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CAIR: American Muslims to Begin Pilgrimage Season; More Than 6,000 Pilgrims Expected to Travel from United States.

On March 14,* Muslims in America and around the world will begin observing activities associated with the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. According visa records at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, some 6,000 American Muslims took part in the pilgrimage last year. Embassy officials say that number has been increasing yearly.

"Many of the thousands of American Muslims taking part in the Hajj are doing so for the first time. This growing phenomenon can only serve to increase spiritual and social bonds between Muslims worldwide," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad.

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.) Hajj activities take place during six days (8th-13th) of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah.

Pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those Muslims who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey. It is also a form of worship that involves the entire being: body, mind and soul.

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 or even raise the voice

in anger. The state of ihram is signified (for men) by the wearing of

two pieces of unsewn white cloth. No specific clothing is prescribed

for female pilgrims.

* circling of the Ka'aba, 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 the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah (March 15th). Arafah

is the 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 Abraham's

willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command. The meat is

distributed to relatives and to the needy.

When the major portion of the pilgrimage is completed, Muslims

worldwide gather for communal prayers on the first day (March 16*) of Eid

ul-Adha (eed-al-odd-ha), the second of the two major Muslim holidays.

* NOTE: 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.

NOTE TO EDITORS: American Muslims will start leaving for Hajj in the beginning of March. To receive updates on this and other issues related to the American Muslim community, join ISLAM-INFONET by sending the message "subscribe islam-infonet" to majordomo@cair-net.org.

CONTACT: Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 202-488-8787, or paging 202-490-5653, or email: cair1@ix.netcom.com.
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Date:Apr 7, 2000
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