Pilgrimage in different religions – IslamOnline
The pilgrimage is an allegory of human life on earth. It is the externalization of an inner journey towards truth, or an adventure of spiritual discovery. Pilgrims from distant countries converge on a center, attracted by a spiritual magnetism.
Thus, the pilgrimage is seen as a means by which man tries to connect to the Ultimate Reality and to live in full harmony with himself and his environment. Most religious traditions emphasize this aspect of pilgrimage and give it a central role in religion.
Pilgrimage in Judaism
The first notion of pilgrimage in Judaism comes from the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, in which the happy relationship with God is presented as broken, requiring a struggle on the part of man to move forward towards God for reconciliation.
The Jews believe they have been in exile since God chose Abraham to be the father of God’s chosen people and promised him a land for his people. In the time of Moses, the Jews were exiled to Egypt, then to the desert, and finally they began to settle in Palestine.
Jews from many countries around the world make periodic pilgrimages to the holy sites in Jerusalem. The second book of Samuel tells how David captured Jerusalem and brought the Ark of the Covenant there. For the Jews, the ark was the symbol of the presence of God in their midst, and thus the city of Jerusalem became the center of Jewish identity.
There are three festivals celebrated in Jerusalem each year, and Jewish families were ordered to undertake a pilgrimage to the city to participate in them (Deuteronomy 16:16).
These three festivals are known as pilgrimage festivals. These are Pesach (Passover) or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks, and Sukkot or the Feast of Sheds. These three festivals commemorate important events in Jewish history (Exodus 34:18-23).
Passover celebrates the exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. Seven weeks are counted from the start of Passover to the holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the handing over of the Ten Commandments.
Sukkot (Tabernacles) is a nine-day festival that celebrates the cabins the Israelites lived in for 40 years in the desert. Another name for this festival is The Season of Our Rejoicings.
The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish religion until its destruction in 70 CE, and all who could were required to visit it and offer sacrifice during the festivals mentioned.
The western wall of the original temple, known as the Wailing Wall, remains in Jerusalem’s Old City and was the holiest site for Zionist Jews. Jews from many countries around the world make periodic pilgrimages to the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Pilgrimage in Christianity
Christianity teaches that man was originally in a state of happiness in the Garden of Eden, but there he disobeyed God and was banished from his “earthly paradise”. God did not abandon him and gave him hope by announcing the coming of the Son of God, who will overcome evil and bring man back to his lost homeland.
The key to the origin of Christian pilgrimage is devotion to the memory of Jesus. Christianity sees man as standing between the memory of life in paradise and his yearning to return there. This means that a Christian should view his earthly life as a pilgrimage until he reaches his eternal home of peace.
From this point of view, the concrete aspects of the pilgrimage — the specific destination and the rites and liturgies performed there — matter little.
The key to the origin of Christian pilgrimage is devotion to the memory of Jesus. The faithful visited the places filled with memories of their Lord in his earthly life.
To most people, pilgrimage seemed unequivocally a very holy thing to do; and for most Christians, Jerusalem was associated with the earthly life of Jesus. So, from the very beginning, pilgrims traveled to Palestine with the simple aim of experiencing first-hand the places where different biblical events had occurred.
Many Christians associate a pilgrimage center with “sacred power” – the power to heal infirmities, solve problems, grant wishes, and have sins forgiven. Pilgrimages were considered effective in this regard.
It was mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries that a number of new places of pilgrimage were discovered and developed, often following visions of the Virgin Mary in these places.
Pilgrimage in Hinduism
Pilgrimage is deeply rooted in Indian culture. There are so many shrines in India that the whole subcontinent can be considered one big sacred space by Hindus.
In the Vedas, one of the most important Hindu scriptures, mountain valleys and the confluences of rivers are spoken of with reverence, as the gods are believed to have dwelt there. The merits of travel to such places are mentioned, but the act of pilgrimage itself is not specifically discussed.
For Hindus, the pilgrimage has a special spiritual significance. There are many reasons why Hindus go on pilgrimage. First, it is considered an act of devotion to God. Many Hindus believe that it will add to their good deeds and bring them closer to salvation.
Other Hindus go on a pilgrimage to fulfill a vow in thanks to God for having had a good harvest or passed an examination. Some will repair a bad deed, others will offer a devotional rite to a deceased loved one. Many pilgrims bring home small jars of river water and other objects they deem holy.
For Hindus, as for followers of other religions, the pilgrimage has a special spiritual significance. Since Hinduism allows for personal inclinations in matters of worship, the significance of shrines may vary among individuals.
Hindus honor the concept that Dharma is Karma, or religion is morally correct action, and pilgrimage is an essential part of it. Thus, a sinner in search of purification will be advised to make arduous pilgrimages to acquit his soul from earthly errors and obtain salvation. Since ancient times, pilgrims have always been held in high esteem because of the difficulties they experience in their devotion.
One of the hundred pilgrimage destinations in India that attract millions of people every year, and probably the most famous, is Varanasi, which is a holy city and home to 50,000 Hindu priests. Historically, the city has served as a center of Hindu worship and pilgrimage for nearly 3,000 years, making it perhaps the oldest functioning holy city in the world.
Among the hundreds of shrines in Varanasi, the most important is the Golden Temple, dedicated to Shiva. The city is also surrounded by a 35-mile sacred road, the Panch Koshi. Devout pilgrims take six days to complete its circuit, visiting numerous shrines, temples and gardens along the way.
Another example of Hindu pilgrimage centers is the Four Dhams or the Four Abodes which represent the four cardinal points encapsulating the Indian subcontinent.
Pilgrimage in Islam
The Hajj is a compulsory pilgrimage prescribed by Almighty God to all capable Muslims In commemoration of the trials of Abraham and his family in Mecca, which included Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in response to the order of God, Muslims make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in their lifetime. This pilgrimage to Mecca and its surroundings, known as Hajj, is the fifth pillar of Islam.
Hajj is a compulsory pilgrimage prescribed by Almighty God to all Muslims who are able; while the pilgrimages of other religions are optional. The origin and history of these pilgrimages show that they were initiated by humans much later than the putative origin of these religions, and the purpose of these pilgrimages is set by the pilgrims themselves: for example, atonement for sins or a special blessing for themselves. .
The true significance of the Hajj destination in Makkah is that Makkah is the site of the first house built for the worship of the One and Only God of the universe; while other pilgrimages derive their importance from their connection with the birth, death or burial of a prophet or saint. The rites performed at Hajj are commemorative of Abraham, the patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Before performing the rituals of Hajj, pilgrims enter a state of consecration known as ihram. Specific Hajj rituals include circumambulating the Kabah seven times, known as Tawaf; back and forth seven times between the hills named Safa and Marwah, known as Sai; standing on the Mount of Mercy (`Arafah); throwing pebbles at the stone pillars known as Al-Jamarat; and the slaughter of a sheep or a goat, and the distribution of its meat to the poor, which is called sacrifice. How and when to do these rituals was taught by Prophet Muhammad as prescribed by Allah.
During Hajj, pilgrims are asked to focus their attention and devotion on Allah alone, in order to obtain His promised forgiveness.
Pilgrims come from different parts of the world; they differ in culture, ethnic origin and color, but this is never an obstacle, because they plead with the one God who unites them under his guidance and protection. The Prophet Muhammad made it clear to all Muslims, in a sermon during the Hajj season, that being superior has nothing to do with a person’s ethnicity, language or race. It doesn’t matter whether a person is Arab, non-Arab, yellow, black or white. The only measure of superiority and goodness in Islam is piety and God-consciousness.
By Professor Shahul Hameed