down to below his knees. A woman covers all her body with the exception of her face and hands. In support of this requirement, scholars also quote the authentic tradition of the Prophet when he sent Abu Bakr to conduct the pilgrimage in the year preceding the one when he himself did the pilgrimage. Abu Bakr carried out the Prophet’s order to announce to all pilgrims: “No idolater will be allowed to offer the pilgrimage after this year and no nude person will be allowed to do the tawaf.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
3. A further requirement is that the tawaf must be seven full circles. The omission of one step makes it invalid. If a person is in doubt as to how many times he went around the Kaabah, he acts on the basis of the lower number so that he is absolutely certain of completing seven times. If doubts do not arise in his mind until after he has finished the tawaf and left, then his tawaf is considered valid. He must walk in an anti-clockwise movement, so that the Kaabah is always to his left. If he does the tawaf in the opposite direction, his tawaf is not valid.
4. The tawaf must be done from outside the Kaabah. The semi-circular area known as Hijr Ismaeel is considered to be a part of the Kaabah. Hence, if anyone goes through it during his tawaf, his tawaf is not valid.
These are the main requirements of tawaf. Some schools of thought, notably the Maliki and the Hanbali, also require that the seven circles be consecutive. Only a short break is allowed between them, or a longer break made for a valid reason. The other two schools of thought consider this to be a Sunnah. All scholars, however, are in agreement that if congregational prayers are called when a person is in the middle of his tawaf, he should join the prayers and finish his tawaf after the prayer is over. This is definitely a valid reason for breaking the tawaf.
It is also important to be calm during the tawaf. As we have already said, the tawaf is an act of worship. Hence, our approach to it must be the same as to our obligatory prayers. With the great crowd doing the tawaf during the pilgrimage, it is always possible that tempers flare up. Everyone, however, must remember that he cannot enter into an argument with another person during an act of worship. If he is pushed, or someone trips on his foot, he should not retaliate in kind. It is always better to forgive. It is much more so during an act of worship. On the other hand, one must always be considerate to others. If people walking behind him push him, he must try to make the pushing end with him, and not to allow himself to push others. As he is engaged in his worship, praising God or praying Him for himself or his family or for other people, he must not lose sight of the fact that God rewards those who do not retaliate for other people’s mistakes. Let us always remember, then, that to be considerate to others, especially when the tawaf becomes such a hard task with the great number of people doing it during the pilgrimage season, is very important and will be amply rewarded by God.
Furthermore, it is important to remember, especially during the high season, that we should join the tawaf and leave when we finish in an easy, slow movement in order not to cause any inconvenience to fellow worshipers. Some people try to cut right across the path of tawaf when they have finished. This is both improper and dangerous, considering that the newcomers join in at the same point and that the whole movement slows down fro greeting the Black Stone for every new circle. It is far more advisable to continue moving with the rest of people easing ourselves out slowly and gradually, until we are outside the circle.