The Islamic Bulletin
The Islamic Bulletin
Like most Italians, Leccesi was brought up a Roman Catholic, but
for years he felt that something was missing from his life. He says,
“When I read the Bible, I totally agreed with everything it said, but
I saw that practice was very different from the theory. People didn’t
behave in a way that did (the bible) justice”, he said. A series of
visits to the Naples mosques, together with the Italian friend who
had already converted to the Islamic faith, convinced Leccesi that
becoming a Muslim would give him what he defines as “the some-
thing extra” that he was looking for.
His friends were skeptical at first. “It was quite hard at the beginning.
People were upset because it seemed such a strange thing to do. To
them, it was a step into the unknown. Some of my more intelligent
friends looked at me with a sort of admiration, even though they still
thought I was a bit crazy,” said Leccesi. His wife found the decision
hard to accept at first. For a start, she had to get used to calling the
man she married as Franco by his new name of Omar. “Now, she
sometimes calls me Franco and sometimes Omar, though I really
don’t mind which,” said Leccesi. “You can’t force people to believe
the things you do, and I’ve never tried with her, but even she is
showing more interest than she once did. You could now describe
her as a sympathizer.”
Muslim population as a whole is nearly 30,000. For years Rome’s
community has been forced to pray in an annex of the cramped
Islamic Center in the residential Parioli neighborhood of the city.
Nowmore than two decades after the idea was first proposed by the
late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Rome’s Muslims are finally getting
ready to take possession of their own mosque- a magnificent, 17
domed structure, whose prayer hall alone will accommodate 2000
people at a time.
Abdurrahman feels totally integrated with the people whose religion
he has chosen to adopt, and he predicts, in the years to come, that
many more Europeans will follow suit.
“Islam rises above cultural divisions,” he said. “I am a Muslim, just
as a Filipino or an Indonesian may be. There is absolutely no dif-
ference. The rhythm of my lifestyle is similar to theirs, and different
from that of the society to which I once belonged. I pray five times
a day, and in between those prayers I find I’m not angry or violent.
I’m not competitive and I don’t prevaricate. I think in the future
there are going to be a great many more people who will make the
same choice as I have.”
To subscribe to Il Messagero dell’Islam, contact Centro Islamico Via
Rovigo, 11 Milan-20132 , Italy. Telephone number is 25.66.885,
Annual subscription is 25.000 Italian Lire which is about 21.00
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The Islamic Bulletin.
The Hajj--the Pilgrimage to Mecca--is essentially a series of rites
performed in and near Mecca, the holiest of the three holy cities of
Islam--Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. As it is one of the five pillars
of Islam, all believers, if they are financially and physically able,
must make this Pilgrimage at least once in their life.
The Hajj must be made between the eighth and the 13th days of
the 12th month (called Dhu al-Hijjah) of the Muslim lunar year.
Donning the Ihram
In a general sense, the Pilgrimage begins with the donning of the Ih-
ram, a white seamless garment. The Ihram is symbol of the pilgrims’
search for purity and their renunciation of mundane pleasures. For
men this garment consists of two lengths of white material, one
covering the body from waist to ankle, the other thrown over the
shoulder. For women it is customarily--but not necessarily--a simple
white gown and a head covering without a veil.
At the moment of donning the Ihram the pilgrims enter a state of
grace and purity in which they may not engage in any disputes,
commit any violent acts or indulge in sexual relations.
Uttering the Talbiyah
In donning the Ihram the pilgrims also make a formal Declaration
of Pilgrimage and pronounce a devotional utterance called the
Talbiyah: “Doubly at Thy service, O God,” a phrase which they will
repeat frequently during the Pilgrimage as an indication that they
have responded to God’s call to make the Pilgrimage.
Entering the Haram
After donning the Ihram- and only after- the pilgrims may enter the
Haram. In a sense, the Haram is merely a geographical area which
surrounds Mecca. But because its frontiers were established by
Abraham and confirmed by Muhammad, the Haram is considered
a sacred precinct within which man, undomesticated plants, birds
and beasts need fear no molestation and all violence, even the
plucking of a wild flower, is forbidden.
