The fifth principle of Islam is, once in a lifetime, to perform a pilgrimage to the Ka’bah in the city of Mecca. This is an enactment of the Day of Judgment. One removes all signs of identity and wraps oneself in a shroud: the king and the beggar are made equal. During this stage, one pretends to be dead, selfless. We are forbidden to step on a blade of living green grass, to kill a biting flea, to pull a scab, or even to comb our hair. Symbolic acts performed during this pilgrimage include circumambulation of the Ka’bah; gathering in millions upon the plains of ‘Arafat; and sacrifice of a ram in remembrance of the Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice for his son.
Ibn ‘Arabi says that the literal meaning of Hajj in Arabic is the conscious intention to do something at a specific time.
When God addressed the Prophet Abraham
Sanctify My house for those who compass it round or use it for a place of retreat or bow or prostate themselves [in prayer]
(Surah Baqarah, 125)
He related that house on this planet to Himself. And when He said
The first house appointed for humanity was that at Bakka
(Surah al-Imran, 96)
He established it as the first house of worship and assigned it as a symbol of His Throne upon earth. He asked humankind to proceed around it, likening this act to that of the angels who circumambulate His Throne. But the circling of the Ka’bah by people whose words are the sincere confirmation of what is in their hearts, who have cleansed their hearts from the temptation of life on this earth, is a worthier worship than the devotion of the angels circumambulating God’s Throne in Heaven.
God built His temple upon three columns, though today it appears to us in the shape of a cube. These three columns are symbolic of the three remembrances of the heart. The one on the corner where the Black Stone is placed represents the divine inspirations. The column in the direction of Yemen represents the angelic characteristics. The third column represents the carnal prompting of human passions. These three supporting columns are guardians; they forbid evil suggestions from entering the house of the Lord. Supported by these three columns, the four sides of the house of God manifest love – although the fourth side of the cube, which faces iraq, represents the possibility of evil in human beings.
The heart of the believer is the real Ka’bah. It also has the four sides of divine inspirations, angelic attributes, material influences, and diabolic temptations. But the ones who know their Lord have three sides to their hearts. The seductions of evil are absent.
As the daily prayer starts with the declaration “God is greater,” so the pilgrimage begins with the declaration of presence: “O Lord. I am present! I am here now in obedience, ready to receive Your orders! There is none other than You, all praise is due to You, all belongs to You. You have no partners.”
When prophet Abraham was ordered to build the Ka’bah, God told him to cry out these words – and in the spiritual realm, the Lord made the souls of all believers hear them. In remembrance, the pilgrims recite this cry.
Male pilgrims wear two pieces of white cloth – one wrapped around the waist, reaching to under the knees, and one to be thrown over the shoulder to cover the torso. Female pilgrims, also dressed in white, may not cover the face. These practices erases all difference of rank and social status, and is a symbol of the shroud.
The white pilgrimage cloth is not sewn – it is as if not fashioned by human hands. It belongs to God, hiding what is reprehensible or lacking in a human being, protecting from everything that God forbids and from the temptations of the flesh. Like Adam, we carry our sins with us upon the Pilgrimage. But if he had not erred, he would not have descended to our world, where he is honored with being the Deputy of God.
The Black Stone embedded in one corner of the Ka’bah is like the prophet Adam. It also left the Garden pristine and white. It turned black when it entered the earth’s atmosphere. Yet the believers kiss it during the Pilgrimage.
At the end of Pilgrimage, in a place called Mina, each day for three days the pilgrims throw seven stones at the Devil. Humanity knows its Lord through His three aspects: His actions, His attributes, and His existence. The three days represent these three manifestations. The seven stones represent the seven greater sins: pride in one’s spiritual state; common arrogance; hypocrisy; envy; anger and negativity; love of property; love of position. Thus the first day one casts these sins out of one’s actions, and the second day, out of one’s character. On the third day, with the awe of the mystery of God’s essence, one casts them from one’s being. Finally cleansed, in the place called Mina, which means “Hope” and “Goal”, one finishes the Pilgrimage and returns to the world. And then we try to do what is right, and to be what we are meant to be.
(The Tree of Being:Shajarat al-kawn. An Ode to the Perfect Man. Interpreted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti. Archetype Pub. London, 2005)