Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

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Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

Required Resources
Read/review the following resources for this activity:

  • Textbook: Chapter 8, 9, 10
  • Lesson
  • Minimum of 6 scholarly sources (at least 2 for Judaism, 2 for Christianity, & 2 for Islam)
    • Please review criteria for scholarly sources.

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Instructions
In a short essay, complete the following:

  • Explain the historical relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What are their geographical connections? What are their historical timelines?
  • Analyze the historical relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in order to make an argument about the similarities and differences between the three religions. Select one main example from the following list on which to focus your comparison: the nature of God, the nature of Jesus, Holy Books, or Salvation. Your analysis should span multiple paragraphs and utilize specific examples.
  • Conclude by examining the current relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam today. How has globalization influenced or affected the current relationship?

Your paper should include an introduction and thesis that clearly states your central claim, thoughtful examples and analysis in your body paragraphs, and a conclusion to finalize your thoughts.

Writing Requirements (APA format)

  • Length: 1200-1400 words (not including title page or references page)
  • 1-inch margins
  • Double spaced
  • 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Title page
  • References page (minimum of 6 scholarly sources)

Grading
This activity will be graded based on the Written Assignment Grading Rubric.

Weekly Objectives (WO)
WO4.1, 4.2, 6.11-6.13, 7.3

Resource:

 

Molloy, M. (2013). Experiencing the world’s religions (6th ed.). New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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    Chapter10Molloy.docx

    CHAPTER 10

    ISLAM

    FIRST ENCOUNTER

    You are in Malaysia, on your way south to Singapore. A friend has recommended that you visit the modern national mosque in Kuala Lumpur. Your first try is unsuccessful because the mosque is closed for midday prayer. After two hours at a nearby museum of Islamic art, you return to the mosque. You leave your shoes at the bottom of the stairs and walk up into the building. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    The mosque is extraordinary. You are amazed at how well the traditional Islamic love of geometrical design has been adapted to modern architecture. The marble floors reflect the colors of the stained glass above and the movement of the many visitors walking toward the main prayer area.

    As you approach the core of the mosque, you notice a sign on a rope indicating that only Muslims are allowed to enter. You overhear some Chinese visitors explain to a woman at the rope that they are Muslims. She directs them in. You come up behind them, just to get a better look. The large space is carpeted, and people are prostrating themselves in prayer. You and the woman begin to talk. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Page 408“My name is Aminah,” she says. “I’m an elementary-school teacher. Right now school is not in session, so I volunteer my time here.” Aminah is dressed in a floor-length blue robe with a full head covering. Only her face and hands are visible. “Do you have any questions?” she asks.

    From what you have seen on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, you know that Aminah is conservatively dressed. So you ask the obvious question: “Why do you dress as you do?”

     

    “I expected that,” she says with a smile. “So many westerners want to talk about clothes.” You look down, slightly embarrassed to be just another westerner with an obvious question.

    “The way I dress makes me feel safe,” she says. “For me it’s comfortable. It reminds me that within Islam, women are protected.”

    You look a bit doubtful.

    “Yes, I know,” she continues. “It is possible to be too protected. Fathers and uncles and brothers sometimes make it their career to watch out for you, and that’s not always welcome.” You both laugh. “And sports can be difficult if one is all covered up. But we’re working on it.”

    Aminah has finished her duty and is replaced by a man standing nearby.

    “What about arranged marriages, especially of very young women?” you ask her. “And what about women being kept from education in some Muslim countries?” You ask these things just for the sake of argument, as you both begin to walk toward the exit.

    “Things like that are cultural,” she says. “There are many old traditions that are not a part of true Islam, and they can be changed. A whole new kind of modern Islam is developing, especially here in Malaysia, and the roles of women are widening. You know the saying, ‘Do not judge a book by its cover.’ What you see of women like me may look traditional, but it’s a disguise. Inside, we’re modern. Come back again in ten years and you will see it even more clearly.”

    Together you go down the steps in front of the mosque to a little kiosk. Aminah reaches into a drawer there.

    “I want you to have this,” she says, as she hands you a blue book with gold writing on the front. “You can find all you need to know here. After you read it, maybe you can give us fresh ideas for a new, modern type of Islam.”

    You look down at the book. Printed in both Arabic and English, it is a copy of the Qur’an.

