Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Hajj

So, I'm guessing that the sheep sacrifice in Morocco must be for a feast related to the pilgrimage to Mecca, or the 'hajj'. Millions of Muslims are completing the hajj this week. Every Muslim is required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their life, if at all possible. The Qur'an does say that Muslims who absolutely cannot make the pilgrimage can do other things to make up for it.

In his own life, Muhammad made the pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca not long before his death. If I remember this right [I'm no Islamic scholar] he was originally a fairly successful merchant in Mecca, which was a thriving trading center of the Arabian peninsula. Anyway, when he was about middle-aged, Muhammad found himself spiritually unsatisfied and retreated to a cave to fast and pray to God. This is when he started having visions of the Angel Gabriel giving him the revelations that make up the Qur'an. The book is meant to be taken as the third book of God, after the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible.

Anyway, Muhammad finally told his tribe about these visions, and they accepted them as truth; but the other people of Mecca did not. The early Muslim community was ridiculed, boycotted and attacked. Finally, an attempt was made on Muhammad's life, so the group moved to a city called Yasrib in the north- a competing trading city. They were much better accepted here- in fact, the city was renamed ''Medina'', or ''city of the prophet''. But, the Meccans were still hostile and there was eventually a series of wars between the Muslims and the Meccans. In the end, the Muslims won and, by the time of Muhammad's death, the religion was accepted throughout the peninsula.

So, this was the setting for Muhammad's pilgrimage to a holy site in Mecca- a building called the kaaba, which I think tradition holds as dating back to Abraham. If you remember, in the Old Testament, Abraham was supposed to kill his son at God's command. He was ready to kill the boy, but God intervened at the last moment and allowed him to sacrifice a sheep instead. I think this might have something to do with the sacrifices taking place this week. Also, as I remember it, Muhammad cleansed the kaaba of idols when he returned with tens of thousands of his followers as a conqueror.

Again, my Muslim history is cursory at best. My assumption though is that the feast taking place in the city my sister lives in is related to Eid al-Adha, the feast that traditionally ends the pilgrimage.

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