By Megan Burnham
Joint Task Force Guantanamo
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – The city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is currently filled with about 1.3 million Muslim travelers for the annual pilgrimage, called the Hajj, to fulfill a Muslim obligation to become a practicing Muslim.
In the Muslim tradition, the Five Pillars of Islam are five duties every adult must complete in their lifetime. These duties include Shahadah, professing Allah as the only God and Prophet Muhammad as his messenger; Salat, ritual prayers; Zakat, giving charity; Siyam, fasting during Ramadan; and the Hajj.
"These are the minimum things that are supposed to make you a good person, but everything else is also important," said Zak, cultural advisor for the Joint Task Force Guantanamo. "You must be honest with your job, be honest with yourself, be honest with your family and not harm other people."
The only requirement in attending Hajj is each individual must be able to afford the time as well as the trip to Mecca financially, and must also be healthy.
"If you have children you have to take care of them first – they become a priority," said Zak. "You're only supposed to do it once in your lifetime so you don't take the opportunity away for other people to do it."
When arriving in Mecca, participants, referred to as pilgrims, perform a series of ritual acts that symbolize the lives of Abraham and his wife Hagar. Also, everyone will put on ihram clothing before leaving Mecca for the town Mina where the Saudi government provides large tents to accommodate all the pilgrims.
"There are guides who help people with what to do and what to say," said Zak. "Food is also provided as well as medical assistance and security – it's all provided."
The first day of Hajj, Nov. 30, began with the first tawaf (Islamic ritual), called the Umrah. Pilgrims entered The Sacred Mosque (Masjid Al Haram) and walked seven times counter-clockwise around the sacred stone Kaaba (the Black Stone), kissing it after each circuit completed. Afterwards, pilgrims are required to offer two Rakaat prayers at the Place of Abraham. Before the day is over, pilgrims walk or run seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah. This is done as a re-enactment of Hagar searching for water for her son Ismael.
The next day involved traveling to Mount Arafat to the location where Muhammad gave his last sermon. Pilgrims spent the afternoon within the defined area until after sunset; there are no ritual requirements but many pass the time praying or thinking about their lives. After sunset, the pilgrims travel to Muzdalifah to gather pebbles.
The next ritual, stoning of the devil, is at the valley of Mina where seven pebbles are thrown to signify their defiance to the Devil and symbolize the trials Abraham experienced when deciding whether to sacrifice his son as demanded by God.
After the stoning of the devil ritual, an animal is sacrificed to symbolize God having mercy on Abraham and replacing his son with a ram. This four-day festival is called Eid ul-Adha where all pilgrims have an animal sacrificed in their name. A sheep sacrifice will account for one pilgrim while a cow can represent seven people. After the sacrifice, the meat is packaged and given to charity and shipped to poor people around the world.
Following the festival, pilgrims re-visit The Sacred Mosque which signifies the willingness to quickly respond to God and show love for him, called the Tawaf az-Ziyarah. Additionally, pilgrims travel to Mina to throw seven pebbles a second time.
The last ritual before leaving Mecca is a farewell ritual called the Tawaf al-Wada.
While detained enemy combatants at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay are unable to partake in Hajj, they are offered the opportunity to fast on the last day of Hajj, Dec. 7. On Dec. 8 and 9, feast meals will be given to them at dinner that they normally provide on Fridays.
"The whole purpose of this activity is to hope and ask God to forgive your sins," said Zak. "When you do it, you have to be sincere. Think of it as going to confession where you ask God to forgive you."
Zak added, "It's important for all of us to understand what faith is. Faith consists of two things: giving thanks and having patience. All of us need to give thanks to God and be patient; whatever the problem is, it will be solved."