    As you wait for a taxi, you wonder about the Qur’an. Who wrote it? What does it say about Muhammad? And does it say anything about other religions? What does it say about women? As you climb into your taxi, you decide to start reading your new book that evening. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Page 409

    THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF MUHAMMAD

    Muhammad 1  (570–632 ce) was born in Mecca, in what is today Saudi Arabia (see  Timeline 10.1 , p. 410). Much of what we know about him comes from his sermons and revelations in the Muslim sacred book, the  Qur’an  (“recitation”), and from the  hadiths  (also spelled ahadith; “recollections,” “narratives”), the remembrances of him by his early followers.

     

    Timeline of significant events in the history of Islam.

    In the days before Islam arose, the religions of the Arabian Peninsula were Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism (which we’ll discuss later), and traditional local religious practices. These local practices included worshiping tree spirits, mountain spirits, tribal gods, and jinni (the origin of the English word genie)—capricious spirits that were thought to inhabit the desert and even to enter people. The supreme god Allah was an object of faith but not of worship. Allah “was the creator and sustainer of life but remote from everyday concerns and thus not the object of cult or ritual. Associated with Allah were three goddesses, his daughters: al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza,” 2  goddesses related to nature, the moon, and fertility.

    At the time of Muhammad’s birth, Mecca was already a center of religious pilgrimage. Located in Mecca was a black meteorite that had fallen to earth long before Muhammad’s time. It was venerated because it was believed to have been sent from heaven. A squarish shrine had been constructed to contain it, called the  Kabah  (“cube”). 3  By Muhammad’s day, as many as 360 religious images of tribal gods and goddesses had been placed within the Kabah, and tradition tells that twenty-four statues, perhaps associated with the zodiac, stood around the central square of Mecca. By Muhammad’s time, yearly pilgrimages to Mecca were already common, and a four-month period of regular truce among the many Arabian tribes was kept in order to allow this.

    Muhammad’s grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib, played an important role among the Quraysh, the dominant tribe of Mecca, and is even thought to have been custodian of the Kabah. Muhammad’s father died not long before Muhammad’s birth, and his mother seems to have died when he was just a child. Muhammad then went to live with his grandfather, and after his grandfather’s death two years later, he lived with his uncle, Abu Talib. 4

    As an adult, Muhammad worked as a caravan driver for a widow named  Khadijah , 5  who had inherited a caravan company from her deceased husband. The friendship between Khadijah and Muhammad grew over time. They married in about 595 ce, when Muhammad was 25 and she (tradition says) was about 40. 6  This marriage brought financial, spiritual, and emotional support to Muhammad; Khadijah proved to be his mainstay until her death. Together they had about six children. But sadly no boy survived into adulthood to become Muhammad’s hereditary successor. After Khadijah’s death, Muhammad remarried a number of times. It is possible he married several of his wives out of compassion, because in his society widows of soldiers often needed a husband for financial support and legal protection. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

     

    Page 410 From his travels as a caravan worker, Muhammad undoubtedly learned a great deal about several religions, including the differences within and among them. Although the monotheistic religions of his region shared a belief in one High God and emphasized the need for morality, there was much disagreement as well. Jews and Christians disagreed about the role of Jesus and the nature of God. Christians disagreed with each other about the nature of Jesus. Jews and some Christians forbade image-making, although most Christians allowed it. And another major influence, the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, so emphasized the moral struggle in human life that many people saw the world as being subject to two cosmic forces—good and evil. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Page 411

    As a religious person, Muhammad spent time pondering and meditating. To do this, he frequently went to caves in the hills surrounding Mecca that had long been used for prayer. When he was 40, during a religious retreat in a cave at Mount Hira, he received his first revelation, as recorded in the Qur’an. A bright presence came to him and held before his eyes a cloth covered with writing. It commanded three times that he recite what was written there:

    Recite in the name of the Lord who created—created man from clots of blood.

    Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One, who by the pen taught man what he did not know.

    Indeed, man transgresses in thinking himself his own master; for to your Lord all things return.…

    Prostrate yourself and come nearer. 7

    At first, Muhammad doubted the nature of this revelation. Could it be madness or hallucination or some kind of demonic apparition? He confided in his wife Khadijah, who knew him well and encouraged him to accept his experience as a true communication from God. He became convinced that the bright presence was the angel Gabriel, and when further revelations came to him, Muhammad began to share them with his closest friends and family members—particularly his wife, his cousin Ali (600–661), and his friend, Abu Bakr (573–634). These were the first  Muslims , meaning “people who submit” to God (Allah).

