The Halakhah of the Hajj

The proper way to practice religious law (called the Halakhah in Judaism) can be complex and worrisome to the average practitioner. AP reports on some of the ways Islamic pilgrims coped with their queries at the Hajj that just concluded.

Questions posed to the religious authorities by the lay people this year included: What time of day may I throw the seven pebbles at each wall at the three jamrah pillars and then curse Satan? It used to be only after noon. To prevent stampedes, they've tried to allow this to be performed throughout the day. How much hair must I cut for my ritual haircut? Some pilgrims want only a symbolic haircut.

The Minisry of Hajj enumerates the practices -- Pilgrims must gather 70 pebbles previously --

Proceeding to Mina from Muzdalifah

10th of Dhu'l-Hijjah: You will be in Mina for the stoning (ramy) of Jamarat ul Kubra; the stoning must be performed according to pre-determined schedules. The stoning is followed by shaving/cutting of hair (Halq/Taqseer).

Here seven times you will stone the pillar that represents the devil, saying "Bismillah, Allahu akbar" each time you throw a pebble. "Bismillah" means "in the name of Allah". "Allahu akbar" means "God is great".

Women and those who are old or otherwise infirm need not themselves perform ramy, leaving it to those delegated to perform it on their behalf.

You will now leave the state of
Ihram. Shave your hair (or if you are a woman clip your hair). You may now shower, shave, and change into your normal clothes. The prohibitions imposed by Ihram are now removed, except that you must not have sexual relations. (Husband and wife may not enjoy conjugal relations until after Tawaf al-Ifadha - the Circumambulation of the Kaaba, central to the Hajj rites.)

You will now proceed to the al Masjid al Haram in Makkah to perform Tawaf al-Ifadha.
Here is an image of the Hajj pilgrims casting stones at a jamrah pillar.

Hajj safety measures spark controversy

By LEE KEATH, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jan 1, 12:30 PM ET

The rituals of Islam's annual hajj pilgrimage are enormously complicated, so it helps to have someone to advise how to do them right: thus the long lines Monday at the "ask a sheik" booths scattered around the holy sites.

"Fast for three days when you get back to your home country," the Muslim cleric inside one booth told a pilgrim who had made a mistake in one of the rites Monday, the final day of the pilgrimage for many of the 3 million Muslims participating in this year's hajj.

More than two dozen pilgrims were lined up at the sheik's window, much like a ticket booth, pressing to ask the sheik questions at Mina, a desert plain outside the holy city of Mecca. On Monday, pilgrims spent a third day stoning three walls representing Satan in a rite forsaking sin and temptation.

This year saw controversy over one of the hajj rules amid attempts to prevent deadly stampedes that have marred the rites at Mina in past years. More than 360 were killed during last year's hajj in a crush that occurred when some pilgrims tripped over baggage while passing by the three walls to perform the stoning.

Since then, some Islamic clerics have issued fatwas, or religious edicts, declaring that pilgrims do not have to wait until noon to carry out the stoning, as tradition holds. Saudi authorities have supported the fatwas, hoping to spread the massive crowds over the course of the day and prevent lethal jams. But hard-line clerics stick by tradition.

"No, you can't do it before noon," said the sheik in the booth, his pronouncements broadcast by loudspeaker so all pilgrims in the area could hear.

"I know there are fatwas that say otherwise. But we have to adhere to the proper times or else it all falls apart. We'll have fatwas saying whatever anybody wants and then what kind of pilgrimage is it?" he told the man at his window.

The cleric, who refused to give his name, works for the Religious Affairs Ministry — reflecting the resistance even within the government to making changes.

Still, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims performed the stoning before noon, walking below and on top of a gigantic concrete platform that surrounds the three stone walls, known as the Jamarat. They threw seven pebbles at each wall, cursing Satan.

Saudi authorities tore down the old platform after last year's stampede and built a larger one at a cost of more than $1 billion. They also imposed strict traffic rules, keeping the massive lines of pilgrims moving in one direction across the platform and barring them from carrying large bags.

Unfinished concrete pylons and cranes surrounded the platform, a sign of the authorities' plans to build three more levels to allow more pilgrims to perform the rite at one time.

After Monday's stoning, most pilgrims packed up their belongings and left Mina for Mecca, where they circled the Kaaba — the black stone cube that is Islam's holiest site — for the last time, bringing their five-day hajj to an end. Some will stay an extra day in Mina, then go to Mecca to circle the Kaaba.

Pilgrims come from across the world to perform the hajj, a chance to purge themselves of sin and fulfill one of the five main tenets — or pillars — of Islam. Often pilgrims save up money for years for what is usually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so they are eager to make sure they get the rituals right — and breaking the rules can mean the hajj is void in the eyes of God.

The rules — based on centuries of interpretation of the Sunna, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad — are extremely elaborate. Pilgrims must be at certain sites at specific times; some rites they repeat, but some they repeat only partially, and some are done only once.

There are also three different types of pilgrims, depending on whether they also performed the "Omra," or lesser pilgrimage, during the same trip — and the rules can vary slightly depending on what type of pilgrim you are.

Hisham Abdul-Ghaffour, a pilgrim from the southern Egyptian city of Minya, stood in line at the cleric's booth waiting to ask a question about his hair. He had clipped only a small part of it, leaving his stylish hairdo — unlike most pilgrims who shaved their hair entirely on Saturday in one of the rites.

He wanted to know if that was all right. It wasn't, according to the cleric.

"Cutting the hair means cutting all the hair," he pronounced, though some clerics allow pilgrims to snip off only a strand.

Abdul-Ghaffour walked away disappointed — and unsure. "That's what I was afraid of," he said. "By God, I don't know. Some say it's OK, others say it's not. I don't know what I'm going to do."

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