THE PILGRIMAGE OF ISLAM
ENCOMPASSING THE FIVE SCHOOLS OF LAW
Pilgrimage in Different Religions and Cultures
Many religions and cultures have practised a form of pilgrimage.
Islam, however, is the only spiritual discipline in which
pilgrimage has been made an obligatory rite. We shall briefly
explore the practice of pilgrimage in Judaism, Christianity,
Buddhism and Hinduism and a few other cultures.
Pilgrimage among the Jews
Jews came to Palestine to visit places associated with biblical
events. In Judges 21:19 there is a reference to the festival of
Jehovah which took place annually at Shiloh to the north of
Bethel. In Hebrew this festival is called the hag, a word
which is almost identical to the Arabic word for pilgrimage (hajj).
Once the Tabernacle had been installed, the pilgrim made a
sacrifice and prostrated at the shrine. In more ancient times
only the head of the family participated in the activities, while
in later times the whole family took part.
the seventh month of the Hebrew year, pilgrims went to Jerusalem
to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. They shaved their
beards, wore ragged clothes and brought offerings and incense.
The Book of Psalms contains songs sung by the pilgrims to
celebrate their visit to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Pilgrimage among the early Christians
Christians also visited Palestine to see places associated with
biblical events. An account exists from a Christian woman named
Egeria who lived around 400 CE in which she tells of her
pilgrimage to Palestine and the sites she visited. The central
devotional practice which she and her group performed was to read
the passage of the Bible relevant to each site they visited. It
was during the reign of Constantine in the early fourth century
that a pattern of public worship associated with these sites
Certain centres of pilgrimage had developed in Europe by the early
fourth century. The bones of Peter and Paul were enshrined in
Rome, and the graves of the many Christian martyrs who died under
Roman persecution became shrines. The shrines of lesser pious
people and martyrs appeared all over Europe and people visited
these sites in anticipation of blessings. It became a custom, and
in 787 CE a church decree, that every church should have some kind
of relic associated with a saint or martyr. A trade in ‘the limbs
of martyrs’ had begun, as reported by St. Augustine of Hippo in
400 CE. To explain the resultant flood of articles, it was widely
believed that all relics possessed the miraculous power of
self-multiplication. The test of popularity as to whether a
particular site became a place of constant visitation was whether
the relic had the power to perform miracles or not. Those that
were reputed to have this power enjoyed a steady stream of
Besides Rome, there were only a few other places in Europe that
enjoyed international popularity, such as Santiago de Compostella
in northern Spain, where in 816 CE the body of St. James was said
to have been miraculously rescued from the waves of the Atlantic.
There was a popular shrine in France, another in Germany, and a
third in Italy, in addition to Canterbury Cathedral in England.
Britain the veneration of wells and springs was also common, and
many of these sites became popular places of visitation,
particularly for those who sought healing from some disease or
physical ailment. These wells and springs often derived their
fame from the fact that some pious person had baptized converts
there in the early days of British Christianity. Many, however,
derived their popularity from pre-Christian legends and were
re-dedicated by missionaries for the baptism of converts.
among the Buddhists
Reincarnation being central to
Buddhist belief, the Buddhist is anxious to achieve as many pious
acts as possible in order to break out of the cycle of rebirth.
Pilgrimage is considered one such pious act. As in the Christian
tradition of visiting sites associated with the life of Jesus,
Buddhists travel to important sites connected with the Buddha’s
life. These sites are grouped into three. The first group
comprises the places of the Buddha’s birth, his enlightenment, his
first sermon and his death; the second group consists of six
places which he visited; while the third consists of places which
are associated with Buddhist culture.
Pilgrimage is an important
practice among the Tibetan Buddhists, and since its beginnings the
essential element seems to have been the act of circumambulating
the person or place which the pilgrim wishes to honor. During the
rite of circumambulation the person or place is kept on the
right-hand side of the pilgrim, which is the opposite of the
Islamic circumambulation of the Ka‘bah.
One form of pilgrimage is to
visit a monastery and go around its environs, prostrating oneself
at every step. The pilgrim is not allowed to halt for food or
rest, otherwise he loses the benefit of his pilgrimage. His body
must be fully stretched out in front of him, with his hands
joined. The pilgrim makes these prostrations even in rain or
snow. Older pilgrims and women with children may simply walk
around the monastery, telling the beads of their rosary or turning
the prayer-wheels they hold in their right hands. Some pilgrims,
when journeying towards a shrine, prostrate themselves the entire
Pilgrimage in Tibet is beset
with difficulties, and generally involves crossing harsh and
treacherous terrain. Because of the dangers, people usually
travel together in large groups. Sometimes rich people pay
others to make the pilgrimage for them; they may also pay for
poorer people to make the pilgrimage, as an act of merit.
All classes of people make the pilgrimage, however, hoping to win
forgiveness for past sins. There are always many beggars who
live around the shrines and avail themselves of the generosity of
Pilgrimage in China
The Confucian mandarins
considered pilgrimage to contain an element of disorder and danger
to the state. They disliked the peasants leaving their lands,
believing the practice potentially harmful to the country's
agriculture. Hence it was not a particular feature of religious
practice in China, although it was widespread among the Buddhists
the main places of pilgrimage in China, for originally the
mountain was seen as an intermediary between the heavens and man.