    When Muhammad began to proclaim his revelations more openly, he was not well received. Much of Muhammad’s message was unthreatening—he urged kindness and taking care of the poor and weak. But Muhammad also insisted that there was only one God to worship. The revelations forbade the worship of other gods and demanded the destruction of statues and images. Muhammad also denounced usury (lending money at exorbitant rates) and the failure to make and keep fair contracts. These messages threatened businesspeople, particularly those involved in the pilgrimage trade, because the revelations denounced both common business practices and the multiple tribal gods whose images were kept in the Kabah. In 615 ce, some of Muhammad’s followers fled for safety to what is today Ethiopia. In 619 ce, Khadijah died. When Abu Talib, Muhammad’s protective uncle, died soon after, Muhammad became concerned for his own safety. He and the rest of his followers considered eventually leaving Mecca.

    Page 412

    During this stressful time, Muhammad, in 620 ce, experienced himself being carried to Jerusalem and ascending from there into paradise. In this experience, called his Night Journey or Night of Ascent, the angel Gabriel guided him upward. As Muhammad ascended toward the highest heaven, he encountered angels and the great prophets of the past, including Abraham and Jesus, and at last entered into the presence of God. Muslims disagree about whether this event constituted a personal vision or an actual physical ascension from Jerusalem. Regardless, artistic tradition treats Muhammad’s experience as a physical and bodily ascent from the city of Jerusalem. 8  He is pictured being carried on the back of the celestial steed Buraq, surrounded by flames and flying through the sky. This experience confirmed for Muhammad his vocation as a prophet and messenger of God. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Persecution of Muhammad and his followers in Mecca intensified. At the invitation of leaders of Yathrib, a city about three hundred miles to the north, Muhammad and his followers finally left Mecca in 622 ce. Muhammad’s migration is called in Arabic the  Hijra . The word means “flight” or migration,” and the occurrence is a central event in Islam. It marks (1) the point at which Muhammad’s message was favorably received and (2) the start of the Islamic community (umma). For these reasons, the Muslim calendar dates the year of the Hijra as year 1. (In the West, dates according to the Muslim calendar are given as AH—anno Hegirae, Latin for “in the year of the Hijra.”)

    Muhammad’s initial success in Yathrib was not complete. Jews there allied with his political enemies and rejected his beliefs because he accepted Jesus as a prophet and disputed the completeness and correctness of the Hebrew scriptures. Muhammad eventually banished or executed these enemies, and over time he gained control of the city. In Yathrib he set up the first Islamic  mosque  (masjid), where many early rules about worship and social regulation were worked out. Yathrib is now called Medina (madinat an-nabi, “city of the prophet”). Along with Mecca and Jerusalem, Medina has become one of the three most sacred cities of Islam.

    In spite of his success in Yathrib, Muhammad’s goal was always to return to Mecca, the religious center of Arabia. In a battle in 624 ce at Badr between citizens of Mecca and Yathrib, Muslim soldiers triumphed against great odds. There were skirmishes and threats and a tentative treaty over the following few years until, finally, Muhammad returned as the victor in 630 ce to Mecca, where he then took control of the city, destroyed all images in the Kabah and marketplace, and began to institutionalize his religious ideals.

    Muhammad extended his control over further territory in Arabia; at the time of his death, he was planning to spread his religion into Syria. In his final sermon, he opposed merely tribal loyalties and preached the brotherhood of all believers. Muhammad died in Yathrib in 632 ce.

    Muhammad viewed himself, as did his followers, as the last of the long line of prophets who transmitted God’s word to humanity. He did not consider himself to be divine but simply an instrument in the hands of God, a messenger transmitting God’s will to the human world. Muslims view Muhammad as a man who showed perfection in his life, and they revere him as an ideal human being, a model for all believers. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

     

    Page 414

    ESSENTIALS OF ISLAM

    Islam  literally means “surrender” or “submission,” indicating wholehearted surrender to God, and a Muslim is one who submits to God (Allah). The words Islam and Muslim are related to several words for peace, such as the Arabic salam and the Hebrew shalom. They suggest the inner peace that is gained by surrendering to the divine. The word Islam also connotes the community of all believers, suggesting inclusion in a large family. As the Qur’an states, “the believers are a band of brothers.” 9

    At the heart of Islam is a belief in an all-powerful, transcendent God who has created the universe and who controls it down to the smallest detail. Islam is thus a cousin to the other monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity, and all three religions worship the same God. It is possible, however, that the notion of God’s power and transcendence receives the greatest emphasis in Islam. Some observers have commented that in Islam, prostration of the entire body during prayer fittingly indicates a belief in divine power and the believer’s submission to it. Prostration is compared to other characteristic prayer postures, such as kneeling (common in Christianity) and standing (common in Judaism). The physical posture of prostration illustrates well the Muslim attitude of total surrender to God.

