Hajj: A Biblical perspective
Every year, millions of Muslims around the world make the religious journey known as Hajj to Mecca. As one of the five 'pillars' of Islam, Hajj is a requirement for Muslims to perform at least once in a life, if physically and financially able (Qur’an 2:196ff). Muslims consider their sins forgiven due to their paticipation. Some make the pilgrimage more than once.
Many Muslims spend their entire lives saving and planning for this journey to Mecca, where no Non-Muslims are allowed. Some sleep in fancy hotels; others don’t. However, they all share the purpose of fulfilling Hajj, following in the footsteps of Muhammad.
The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. This year (2014), it is expected to begin around October 2nd on the Gregorian calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, it is eleven days shorter than the calendar used in the Western world. Thus, the Gregorian date of the Hajj changes from year to year.
Feast= Chag (Khag) in Hebrew and Hajj in Arabic
It is possible that the Arabic word Hajj has its origin in the Hebrew word Chag, pronounced as Khag. This word is translated as 'feast' in English translations of the Bible.
Around 964 BC, King Solomon dedicated the Temple during the feast of Sukkot (1 Kings 8). This event became so important that it was often called simply “the feast” – Chag (1 Kings 8:65; 12:62; 2 Chronicles 5:3; and 2 Chronicles 7:8 ESV). Large numbers of Jewish people would come up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Chag (Feast). On each of the first six days of the Chag of Sukkot, it was traditional to circle the Temple altar once while reciting psalms. On the seventh day of Sukkot, the custom was to circle the Temple altar seven times. According to Mishnah, “It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day.” (Mishnah Sukkah 4:5) Each circle was done in honor of a prophet: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.
We find that the Islamic Hajj has some similar aspects to the Chag (feast) of Sukkot. The Arabs before Islam travelled on pilgrimage to Mecca in order to worship their gods. They circled the Ka’ba, which was full of idols. In 630 AD when he conquered Mecca, Muhammad destroyed the idols - except for the black stone he allegedly kissed. From then till the present, Muslims perform the Tawaf, a ritual that involves all of the pilgrims walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Ka’ba. Many kiss the black stone as well.
In their prayers to Allah, Muslims prostrate towards the Ka’ba. Muhammad had originally directed prostration for prayers towards Jerusalem. He later changed the direction to the Ka’ba, claiming that the earlier direction was a test from Allah (Qur’an 2:142-145).
Feast to remember: "From Slavery to Liberty"
God gave the Children of Israel many feasts to observe; Sukkot is one of these special God-ordained feasts:
“Celebrate Khag/Chag Sukkot for seven days after you have harvested the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.” (Deuteronomy 16:13)
This feast included a reminiscence of the fragile dwellings (tents) in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Our Jewish friends still celebrate this feast, which is also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Feasts of Booths. It is interesting to note that Muslim pilgrims to Mecca spend time in Mina and Arafat during the pilgrimage in tents. While Muslims have the major feasts Eid al-Adha and Eid al-fitr, God gave the Israelites several feasts to celebrate:
“Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Chag of Matzah, the Chag of Weeks, and the Chag of Sukkot.” (Deuteronomy 16:16)
Although the Qur’an gives narrations between Moses and Pharaoh, it does not touch on the feasts God gave to the Children of Israel, nor does it mention the Passover given as a sign and feast.
“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.” (Exodus 12:14 KJV)
Many Jewish people today who believe in God keep the Passover and other feasts God commanded as best as they can. In Israel, they are not free to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, due to Muslim influence over the land. Many Jewish people around the world pray for the restoration of the Temple.
Christians: Worship and pilgrimage to the Temple
Some Muslim friends think that Christians perhaps go to Jerusalem for pilgrimage. However, such a pilgrimage is not a requirement of the Christian faith. Israel and Jerusalem are special to Christians because of Jesus Christ and prophecies God gave. However, God is everywhere and can be worshipped anywhere (Isaiah 66:1-2). In answer to the question of where we should worship, Jesus declared:
"Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks." (John 4:21-23)
Before Jesus came, believers used to go to the house of the Lord, the Temple in Jerusalem, for sacrifices and offerings. When Jesus Christ died as the Lamb of God then rose from the dead, he completed/fulfilled the requirement for animal sacrifices.
As for the feast of the Passover that is not even mentioned in the Qur’an, Jesus Christ is our Passover. We celebrate what he did for us by following how he told us to remember his death and resurrection (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:7-20). This is known as the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper and the Holy Communion. Some Christians also celebrate the Jewish Passover and the other feasts/festivals Jesus Christ observed with His disciples.
Forgiveness and fellowship
While Muslims believe that performing Hajj will earn them forgiveness for their past sins, Christians believe that God forgives our sins through the precious blood Jesus Christ shed once for all. The animals sacrificed in the times of the Old Testament are symbols of what Jesus, the Lamb of God, did for us. Thus, forgiveness is not based on our works but rather on God’s amazing love and gift of Jesus Christ to the world (John 3:16). We obey God out of love and gratitude to Him for His gift of forgiveness and assurance through the Messiah, Jesus Christ!
Similar to the unity Muslims feel during the Hajj, Christians anticipate when we as a body shall gather before God’s Throne (Revelation 7:9-17)! In the meantime, we eagerly await Jesus Christ’s return to take us Home! (Matthew 24:30-31; John 14:1-6)
Brothers and Sisters, let us earnestly pray for Muslims during this time: that God touches their hearts and helps them seek the Truth - Jesus Christ. Let us pray that they decide to follow Jesus Christ instead of Muhammad.