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U.S. Muslims leave for pilgrimage to Mecca

U.S. Muslims leave for pilgrimage to Mecca

Thousands of American Muslims will soon take part in religious observances associated with the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj is one of the “five pillars” of the Islamic faith. (The other pillars include a declaration of faith, daily prayers, offering regular charity, and fasting during the month of Ramadan.)

Pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.

When the main portion of the pilgrimage is completed, Muslims worldwide gather for communal prayers on the first day (February 1*) of Eid ul-Adha (EED-al-ODD-ha), the second of the two major Muslim holidays.

“Participating in the Hajj, perhaps the world’s most ethnically and racially diverse religious event, is a high point of any Muslim’s life,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group.

The obligatory and optional activities of Hajj include:

* Entrance into a state of self-control called ihram, during which pilgrims are forbidden to harm living creatures, even insects or plants, or raise the voice in anger. The state of ihram is signified (for men) by the wearing of two pieces of unsewn white cloth. This clothing signifies the equality of all before God. No specific clothing is prescribed for female pilgrims.

* Circling of the Ka’aba (Tawaf), the stone building Muslims believe was originally built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. The Ka’aba is viewed as the first sanctuary on earth dedicated to the worship of the One God. It is a symbol of unity for Muslims because all prayers, wherever they are performed, are oriented in the direction of the Ka’aba.

* The Sa’i, or “hastening” between two small hills near the Ka’aba, to commemorate Hagar’s search for water to offer her son Ishmael.

* The “Day of Arafah” on January 31.* Arafah is a mountain and its surrounding empty plain near Mecca. On this day, the climax of the Hajj season, pilgrims assemble for supplication to God.

* The stoning of three pillars representing Satan’s temptation of Abraham. The stoning indicates the pilgrim’s rejection of evil deeds.

* Cutting the hair to symbolize the completion of Hajj.

* Sacrifice of an animal to help the poor, and in remembrance of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God’s command. The meat is distributed to relatives and to the needy.

CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 25 regional offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada.

(* Because the beginning of Islamic lunar months depends on the actual sighting of the new moon, the start date for Hajj and Eid ul-Adha may vary.)

HAJJ Q&A

Q: WHAT DOES THE QURAN SAY ABOUT HAJJ?

A: In the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, God says: “Thus We settled Abraham at the site of the House (the Ka’aba) [saying]: ‘Do not associate anything with Me, and purify My house for those who walk around it, and those who stand there (praying), and those who bow down on their knees in worship. Proclaim the pilgrimage among mankind: they will come to you on foot and on every lean (beast of burden); Let them come from every deep ravine, to bear witness to the advantages they have, and to mention God’s name on appointed days…” Chapter 22, verses 26-28

Q: WHAT DO MUSLIMS BELIEVE THEY GAIN FROM HAJJ?

A: The main benefit of Hajj for many people is the sense of purification, repentance and spiritual renewal it instills. After his Hajj, Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography: “…I have eaten from the same plate, drank from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims whose eyes were bluest of the blue, whose hair was blondest of the blonde and whose skin was whitest of the white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana…In the past I permitted myself to be used to make sweeping indictments of…the entire white race…Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy City of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to the sweeping indictments of any one race. I am now striving to live the life of a true Muslim.”

Q: WHY DOES HAJJ BEGIN ON A DIFFERENT DAY EACH YEAR?

A: Because Dhul-Hijjah is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days earlier each year.

Q: WHY DO MUSLIMS SACRIFICE A LAMB OR OTHER ANIMAL DURING THE FESTIVAL OF EID UL-ADHA?

A: The sacrifice commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son, identified in Islam as Ishmael, at God’s request. This is not a blood offering. In the Quran God states: “Neither their meat nor their blood ever reaches God, but heedfulness on your part does reach Him.” (Chapter 22, verse 37) The meat is distributed to relatives and to the needy.

Q: IS HAJJ AN OBLIGATION ON ALL MUSLIMS?

A: Yes, but only for those who are physically and financially able to make the trip.

Q: WHAT ARE THE MOST VISUALLY STRIKING ASPECTS OF HAJJ?

A: All pilgrims must do tawaf, or circling the Ka’aba. This obligation creates a stunning scene as thousands of people circle the building at all times of the day and night. Also, the standing at Arafah on the 9th day of the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah presents a scene in which several million people all dressed alike and with the same intention to worship God, gather on a barren plain.

Q: HOW SHOULD NON-MUSLIM FRIENDS AND CO-WORKERS INTERACT WITH SOMEONE WHO IS GOING ON HAJJ OR CELEBRATING AT HOME?

