THE HAJJ RITES IN MECCA: Circling the House of God, Walking between Hagar's Hills, Drinking from the Zamzam Well.
MECCA: The Hajj rites continue in Mecca, a spiritual crossroads that has attracted pilgrims since pre-recorded times. Muslims believe that Abraham visited Mecca and helped his son Ishmael build a house of worship, the Kabah, here. Many centuries later Muhammad was born in Mecca. The first Muslim community emerged within its walls. Today, Mecca is a modern city of more than a million people. The Kabah still occupies the town center. The enormous open-air mosque that surrounds it is the focal point of the next stage of the Hajj.
Inside the mosque walls, every pilgrim performs several simple rites. First, you circle the Kabah seven times in a counter clockwise direction. This rite, called Turning or Tawaf, is a form of prayer performed only in Mecca. Going around the shrine's draped walls, you literally place God's House at the center of your life.
Pilgrims now cross the mosque to a long corridor on its southern side. The corridor, or Masa'a, runs between two foothills enclosed within the building. Here pilgrims walk back and forth seven times at a brisk pace in a rite called Sa'y or Running that imitates the steps of Hagar, Ishmael's mother in the Torah, who rushed between the hills in search of life-giving water for her infant son. The story and the rite express the effort required in a person's search for salvation. The sudden appearance of a well in this desert landscape is the core of a miracle that Muslims believe saved Hagar and saved a branch of Abraham's family in Mecca. Not accidentally, this rite places a mother's story at the heart of the Hajj.
The Zamzam well that saved Hagar and Ishmael is within the mosque, too. Each pilgrim sips from its water as a reminder of the real results of spiritual effort and to be connected with the foundations of a religious tradition that emphasizes the worship of one God.