Today, on the other side of the world, an estimated 2.5 million people are participating in a sacred ritualistic pilgrimage, the Hajj. It is the largest annual religious pilgrimage in the world and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
I would like to look at the general outline of the Hajj in light of my own experience as a participant in the rituals of the Mormons in what is called the Endowment. I hope to do so in a way that maintains the sacred nature of the rituals in the eyes of their respective participants, again, I will be mainly comparing elements of the general outline of the experiences. All the quotes regarding the Hajj are taken from the related Wikipedia article.
The Hajj was consider an ancient ritual prior to its association with the life of Muhammad.
“Many Muslims believe that it goes back to the time of Abraham in 2000 BC…and it is believed that the angel Gabriel…taught the rites of the pilgrimage to Abraham’s son, Ishmael.”
The Mormons likewise believe their Endowment ceremony is an ancient ritual that has been introduced in previous dispensations which would include Adam and Abraham and has been re-introduced in this dispensation through the Prophet Joseph.
“Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups, as an expression of unity.”
Likewise the Mormons go through their pilgrimage experience in what are labeled “companies”, the group as a whole progresses through the ceremony.
Washing and Clothing
The first step in both experiences is a ritualistic washing and a changing of clothes. Both groups similarly put on white clothing, consisting of such articles as loose robes, coverings of the head and a sash. The symbolism is similar, this quote describing the Ihram clothing, as it is called:
“a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals…The Ihram clothing is intended to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah, symbolizing the idea that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper when everyone is dressed equally. The Ihram also symbolizes purity and absolution of sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat.”
Circle, Square, and the Cosmos
The Hajj begins in Mecca with the pilgrims circling the Kabaa counter clockwise seven times.
“According to the Qur’an, the Kaaba was built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael ). Islamic traditions assert that the Kaaba “reflects” a house in heaven called al-Baytu l-Maˤmur (Arabic: البيت المعمور) and that it was first built by the first man, Adam”
From the very beginning we have the imagery of circles and squares. The Mormons likewise form a prayer circle around an altar that is rectangular or cube-like as part of their ceremony, an altar that represents the altar that Adam built when he first offered sacrifices to the Lord.
There is also cosmic imagery, orbiting the Kabaa like the planets (7 becomes a sacred number in lue of the planets which can be seen with the naked eye) and orientating oneself towards this cosmic center. Muslims orient themselves towards Mecca daily in prayer. The Mormons build their cities with the temple in the middle and all the streets and the whole of society laid out from that center. The Mormons talk about the temple in terms of aligning oneself, or taking one’s bearings on the world, from the principles taught in their temple. You will also see the Big Dipper on the side of temple in Salt Lake City in reference to the north star or guiding star, and again the number 7 (seven points of light define the Big Dipper). In both cases we see cosmic orientation, a center or holy physicality, and predominance of circle and square imagery.
Throughout the Hajj “the pilgrim (now known as a Hajji), performs a series of ritual acts symbolic of the lives of Ibrahim (Abraham) and his concubine/wife Hajar (Hagar).” In the LDS temple ceremony participants symbolically act in the roles of Adam and Eve.
Physical Movement through Stages
Both experiences follow a similar pattern of movement and location. The Hajj begins in Mecca after which the pilgrims depart into the desert wilderness of the Arabian pennisula where they ritually encounter and triumph over the devil and then eventually return to Mecca as the final destination and culminating ceremony. The Mormons likewise begin in the presence of God and subsequently leave His presence to enter the world to be tested again encountering the devil and triumphing over him and then ultimately reuniting with God as the culminating ceremony and destination which is called the Celestial Room in Mormon Temples. The pilgrims of the Hajj will end up walking great distances as they go through the Tawaf, Sa’i, Arafat, Muzdalifah, Ramy al-Jamarat, Eid ul-Adha and the Tawaf az-Ziyarah. The pattern is moving locations for different stages of the ritual. The Mormons do not travel quite so far, they move from room to room within the temple in a stage to stage progression.
At one point in the Hajj, Muslims walk
“back and forth between the Hills of Safa and Marwah. This is a re-enactment of Ibriham’s wife, Hajar, frantic search for water for her son, before the Zamzam Well was revealed to her by an angel sent by God.”
The imagery is that of confusion in the world and ultimately to the revealed guidance by an angel of God. In the Mormon ceremony this is depicted by Adam and Eve entering the “lone and dreary world” and subsequently receiving instruction from messengers from heaven represented by Peter, James, and John.
High and sacred regard of the ritual pilgrimage.
For Muslims the Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and it is expected that a faithful follower will try to participate in the Hajj at least once in their life. This story is similar that of Mormons who live far from a temple; an individual would save for years and prepare for a single trip to the temple to participate in the Endowment ceremony. Particularly in the last decade the Mormons have built a large number of temples currently amounting to 124 scattered around the earth, particularly trying to bring the experience of the Endowment to all members of their faith. It would be like creating micro-scale Mecca’s and putting one in Indonesia, another in Morocco and so forth.
Changes in the ritual to accommodate the administration of the ceremony while maintaining the symbolic and instructive elements of the ritual.
For instance, Muslims were once required to kiss the corner of Kabaa on each circulation which has been modified to a point due to the crowds. The stoning of the devil ceremony has recently been changed:
“Throwing pebbles was done at large pillars, which for safety reasons were in 2004 changed to long walls with catchbasins below to catch the stones. The slaughter of an animal can be done either personally, or by appointing someone else to do it”
The Mormons have made modifications to their ceremony as well as the times have changed and to accommodate larger numbers of participants. For instance in the early days of the Endowment the ceremony could last all day, now it has been streamlined down using a video presentation and can be completed in about two hours. Another example is that in most temples now Mormons no longer physically move from room to room but the symbolism is kept through the changes in intensity of light.
Sacred “Shout” in Unity
“Each complete circuit constitutes a “Shout“ with 7 circuits constituting a complete tawaf. The place where pilgrims walk is known as “Mutaaf“. Only the first three Shouts are compulsory and the rest optional, but invariably almost all perform it seven times.”
The Mormons practice a “Hosanna Shout” repeated three times during the dedicatory ceremony of their temples and similarly unite their voices in a kind of shout, repeated three times, as they are in a circle around an altar.
Prominence of sacrifice.
In the Hajj it is called Eid ul-Adha. “The meat is then packaged and given to charity, shipped to poor people around the world.” Sacrifice is also a main theme in the Mormon ceremony, sacrificing their lives to God, his work, and their fellowman.
I have enjoyed this exercise myself, I hope others found it interesting. It is quite remarkable to see all the similarities. In conclusion I would like to say that both groups of people view the experience as beautiful and life-changing. I wish all the pilgrims of the Hajj a safe and beautiful experience during this sacred time of year for them.