Five official sacred mountains existed in China, the most
important of which is called Ta’i Chan. The time for pilgrimage
was in the spring. In ancient Chinese tradition the Emperor had to
go on pilgrimage to certain sacred mountains. He was expected to
rule society according to the laws of the universe, and his
mandate had to be renewed with every new dynasty. His pilgrimage
consisted of a double sacrifice; one at the foot of the mountain,
and one at the peak.
organized themselves into societies, each member contributing to a
communal fund. Generally they set out on foot at the
beginning of the year, the group leader carrying a flag with the
group’s place of origin and other details. Pilgrimage was
often made on behalf of a sick person who could not make the
and Shintoists perform pilgrimage in Japan. One of the most
frequent circuits of pilgrimage is the visit to the sanctuaries of
Shikoku (mostly during March and April). The majority make a
single complete tour of the sanctuaries, although some do it
several times. In principle, the pilgrimage is made on foot.
One of the
objectives of pilgrimage in Japan is to compel the rich to beg,
even if it be only once in their lives. The inhabitants of the
villages through which the pilgrims pass believe it assures the
well-being of their ancestors to give small quantities of rice or
money to the pilgrims. It is considered mandatory for the people
to tend to any pilgrim who falls ill, and should a pilgrim die
while in someone's care, the latter must pay for his burial. The
Japanese pilgrim retains the robe he wears on pilgrimage, as this
will later serve as his funeral shroud. The hat and cane are also
kept, as they are placed on his tomb.
the Shintoists in Japan concentrate on making pilgrimage to one
sacred place at a time, while the Buddhists perform a circuit.
There is, however, one Shinto custom whereby a hundred temples are
visited in a certain order, and a card is left at each temple in
order to effect a cure for a sick person.
Hinduism is an ancient rite, as attested by numerous places
throughout India attracting millions of people. Some places draw
people from all over the country, and others largely from
neighboring cities, towns and villages. Hindus perform
pilgrimages to earn religious merit, to fulfill vows upon the
resolution of a problem, and to expiate ritual impurities.
Most of the
sacred sites lie either on riverbanks, at confluences or on the
coast. The value of water as a purifying agent was important in
locating places of pilgrimage. The word commonly associated with
visiting these places means ‘undertaking a journey to river
fords, and great emphasis is laid upon ritual purification by
strongly indicates that the roots of Hinduism were originally
monotheistic. The famous epic known as the ‘Mahabharata’
describes a grand tour of the entire country of India, listing
many places of visitation: virtually every site is devoted to
Brahma, the Creator, and there is no mention of the other
prominent deities such as Siva, Vishnu and Krishna, nor of icons
or of temples dedicated to these deities.
features exist among the various types of pilgrimage we have just
described which we enumerate below:
significance of water by the site of a sacred place or shrine.
Water is important as a means of purification, both for purposes
of ablution and for curing the sick.
origin of many sites of pilgrimage. Newer faiths build their
temples and shrines in places which have been venerated since
access to the sacred places, requiring the pilgrim to make a
long and arduous journey, including jungles and deserts.
The need to
make sacrifices as part of the rites of pilgrimage. This
includes offerings of food, flowers, small amounts of money or
obeisance at the shrine, and in some cases on the road
towards the shrine.
pilgrimage on foot.
mode of dress. This dress is often preserved as the
objects left at a sacred place will become impregnated with
divine or supernatural energy.
mountains and isolated locations as places of worship.
of maintaining all night vigils at a sacred place.
of the day and dates in the lunar calendar, especially the full
moon, are considered more auspicious for pilgrimage.
are prohibited during the pilgrimage.
from cutting the hair or nails, as well as from sexual relations
during the time of pilgrimage.
removed the rites of pilgrimage become from their original
purity, the more likely is the growth of an avaricious priestly
class and the rise of superstitious practices.
As we stated earlier the pilgrimage of Islam fully
symbolizes the universal life experience. The analogies are
numerous. For example, a central rite is circumambulating the
Ka`bah counterclockwise, as the planets revolve around the sun.
The Ka`bah geometrically represents a cube, and symbolizes the
four dimensions as well as the four basic elements: fire, water,
earth and air. This circumambulation is circular in shape, while
the prayer at the station of Abraham represents a vertical line.
Going between the two hills of Safa and Marwah represents a
horizontal line of striving and arrival. The pilgrim sets out
from the Ka`bah to the plain of ‘Arafat, traveling beyond the
boundaries of the Sacred Precinct. The meaning of this action is
that he has traveled beyond the confines of the cosmos to stand
upon the vast, solitary sacred plain of ‘Arafat, which symbolizes
divine presence and knowledge. Then he returns to the confines of
the Sacred Precinct to stone the pillars, which represent the
attachments of creational existence, attachments that distance him
from divine knowledge. Finally, he returns again to
circumambulate the Ka`bah, back to the cosmic, orbital movement,
but this time with knowledge of a dimension beyond time and
space. Thus the Muslim pilgrim ritualistically enacts the reality
of his existential experience. Relating and witnessing with the
physical world whilst receiving the inspirations and delights of
being acted upon by the one source – Allah, the Master of the
known and the unknown.