1. compare the haji to christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem. what shrines are important to these pilgrimages
2. when is Ramadan celebrated? what significance does this important event have in life of a Muslim?
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There are similarities between the Muslim Hajj and Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, although the levels of importance to adherents of each religion differ greatly. There are five pillars of Islam to which every Muslim is expected to comply. These include charitable donations (called zakat), praying five times a day, while facing towards Mecca, fasting during Ramadan, and declaring that there is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger. The fifth pillar is at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during the individual’s lifetime, assuming he or she is physically and financially capable of making the trip. Christianity, of course, reveres the holy sites of Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine as a whole, but imposed no such requirements upon its adherents. That said, pilgrimages to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, and to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Crucifixion, are highly valued and Christians who can make the trek do so.
The importance of Mecca to Muslims cannot be overstated. Mecca and Medina are the two holiest cities in Islam. Mecca is the location where Muslims believe the Biblical Abraham built the Ka’aba, or “Cube,” as place of worship and which constitutes the central point of the Grand Mosque. It is the Ka’aba to which Muslims actually face when praying. Muslims who are able are required to visit the Grand Mosque at least once in their life, during which time they circle the Ka’aba and perform rituals intended to emulate the Prophet Muhammad by wearing plain white garments and making a journey involving stops at specified locations of religious significance, for example, the village of Mina and the Plain of Arafat. Pilgrims are expected to donate sheep or goats to the poor or at least purchase and donate some of the meat of a sheep or goat. Pilgrims are expected to denounce worldly possessions as a demonstration of sacrifice. At Mecca, pilgrims remove the garments they have worn throughout the previous journey and men shave while women cut off a lock of hair. All bathe and don new garments before beginning the ritualistic stoning of the devil and the circling of the Ka’aba. The Ka’aba is circled seven times, a process that can take several days because of the enormous number of pilgrims participating in the Hajj every year. Finally, pilgrims walk between two hills designated al-Marwah and al-Safa, so-named for the efforts endured by Abraham’s wife Hagar to secure water for their son Ishmael. This ritual is concluded with a drink from the Zamzam well, believed to be the site where Hagar finally found water.
Ramadan marks the start of the Islamic year. Both Jews and Muslims continue to follow, for religious purposes, calendars that are predicated upon the phases of the Moon, in the case of Islam, the appearance of a crescent Moon. While Jews fast during Yom Kippur, Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down for the entire month of Ramadan. In addition to fasting, Muslims are expected to refrain from smoking and sex, while praying more frequently than during the rest of the calendar year. Because the Islamic calendar tracks the phases of the Moon, the beginning of the Muslim New Year appears to occur randomly from the perspective of non-Muslims who follow the traditional Sun-focused Gregorian calendar. Ramadan for 2014 is expected to begin on the evening of June 28.
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