Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. During Hajj, there is an expectation for physically and financially able Muslims to travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once in their lives. Meaning “pilgrimage” in Arabic, Hajj is an event that unites Muslims worldwide as they shed social status and celebrate equality in a holy city.
Muslims participate in Hajj during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. This spiritual pilgrimage commemorates Abraham’s life and recognizes what Muslims believe to be the creation of the first house of worship.
As Christians engage in conversations with their Muslim friends, knowing the background and purpose of the spiritual pilgrimage of Hajj can help equip us to be ready to encourage our Muslim friends toward a saving hope in Christ.
What is Hajj?
Muslims recognize Abraham’s life as one guided by faith. According to the Quran, Abraham (known as Ibrahim in the Quran) and his wife, Sarah, had a promise from Allah that Abraham would be a father of many nations. However, as Sarah got older, she doubted the promise and asked Abraham to have a child with their servant, Hagar. The son Hagar bore was named Ishmael.
After Ishmael’s birth, Muslims believe Allah commanded Abraham to offer one of his sons as a sacrifice. Some Muslims believe this son was Ishmael, while others believe it was Isaac. Abraham was willing to obey, but Allah provided an alternate sacrifice to save the son’s life. Allah then commanded Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael to a barren land now known as Mecca. Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’aba, the holiest shrine in Islam. Muslims visit Ka’aba during Hajj and commemorate Hagar and Ishmael’s exile to Mecca by re-enacting Hagar’s desperate search for water to save Ishmael.
Muslims believe attending Hajj will provide them with an opportunity to work for renewal and forgiveness. The event lasts five days, and during that time, Muslims carry out a series of rituals and are restricted from arguments, violence, and sexual relations. Participants wear two simple pieces of white cloth, and men shave their heads while women cut a lock of their hair.
At the end of Hajj, Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Adha.
Hajj is believed to be the largest public annual gathering in the world. Many nations are represented, and Muslims enjoy unity and equality with each other. Muslims believe Mecca is the holiest place, and only Muslims are permitted to enter.
The gospel opportunity of Hajj
The story of Hagar and Ishmael is shared in both Christianity and Islam. However, there are a few differences. For example, the Bible states Abraham sacrificed Isaac, while Muslims believe it was either Ishmael or Isaac. Also, the Bible states that Hagar was sent away by a jealous Sarah, while the Quran cites that Allah commanded Abraham to send Hagar away. The Quran also mentions Mecca and the building of the Ka’aba, which is not in the Bible.
The stories do align in the provision of water for Hagar and Ishmael in the barren land.
“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. —Genesis 21:17-20a
The provision for Hagar and Ishmael reveals the Lord’s heart for His people. Despite their disobedience, the Lord provided Abraham and Sarah a second son, Isaac, who continues a lineage to Christ. Then the Lord provided water for Hagar and Ishmael in the barren land, and Ishmael was provided a historic lineage as well. In the same way, the Lord continues to provide for His people through Christ as our Savior and the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Guide.
This shows that God is a loving and personal God. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we can truly know God. In Islam, one cannot truly know Allah, and Muslims strive to earn acceptance and forgiveness. Through accepting Christ as their Savior, Christians freely receive forgiveness through grace.
When your Muslim friends discuss Hajj, they may be interested in hearing that Hagar and Ishmael are in the Bible. Share that as the Lord’s character provided for Hagar in the desert, He still provides for His people through Jesus Christ for salvation. If the Spirit leads, explain how the Lord’s provision through Christ is sufficient, and we have no obligation to earn salvation by deeds because of His perfect life.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” —Ephesians 2:8-9
During this conversation, you may have planted or watered a seed of truth. Pray that God will make the seed grow and that your Muslim friend will understand that forgiveness of sins comes through faith in Christ alone.
Learn more about sharing the gospel with Muslims.
This article first appeared on the East-West blog and is republished by permission.