A: Hajj is a high point in a Muslim’s life. Questions are welcome and congratulations are in order. Most communities welcome visitors at Eid ul-Adha prayers. Just ask a Muslim friend to act as an escort and guide.

– MEDIA ADVISORY –

LOCAL MUSLIMS TO HOLD MOSQUE OPEN HOUSE
Event to feature food, tours and exhibits for people of all faiths

WHAT: On February ___, the Muslim community in [name of local community] will celebrate the end of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj, with a mosque open house. The open house is scheduled to coincide with the Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Adha (EED-al-ODD-ha), or “festival of the sacrifice,” which comes at the end of the pilgrimage. At the evening event, people of all faiths will be able to sample foods from around the Muslim world, take a guided tour of the mosque and browse through informational displays of books and other items explaining the basics of Islam.

Eid ul-Adha commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God’s command. The holiday is celebrated with the prayers, small gifts for children, distribution of meat to the needy and social gatherings. During this holiday, Muslims exchange the greeting “Eid Mubarak” or “blessed Eid.”

(Each year, more than two million Muslims go on Hajj. There are [number] of Muslims in [local community], an estimated seven million in America and some 1.2 billion worldwide.)

WHEN: February___, [Time Period]

WHERE: [Address and Directions]

COST: Free of Charge

CONTACT: For information, call [local contact].

NOTE: Because this is a house of worship, reporters and photographers of both sexes should dress modestly. That means no shorts for men or short skirts for women. Female reporters and photographers may be asked to put a scarf over their hair while in the actual prayer area. Photographers are advised not to step directly in front of worshipers and to ask permission for close-up shots.

-END-

STEPS NECESSARY TO HOLD A MOSQUE OPEN HOUSE

1. PREPARE the members of your local community by explaining the necessity of building a positive image of the mosque in the surrounding area. Let them know that experience of other communities has shown that a positive neighborhood image offers many benefits. Ask for input concerning the details of when and at what time the open house should be held. There are no hard and fast rules for such things.

2. INVITE local community leaders, clergy, law enforcement officials, activists, and government officials. Remember to invite the mayor, congressional representatives, the chief of police and members of the city council. These people should all receive written invitations. Follow up with a personal phone call. Letters are not enough.

3. PUBLICIZE the event by sending a well-written news release (see sample) to the local media. You may also place paid advertisements in the local newspaper. Send the news release to the religion calendar editor, the city editor and the feature editor at the newspaper. Send a release to the assignment editor at the local television stations. Also send copies to news directors at the local radio stations. Send announcements to local churches.

4. INFORM your guests of mosque etiquette before they arrive (see “Welcome to Our Mosque” brochure). This will make them feel at ease and avoid embarrassment. Be ready to answer questions about prayer, separation of men and women and other common issues.

5. CLEAN the mosque. The first impression is one that will last. Make sure bathrooms are spotless. Have a mosque clean up day prior to the open house.

6. SET UP a reception area where guests can be received, told about mosque etiquette and served refreshments. Have greeters at the door to direct arriving guests. Have knowledgeable people conduct tours of the facility. Do not leave guests alone to wander about the mosque. Give each guest a name tag. Make sure sisters are available to make female guests feel welcome.

7. SELECT literature to be given to the guests. Do not push materials on guests. Let them select what they wish to read.

8. POST signs at appropriate locations in the facility.

9. PRAY that your efforts will open the hearts of your guests.

WELCOME TO OUR MOSQUE

We hope you enjoy your visit.

Q: WHAT IS A MOSQUE?
A: A mosque is a place of worship used by Muslims. The English word “mosque” is derived from its Arabic equivalent, masjid, which means “place of prostration.” It is in the mosque that Muslims perform their prayers, a part of which includes placing the forehead on the floor.

Q: HOW IS A MOSQUE USED?
A: Mosques play a vital role in the lives of Muslims in North America. The primary function of the mosque is to provide a place where Muslims may perform Islam’s obligatory five daily prayers as a congregation. A mosque also provides sufficient space in which to hold prayers on Fridays, the Muslim day of communal prayer, and on the two Muslim holidays, called Eids, or “festivals.”

Q: IS A MOSQUE A HOLY PLACE?
A: A mosque is a place that is specifically dedicated as a place of prayer. However, there is nothing sacred about the building or the place itself. There is no equivalent of an altar in a mosque. A Muslim may pray on any clean surface. Muslims often pray in public places.

Q: HOW BIG ARE MOSQUES?
A: In North America, mosques vary in size from tiny storefronts serving a handful of worshippers, to large Islamic centers that can accommodate thousands.