For the duration of the Hajj, Mecca and the Sanctuary that surrounds
it have a special status. To cross the frontiers of the Haram--which
lie outside Mecca between three and 18 miles from the Ka’bah--
pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia must now have a special Hajj
visa in their passports. The visa must be stamped by immigration
officials stationed at various check points on roads leading into the
Haram and it entitles pilgrims to travel only within the Haram and
to certain other places that pilgrims must, or customarily do, visit.
Non-Muslims are strictly forbidden to enter the Haram under any
Going to Mina
On the eighth day of Dhu al-Hijjah the assembled pilgrims begin
the Hajj by going--some on foot, most by bus, truck and car--to
Mina, a small uninhabited village five miles east of Mecca, and
there spend the night--as the Prophet (pbuh) himself did on his
Farewell Pilgrimage--meditating and praying in preparation for “the
Standing” (Wuquf), which will occur the next day and which is the
central rite of the Hajj.
Standing at ‘Arafat
On the morning of the ninth, the pilgrims move in masse fromMina
to the Plain of ‘Arafat for “the Standing,” the culmination--but not
the end--of the pilgrimage. In what is a basically simple ceremony
the pilgrims gather on the plain and, facing Mecca, meditate and
pray. Some pilgrims literally stand the entire time--from shortly
before noon to just before sunset--but, despite the name of the
ceremony, are not required to do so. Pilgrims may, and most do, sit,
talk, eat, and, although not required to do so, climb to the summit
of a 200-foot hill called the Mount of Mercy (Jabal al-Rahmah) at
the bottom of which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) delivered his
Farewell Sermon during his Pilgrimage.
Going to Muzdalifah
Just after sunset, which is signaled by cannon fire, the pilgrims
gathered at ‘Arafat immediately proceed in masse to a place called
Muzdalifah a few miles back toward Mina. Traditionally, there, the
pilgrims sleep under the stars after gathering a number of pebbles for
use during the rites on the following days. Some gather 49 pebbles,
other 70, and still others wait until they get to Mina.
Stoning the Pillars
Before daybreak on the 10th, again roused by cannon, the pilgrims
continue their return to Mina. There they throw seven of the stones
which they collected at Muzdalifah at one of three whitewashed,
rectangular masonry pillars. The particular pillar which they stone
on this occasion is generally thought to represent “the Great Dev-
il”--that is, Satan, who three times tried to persuade Abraham to
disobey God’s command to sacrifice his son--and the throwing of
the pebbles symbolizes the pilgrim’s repudiation of evil.
Performing the Sacrifice
Now begins the greatest feast of Islam: the ‘Id al-Adha--the Feast of
Sacrifice. After the throwing of the seven stones the pilgrims who
can afford it buy a sheep, a goat or a share of some other sacrificial
animal, sacrifice it and give away a portion of the meat to the poor.
The Sacrifice has several meanings: it commemorates Abraham’s
willingness to sacrifice his son; it symbolizes the believer’s pre-
paredness to give up what is dearest him; it marks the Muslim
renunciation of idolatrous sacrifice; it offers thanksgiving to God;
and it reminds the pilgrim to share his blessings with those less
But as Muslims everywhere are the same day performing an
identical sacrifice--and thus vicariously sharing in the elation of
the pilgrims in Mecca--the Sacrifice is also an integral part of a
worldwide Muslim celebration that unites those on the Hajj with
Donning the Ihram
As the pilgrims have now completed a major part of the Hajj, men
shave their heads or clip their hair and women cut off a symbolic
lock to mark partial deconsecration. At this point the pilgrims may
remove the Ihram, bathe and put on clean clothes, but although
the period of consecration is now at an end, the prohibitions against
intercourse still obtain, for the Pilgrimage is not yet over.
