Another example which demonstrates the universality of Islamic injunctions regarding the practice of religion is the instance of Hajj, the pilgrimage. Once again one finds the institution of pilgrimage in all religions of the world, but the sites for pilgrimage are scattered at different places in one or more countries. One does not find a single central place which all the followers of a religion must visit at least once in their lifetime. Amazingly in Islam we find exactly such a place in Mecca, where Muslims from all over the world are expected to gather and spend about ten days entirely dedicated to the memory of God. The pilgrims come from all countries, all nations, and all races and in all ages. Men, women and children, they all gather once a year for a fantastic rally which sometimes runs into the millions. This grand display of universality is seen nowhere else in any other religion. Hence all these fingers, which were raised in different areas of Islamic teaching, point to the same message of unification of man on earth under the Unity of God.
The institution of pilgrimage can be traced back to the time of Abraham(as), peace be upon him. But there are very clear statements in the Quran describing it as an ancient institution, starting from times immemorial when the first House of God was built in Mecca. In the olden times Mecca was pronounced Baka, so the Holy Quran refers to the first house as being built not in Mecca but in Baka. It is also called Bait-ul-Ateeq, or the most ancient house. Abraham(as) raised it from the ruins which he discovered under divine guidance, and about which he was commissioned by God to rebuild with the help of his son Ishmael(as). It is the same place where he had left his wife Hagar and infant son Ishmael(as), again under divine instruction. But work on the House of God awaited attention until Ishmael(as) grew to an age where he could be of some help. So, both of them worked together to rebuild the house and restart the institution of pilgrimage.
Many rites performed during pilgrimage are rooted in those early days of the reconstruction of the House of God, and some even go beyond that. For instance, the running between Safa and Marwah, two small hillocks close to the House of God, is done in memory of Hagar’s search for some sign of human presence to help her and her child in their dire hour of need. The child is described as having become extremely restive with the agony of thirst, striking the earth with his heels in desperation. There, it is said, sprouted a fountain which still exists today in some form. Later, a well which was created around that spot and its water is considered to be the blessed water. Most of the pilgrims who perform the Hajj try to bring some water from there by way of blessing for their relatives and friends.
There are other rites and traditions which should be briefly explained. In Hajj the pilgrims do not wear any sewn garments; rather, they dress in two loose sheets. This is further indicative of the tradition being most ancient. It indicates that the institution of Hajj began when man had not learnt to wear sewn clothes. They had only started to cover themselves. As such it seems that it is in memory of those ancient people who used to circuit the first house built for the worship of God in that preliminary dress that the pilgrims are required to do the same. Again, the shaving of the head is an important feature which is also universally found as a symbol of dedication among monks, priests, hermits and vishnus. This further adds to the universality of its character. Women are exempt from shaving, but they have to symbolically cut their hair as a token. Also, in the places where Hadrat Abraham(as) is known to have remembered God in the style of an intoxicated lover and extolled his glory with loud chanting, the pilgrims are required to do the same in the same places.