    Muslims refer to God as Allah. The word is a contraction of al (“the”) and ilah (“God”) and simply means “the God” or “God.” (The Arabic word Allah is related to El, the general Hebrew word for “God.”) Muslims explain that the word Allah is not the name of God—it simply means “God.” It is said that Allah has ninety-nine names, among which are “the Merciful,” “the Just,” and “the Compassionate.” These names demonstrate that Allah is not abstract—not just an impersonal force—but has characteristics of a personal being. In the Qur’an, Allah describes himself as personal and caring, as well as all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Allah, because of this personal nature and the attribute of power, is referred to in Islam in “male” terms, although, strictly speaking, Allah has no gender.

    It is sometimes hard for non-Muslims to understand the Muslim notion that God is omnipresent and controls every detail of life. The name of God is invoked in daily conversation, particularly in the frequently used phrase, “if God wills.” People are called to prayer several times a day by a  muezzin , a chanter who announces that Allah is great, greater than anything else. The chanted voice suggests that God is as active in the world as sound is active in the air, unseen but present. Some visitors to Muslim countries have remarked that people there live in a shared belief in God as easily as fish live in water or birds fly in air. God’s active, present reality is taken for granted. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    In Islamic belief, God has spoken repeatedly through human beings—prophets—revealing his mind and will. Muslims believe that divine revelation began just after the creation of the human race, when God spoke to Adam and Eve. It continued to occur, as when God spoke to patriarchs and prophets such as Abraham (Ibrahim) and Moses (Musa). Islamic belief also thinks of Jesus (Isa) as a prophet of God, although Muslims reject both the notion of Jesus’s divinity and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Muslims believe that both Judaism and Christianity express true revelation from God but that in various ways those religions have contaminated God’s word with human misunderstanding. It was Muhammad, Muslims believe, who freed the divine message from human error and offered it, purified, to all people. Because he is considered the last and greatest figure in the long line of prophets, Muhammad is called the “seal of the prophets.”

    Page 415Muslims trace their ancestry back to Abraham, the same patriarchal ancestor of the Jews, and to his son Ishmael (Ismail). Ishmael (as discussed in  Chapter 8 ) was conceived by Abraham and Hagar, who was a maid to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. When Sarah, at an advanced age, became pregnant and gave birth to her son Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael were forced to leave Abraham’s care, purportedly because of Sarah’s jealousy. They survived in the desert only because an angel revealed to them a source of water, which Muslims believe was found near Mecca.

    Muhammad learned about Judaism from the Jews who lived in Arabia. He also absorbed and considered religious elements from Christianity and Zoroastrianism—religions that share with Islam a belief in the soul, bodily resurrection, a final judgment (the Day of Doom), and an afterlife of hell for the wicked and paradise for the good. 10  All three religions also share with Islam a belief in angels and devils, who can have influence on human beings. Indeed, there are numerous similarities between Islam and other religions, and non-Muslims might speculate that Muhammad was influenced by these religions. However, Muslims hold that Muhammad’s religious ideas came directly from God. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    The overall worldview of Islam (as with the other three religions) is highly dramatic. Muslims believe that good and evil forces are in constant battle and that life on earth is filled with choices that lead to the most serious consequences. This conception goes hand in hand with the overall emphasis of all Western prophetic religions on morality. Religion is viewed as a strongly ethical enterprise; one of its most important purposes is to regulate human life. This moral emphasis appears clearly in the essential Five Pillars of Islam, which we will now consider.

    The Five Pillars of Islam

    All Muslims must accept and practice the following Five Pillars, so called because they support one’s faith. The Five Pillars are mentioned in the Qur’an.

    Creed (Shahadah)  “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” This single sentence, when recited with belief, makes a person a Muslim. It is the first sentence whispered into the ears of a newborn infant; it is recited daily in prayer; and it is written in Arabic inside the domes of mosques and over people’s doors everywhere in the Islamic world.

