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Hajj 2010 / 1431HPrevious Story: Check Your Engine Oil

"A Muslim friend was visiting Kabir," Rosh was saying.

"I saved all my life for this moment," said Kabir's friend, "and it has finally arrived. I now have enough to be able to go on Hajj."

"What is Hajj?" Josh asked.

"It is a five-day Islamic pilgrimage to a place called Mecca or Makkah," answered Rosh," in Saudi Arabia."

"Every year millions of Muslims embark on this pilgrimage, from all over the world, making it one of the largest pilgrimages in the world today."

"It takes place from 8th to the 12th of Dhul Hijjah, the final month of the Islamic or Hijri Qamari calendar."

"This calendar, like the Hindu Calendar, differs from the Gregorian or European Calendar that you use.The Gregorian date of Hajj changes from year to year."

"For example, in the Western Calendar, Hajj was observed from October 24-29 in 2012, but between Oct 13-18 in 2013. Similarly, the five-day Diwali celebrations in the Western Calendar occurred between November 13-17 in 2012 but between November 3-7 in 2013."

"Why do these calendars differ, Pa?" Josh asked. "And why do these dates change from year to year?"

"Many reasons," said Rosh. "The main reason though, is that the Islamic Calendar is lunar, the Hindu Calendar luni solar while the Christian Calendar is a solar calendar. Different calendars have different average year lengths and different average month lengths. They also have different starting dates."

"A solar calendar has dates indicating the position of the earth on its revolution around the sun or equivalently the apparent position of the sun moving on the celestial sphere."

"A lunar calendar is based on cycles of the phases of moon. There are slightly more than 12 lunar months (also called synodic months or lunations of approx 29.53 days) in a solar year (also called a tropical or sidereal year). The period of 12 lunar months (354.37 days) is sometimes called a lunar year."

"So a lunar year is roughly 11 days shorter than a true solar year of 365.2422 days. The difference between these two calendars is compensated by periodically adding a 13th month in a lunar calendar."

"Non-lunar calendars are based on notional 'months' with a fixed number of days and make no attempt to keep pace with the phases of the moon."

"Lunisolar calendars, used in many ancient cultures, have dates to indicate both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. Since the year must have a whole number of months, most years in a lunisolar calendar have 12 months but every second or third year has 13."

"Calendars that count years from a fixed date operate with an era. The notional starting-point of the counting is called the 'epoch' of that era. So, the epoch of the Christian Era is AD 1 January 1."

"AD stands for 'anna domini' or 'the year of the Lord', and is sometimes replaced by the abbreviation CE, for 'Common Era'. BC, for 'before Christ', is also similarly used interchangeably with BCE, or 'before the Common Era'."

"Which is the oldest calendar, Pa?" asked Josh.

"Don't stereotype like some scholars do," laughed Rosh, "older is not necessarily better or worse. But, the oldest known lunar calendar is reported to be nearly ten thousand years old. It was found in Scotland."

"The Gregorian calendar, internationally the most widely used civil calendar, was a 1582 AD refinement of the Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC."

"Anyway, Hajj is deemed to be a religious duty in Islam, which must be carried out by every able bodied Muslim who can afford to do so at least once in his or her lifetime."

"According to Hamza Yusuf, Pilgrims with a Purpose, the word Hajj means "to intend a journey", which connotes both the outward act of a journey and the inward act of intentions."

"What do pilgrims do," asked Josh, "when they reach Mecca?"

"Anecdotally," said Rosh, "for thousands of years, thousands of global pilgrims have converged on Mecca for the week of the Hajj. Some wear two white sheets of unstitched cloth and abstain from certain things, while others come dressed normally. According to Wikipedia, they perform a series of rituals."

"For example, walking counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer. Running back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinking from the Zamzam Well, going to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throwing stones in a ritual Stoning of the Devil. Then they shave their heads, perform animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha."

"What is in the Ka'aba?" asked Josh, "that cube shaped building in the middle?"

"Muslim historians call the time before Muhammad Jahiliyyah, meaning 'Days of Ignorance', during which Al Kabah contained many idols – totems of many of the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, which the Arabs came to worship during Hajj. In 630 CE, Muhammad destroyed the idols, and dedicated the building to Allah."

"Did Prophet Muhammad ask the Muslims to start doing the Hajj pilgrimage?" asked Josh.

"No, Hajj is ancient," said Rosh. "According to Legend, elements of the Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim), around 2000 BCE. Muhammad, who was born in Mecca in 570 CE, only ever did the Hajj once in 630 CE at the age of 60, and that was when he led his followers from Medina to Mecca to destroy the idols."

"Some day, I'll tell you the inspiring story of Muhammad. But to finish off Kabir's story today, Kabir's Muslim friend was excited about going on Hajj to Mecca. He asked Kabir if he could get him something from there."

"No," said Kabir. "But please give my regards to the Allah of Mecca."

The friend was puzzled.

"Is there a different Allah in Mecca?" he asked.

"If there isn't," Kabir replied, "why do you go there?"

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