Q: DO MOSQUES WELCOME VISITORS?
A: Mosques in North America welcome visitors. Tours can be arranged at most facilities. It is always best to call mosque administrators before arrival. They will want to make sure your visit is enjoyable.

Q: WHAT ARE THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF A MOSQUE?
A: The musalla, or prayer hall, in each mosque is oriented in the direction of Mecca, toward which Muslims face during prayers. In North America, Muslim worshippers face northeast. Prayer halls are open and uncluttered to accommodate lines of worshippers who stand and bow in unison. There are no pews or chairs. Members of the congregation sit on the floor.

Because Muslim men and women form separate lines when they stand in prayers, some mosques will have a balcony reserved for the use of women. Other mosques will accommodate men and women in the same musalla, or they may have two separate areas for men and women.

Q: WHAT ELSE IS IN THE PRAYER AREA?
A: All mosques have some sort of mihrab, or niche, that indicates which wall of the mosque faces Mecca. The mihrab is often decorated with Arabic calligraphy. Its curved shape helps reflect the voice of the imam, or prayer leader, back toward the congregation. Many mosques also have a minbar, or pulpit, to the right of the mihrab. During the Friday prayer service, the imam delivers a sermon from the minbar.

Q: WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN IN THE PRAYER AREA?
A: Children will often be present during prayers, whether participating, watching or imitating the movements of their elders. Their presence continues the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, who behaved tenderly toward children. The Prophet sometimes carried one of his grandchildren on his shoulder while leading the prayer and was also known to shorten the prayer if he heard a baby cry.

Q: WHAT MIGHT I HEAR DURING MY VISIT?
A: You might hear Muslims exchanging the Islamic greeting, the Arabic phrase “as-salaam alaykum” (“peace be with you”). Muslims return this greeting by saying, “wa alaykum as-salaam” (“and with you be peace”).

You might also hear the call to prayer. The call, or adhan, contains the following phrases (in Arabic):

God is most great, God is most great.
God is most great, God is most great.
I bear witness that there is no god but God.
I bear witness that there is no god but God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God.
Hasten to prayer, Hasten to prayer.
Hasten to success, Hasten to success.
God is most great, God is most great.
There is no god but [the One] God.

All Muslim prayers begin with recitation of Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an:

In the name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.
The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Ruler of the Day of Judgment.
Only You do we worship, Only You we ask for help.
Show us the straight path.
The path of those whom You have favored,
not that of those who earn Your anger, nor those who go astray.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE BUILDING?
A: Many mosques have a minaret, the large tower used to issue the call to prayer five times each day. In North America, the minaret is largely decorative. Facilities to perform wudu, or ablutions, can be found in all mosques. Muslims wash their hands, faces and feet before prayers as a way to purify and prepare themselves to stand before God. Wudu facilities range from wash basins to specially designed areas with built-in benches, floor drains and faucets.

Bookshelves are found in most mosques. They contain works of Islamic philosophy, theology and law, as well as collections of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Copies of the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, are always available to worshippers.

Calligraphy is used to decorate nearly every mosque. Arabic quotations from the Quran invite contemplation of the revealed Word of God. Other common features found in the mosque are clocks or schedules displaying the times of the five daily prayers and large rugs or carpets covering the musalla floor. Many American mosques also have administrative offices.

Q: IS A MOSQUE USED EXCLUSIVELY FOR PRAYER?
A: Though its main function is as a place of prayer, the mosque plays a variety of roles, especially in North America. Many mosques are associated with Islamic schools and day care centers. Mosques also provide diverse services such as Sunday schools, Arabic classes, Quranic instruction, and youth activities.

Marriages and funerals, potluck dinners during the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid prayers and carnivals are all to be found in North American mosques. They are also sites for interfaith dialogues and community activism.

Many mosques serve as recreational centers for the Muslim community and may have a gymnasium, game room and weight equipment, as well as a library and classrooms.

Q: DO MOSQUES HAVE SPECIAL RULES?
A: Men and women should always dress conservatively when visiting a mosque, covering their arms and legs. Examples of inappropriate clothing would be shorts for men and short skirts for women.

Shoes are always left at the entrance to the prayer area so as not to soil the rugs or carpets. Shelves are usually provided to hold shoes. Women may be asked to cover their hair when visiting a mosque. Many mosques have scarves on hand for visitors to borrow, but it is better to bring a head covering in case none are available.

Visitors to mosques should behave as they would when visiting any religious institution, but they should feel free to ask questions about the mosque, its architecture, furnishings, and activities. Muslims are happy to answer questions about their religion.

 

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