     

     

    Muslims are called to prayers five times each day. At this Cairo mosque, men pray on the left, in front of an arched niche called the mihrab, which points to Mecca. Women here stand to the right of the minbar, a pulpit from which an imam may preach. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Page 416

    The most noticeable quality of the Muslim creed is its simplicity, for it emphasizes that there is only one God and that God is a unity. As the Qur’an says, “Your God is one God. There is no God but him.” 11  The simplicity of the creed is in deliberate contrast to the rather long and complicated creeds of Christianity, and within it is a rejection of several Christian notions. It rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which Muslims see as a belief in three gods. It also rejects the idea that Jesus was divine or that any human being can be divine. It emphatically does not see Muhammad as a divine or supernatural figure but specifies his role as God’s prophet and messenger. 12

    Prayer (Salat)  Devout Muslims are called on to pray five times a day: before dawn and at midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nighttime. 13  Times for prayer are announced by a muezzin, who calls out from the top of a tower called a  minaret . (Nowadays, recordings of the call to prayer are often played over loudspeakers.) The muezzin’s call to prayer begins with Allahu akbar (“God is supreme”), 14  and it continues, “I witness that there is no God but Allah; I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; hasten to prayer.” In towns and cities with many mosques, the call to prayer comes from the most prestigious mosque first and is then followed up by other mosques.

     

     

    Page 417Before prayer, the individual is normally expected to perform a ritual purification with water, washing the hands, arms, face, neck, and feet. If water is unavailable, purification may be done with sand.

    Those who pray face toward Mecca—inside a mosque the direction ( qiblah ) is indicated by a special arched niche ( mihrab ). In the earliest days of Islam, Muslims faced Jerusalem for prayer, but later revelations received by Muhammad in Yathrib changed this direction to Mecca. The Qur’an directs: “Turn your face toward the holy mosque; wherever you be, turn your faces toward it.” 15  When several people are praying together, one person acts as the leader, standing at the head of the group in front of the mihrab. Passages from the Qur’an and other prayer formulas are recited from memory in Arabic, accompanied by several basic bodily postures: standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting. Each time of prayer demands a certain number of sets (rakas) of prayers: two at morning prayer, three at dusk, and four at the other times of prayer. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Friday is the day of public prayer. On other days, people may pray privately, at home or at work or in a mosque. Originally, the day of public prayer was Saturday, following the Jewish practice; but Muhammad received a revelation that public prayer on Friday was God’s will. In most Muslim countries, public prayer is performed at midday on Friday. Usually only men perform public prayer at a mosque, while women ordinarily pray at home; but where women are allowed to pray with men at a mosque, they are assigned their own area, separated by a curtain or screen or located in an upstairs gallery. The Friday service usually includes a sermon by a religious leader. Although Friday is a day of public prayer, it is not necessarily a public day of rest. In many Muslim countries, offices are open on Fridays, and because of European colonial influence, the public day of rest is Sunday. Some Muslim countries, however, recognize Friday as the weekly day of public rest.

    Page 418

    Charity to the Poor (Zakat)  Muhammad was troubled by injustice, inequality, and poverty, and the demand that people give to the poor was a part of his overall vision of a more just society. Islamic practice demands that believers donate certain percentages of their total income, herds, and produce from fields and orchards each year to the poor. This is not a tax on yearly income but rather a tax on all that one owns. The percentages vary, depending on what is taxed, but are commonly about 2.5 percent. Nowadays, government involvement in this taxation varies among Muslim countries. (In industrialized countries, government taxes commonly pay for systems of welfare, disability, social security, and other forms of assistance. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, however, that is practical only in money-based economies. Nonindustrial societies, which often use barter instead of money, depend much more on voluntary care for the poor.) In addition to established yearly donations, a good Muslim is expected to perform isolated acts of generosity and charity for the poor when such acts are called for in everyday life.

    Fasting during Ramadan (Sawm)  To fast means to abstain from food for a specified period of time. The purpose of fasting is to discipline oneself, to develop sympathy for the poor and hungry, and to give to others what one would have eaten. Fasting is thought to be good for individual spiritual growth, and it is also an important bond that unites Muslims during the period of shared fasting known as  Ramadan .

    Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is the period during which Muhammad first received his revelations. Fasting during this month, followed by a feast of celebration at the month’s end, is considered a fitting way to remember this special event. During the month of Ramadan, devout Muslims avoid all food, liquid, tobacco, and sex from dawn until dusk. Exceptions are made with regard to food and drink for travelers, pregnant women, and the sick, but these people are expected to make up the days of fasting at a later time. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Because Islam follows a strictly lunar calendar, Ramadan occurs at a slightly different time each year, as measured by a solar calendar of 365 days. Twelve lunar months equal only 354 days; thus, Ramadan begins 11 days earlier each year than in the previous year. As a result, Ramadan can fall in any season. When Ramadan falls in winter, when the days are cool and short, it involves the least discomfort. But when the month of Ramadan falls in the summer, fasting can be a great hardship; when evening finally comes and the day’s fast is ended, water and food seem miraculous.

    We should note that periods of abstinence are common in many religions. The Christian observance of Lent, for about a month before Easter, is a well-known example, as is the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in autumn. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

     

    Page 419

    Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)  Pilgrimage—a religious journey by a believer to a sacred city or site—is a common practice in many religions. Besides fulfilling religious demands, pilgrimage offers other, less obvious rewards. It allows people to travel and experience new sights, brings people of different backgrounds together, and engenders a sense of unity. Best of all, it becomes a powerful symbol of an interior journey to the spiritual goals of new understanding and personal transformation. All Muslims, both men and women, unless prevented by poverty or sickness, are expected to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Because Islam is central to the nature of Mecca, only Muslims may visit the city.

    Page 420Pilgrimage to Mecca, or  Hajj , was already a practice before Muhammad was born, possibly because worshipers wanted to visit the mysterious black meteorite that had fallen in the area. Muhammad, following divine revelation, continued the practice of pilgrimage to Mecca. He also continued many earlier aspects of that pilgrimage—including veneration of the black meteorite. Although this veneration might seem to contradict Muhammad’s call for pure, nonidolatrous worship of the One God, the meteorite was thought of as a special gift from God. It was also connected with Abraham and even with Adam, who are said to have venerated it, and with the angel Gabriel, who was thought to have carried it to earth. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

    Because the present-day form of pilgrimage offers many deeply emotional experiences for believers, it deserves special description. 16  Contemporary pilgrims generally arrive by plane at Jiddah, the port city on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. In earlier times, people came by more romantic (and dangerous) methods—by boat or camel caravan. Air travel, however, has enabled people to come in great numbers. In the past, about thirty thousand people visited Mecca each year; now more than two million people make the journey. In earlier days, the pilgrimage took months or even years. Some pilgrims died along the way, particularly when the special month of pilgrimage fell in the summer. Often it was the only long trip a person might ever take from a home village. Despite the enormous number of pilgrims, returning home as a hajji (male pilgrim) or hajjiyah (female pilgrim) still confers much prestige.

    Muslims distinguish between the “greater pilgrimage,” which is made only during the special month of pilgrimage (dhul-Hijjah), and the “lesser pilgrimage,” which can be made at other times of the year as well. The lesser pilgrimage consists simply of a visit to Mecca and nearby holy sites. The greater pilgrimage, which is described in the following paragraphs, adds several days of arduous travel and ritual in the plains beyond Mecca. A trip to the city of Medina is often included.

    Pilgrims first come to Mecca and are expected to arrive by the seventh of the month for the Hajj. For men there is special clothing, called the robe of Abraham, consisting of two pieces of white, seamless cloth. One piece is worn around the waist and lower body; the other covers the upper body and the left arm. (Women have no special clothing, but many dress in white. They do not veil their faces when they are participating in the pilgrimage.) The uniformity of clothing for males emphasizes their basic equality before God. In addition to the robe of Abraham and special prayers, all pilgrims are expected to refrain from sex, violence, and hunting. (It is easy to see how these pilgrimages and the associated practices drastically reduced intertribal warfare on the Arabian Peninsula.)

    After settling into their hotels or hostels, pilgrims proceed to the Grand Mosque. Inside the huge rectangle of the mosque area is a large courtyard, open to the sky. The four sides of the courtyard consist of pillared colonnades, which open out onto the central area and offer shade. At the center of the courtyard is the Kabah shrine. It is a building approximately 50 feet high and 40 feet wide and deep. (Its metric dimensions are approximately 15 meters high and 12 meters wide and deep.) The building is covered with a black cloth, remade every year, whose edges are embroidered in gold with words from the Qur’an. The interior of the Kabah is empty and is entered only by caretakers and dignitaries, who ritually cleanse the interior with rosewater. The black meteorite, known as the Black Stone, is embedded in one external wall of the building and is visible on the outside from the courtyard. Comparative Religion-Analytical Essay

     

     

    Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kabah, the great cube in the center of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

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