Making the Tawaf
The pilgrims now proceed directly to Mecca and the Sacred
Mosque, which encloses the Ka’bah, and, on a huge mar-
ble-floored oval, perform “the Circling” (Tawaf). The Tawaf consists
essentially of circling the Ka’bah on foot seven times, reciting a
prayer during each circuit. It signifies the unity of God and man
and reminds believers that the Patriarch Abraham, his son Ishmael
and Muhammad (peace be upon them), emphasized the impor-
tance of the Ka’bah.
Kissing the Hajar al-Aswad (Black Stone)
While circling the Ka’bah the pilgrims should, if they can, kiss or
touch the Black Stone (Hajar Al-aswad), which is embedded in the
southeastern corner of the Ka’bah and which is the precise starting
point of the seven circuits. Failing this, they salute it.
Kissing the Stone is a ritual that is performed only because the Holy
Prophet (pbuh) did it and not because any powers or symbolism
attach to the Stone per se.
After completing the last circuit of the Ka’bah, the pilgrims go to
the “Place of Abraham,” also within the courtyard, and worship
the spot where Abraham himself offered up his devotions to God.
That site is now marked by an octagonal metal and crystal structure
The Tawaf after Mina is called the Tawaf of the Return and is the
last essential ritual. The pilgrims are now fully deconsecrated and
are hajjis--that is they have completed the Hajj.
Making the Sa’y
Although the key rituals of the Hajj have been completed, most
pilgrims also include “the Running” (Sa’y), a reenactment of the
search for water by Hagar, wife of Abraham. Hagar was led into
the desert with her infant son Ishmael and left near the present
site of Mecca. Frantic for water for the child, she ran desperately
back and forth seven times between two rocky hillocks, one called
al-Safa the other al-Marwa, until the Angel Gabriel appeared and,
stamping the ground with his heel, brought forth water for her
and her child.
This is the origin of the Well of Zamzam, now enclosed in a marble
chamber beneath the courtyard of the Sacred Mosque. Pilgrims
drink from the well before starting the Sa’y.
In performing the Sa’y, the pilgrims enter a spacious enclosed
gallery or corridor appended to the Sacred Mosque and called the
“the Place of Running” (al-Mas’a) and approach al-Safa, one of
the hillocks, now little more than a knoll at the end of the gallery.
Facing toward the Ka’bah, the pilgrims declare their intention of
performing the Sa’y, descend to the Mas’a and walk briskly between
the hills seven times.
Returning to Mina
It is also customary for the pilgrims to return to Mina between the
11th and 13th--for the third time--where they cast their remaining
pebbles at each of the three pillars, seven stones at each pillar on
each of the days they are there, for a total of either 49 or 70 pebbles.
They also visit with other pilgrims.
Before leaving Mecca it is also customary to make a final Tawaf
around the Ka’bah as a means of bidding the Holy City farewell
and most pilgrims, if they have time, also take this opportunity to
pay a visit to the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, 277 miles to
the north. This is not a part of the Pilgrimage, but it is considered
meritorious to pray in the mosque which the Prophet (pbuh)
Upon first entering Mecca, before beginning the Hajj, pilgrims also
perform a Tawaf and a Sa’y. But done then, these two rites --coupled
with the donning of the Ihram at the border of the Sanctuary--con-
stitute the ‘Umrah, or “the Lesser Pilgrimage.”
The ‘Umrah is essentially a mark of respect paid to the city of
Mecca upon first entering it--and although it is a requirement
for pilgrims arriving from outside Mecca--a necessary prelude to
the Pilgrimage--and involves two of the same rites, it is not part
of the Hajj. It is also required for Muslims who visit Mecca at
other times of the year because that was the practice of the Holy
Prophet (pbuh) himself.
But there is only one Hajj--the ceremony which on those special
days of Dhu al-Hijjah gathers and unites more than a million of the
faithful from every corner of the earth.