Hagg or Hajj is a very archaic Semitic term. Whatever its primordial interpretation may have been, it correlates to word ‘festival’. In Arabic the verbal form of this root is used also transitively auguring ‘to visit’ a shrine. How familiar the idea of pilgrimage was to the ancient Arabs is shown by the fact that ‘haggagu’, ‘al-hijjaj’ “those who want to go on pilgrimage” appears not infrequently as a proper name. Furthermore, ‘muhajja’, which originally meant a ‘pilgrim route’ is used for a ‘route’ in general, and ‘hijja’ ‘annual festival’ has become a synonym for year.

The festival of Hajj has been associated with Ka’bah and Makkah from the time of Ibrahim and his son Isma’il. Nearly a thousand years after the great deluge associated with Nuh, Ibrahim, his wife, Hajira, and their son Isma’il came to this place. Ibrahim laid his son on the rocky ground there and made his way onwards leaving behind the son and his mother. For subsistence Hajira had a sheepskin filled with dates and a leather pouch containing some water. There was nothing else but sand below and scorching sun above. No tree, no shade, no breeze and no water.

It is reported that Hajira ran after Ibrahim inquiring if God had enjoined him to abandon them. Ibrahim replied in the affirmative. “Then He will not abandon us”, Hajira replied. By the third day both mother and son began to feel the exigency of inclement heat and affliction from thirst and hunger. When the infant cried for water, the mother ran helplessly between the knolls of Saffa and Marwa looking heavenward with hands raised for clemency: “O Thou Bountiful, Thou full of Grace, who shall have mercy on us unless Thou hast mercy”, she cried. It is in memory of this incident that pilgrims go seven times between these knolls. The act is called “performance of sa’i”.

Hajira’s supplication was duly responded. Angel Jiba’il appeared on the scene and struck the ground with his wing. Water gushed out of the sand. This was the inception of the well of Zamzam. Water is running from the well even today from which millions of pilgrims drink every year.

Hajira and Isma’il eventually settled down at the place. After the lapse of a number of years, Ibrahim returned to the spot. By this time Isma’il had grown up. Ibrahim told his son:

“O my son I see in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice. Now see what is thy view”.

(The son) said, “O my father, do as thou art commanded”. Sura xxxvii (al-Saffat),102.

As Ibrahim got ready to sacrifice his son, Allah substituted Isma’il with a lamb. The incident is reported to have taken place in Mina’ eight kilometers east of Ka’bah. This act of sacrifice is now commemorated every year as an integral part of the Hajj.

After this episode, Ibrahim again left. When he returned the second time, Hajira had died and Isma’il was a married man. Ibrahim had a vision in which he was commanded to build the House of Allah. (According to some on the same site where the Temple of Adam had once stood). It is said that Ibrahim used the foundations of the same Temple to build the Ka’bah with the help of his son.

And then following Allah’s instructions climbing the mount Qubays near the House, Ibrahim invited people to the annual pilgrimage. Ibrahim and Isma’il went round Ka’bah themselves seven times and also ran same number of times between the hills of Saffa and Marwa in memory of Hajira’s ordeal:

“The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakkah (Makkah) full of blessings. In it are signs manifest; (for example), the station of Ibrahim, whosever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah. Those who can afford the journey”. Sura iii (Aal-i Imran), 96-97. Prophet Muhammad, mercies of Allah be upon him, had experienced the Hajj ritual since his youth. After the Hijrah he concluded that the Ka’bah and rituals associated with the House of Allah actually belonged to the “true” religion founded according to the will of Allah by Ibrahim, the Prophet of monotheism. As a consequence of this belief, the pilgrimage to Makkah became a religious duty for the Muslims in the second year after Hijrah.

Several verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed to support this claim. But the unbelieving denizens of Makkah declined to admit the Muslims into the sacred city and it was not until AH 6 that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, tried to go to Makkah with his companions. Hearing that the Muslims were approaching, the Makkans prepared themselves for the inexorable confrontation. At Hudibiyya the two parties signed a treaty by which Mulims agreed to return to Madina, but were allowed to celebrate their Hajj next year in Makkah. According to this concordat the Prophet came in AH7 with many of his followers to Makkah and made the ‘Umra al-qadha’ (“the Umra of the treaty”).

The following year Makkah was conquered by the Muslims and many Muslims joined in the Hajj there were many unbelievers in this group which did not include. But in AH 8 further Qur’anic revelations persuaded Muslims to revoke the treaty with the Makkans: and to formalize a new pattern of pilgrimage.

“A (declaration) of immunity from God and his Apostle, to those of the pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliance”.

“Truly the pagans are unclean, so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach to Sacred Mosque.” Sura ix (al-Bara’at), I and 28.

Anyone who was not a true Muslim was thus disallowed to enter the consecrated precincts of the Haram. All unbelievers were excluded from AH 10 and the Prophet himself came from Madina to Makkah in order to participate in the Hajj rituals. This was his ‘Hajjat al-wida’ (the farewell Hajj). He died eighty days afterwards in Madina.

With the expansion of the Islamic empire during the Caliphate, Umayyads and Abbasids pilgrims had to come for Hajj from distant places. Annual caravans of Hajis moved from Cairo and Damascus destined for Makkah. These caravans had elaborately decorated camels with a palanquin, at the head, as a symbol, known as mihmal. At that time there were only land routes and they were not safe. To make these routes safe and comfortable for the pilgrims, many rulers built caravansara’is and dispensaries on the holy route. Services at most of these places were provided gratis. We also know of dams which were built to store water for the pilgrims. One of the most intriguing feature about these dams is their size, big in size, some of them are situated 10 kilometres north-east of Taif. A great deal of construction was undertaken during the period of Harun al-Rashid (786-809), in this region. Construction work undertaken by his wife Zubaidah for the sake of hajis survives to this day as a reminder of the by-gone glories of Abbasid era the golden age of the Thousand and One Nights. Most of these reminders are along “Darb al-Zubaidah” (the Zubaidah’s way or highway).

There are even older examples of Hajj architecture near Taif. North-east of the city is a dam Sadd al-Saisid. On one of its sides there is a huge boulder containing an inscription in kufi characters:

“This dam belonged to Abd Allah ibn al-Muawiyyah, servant of Allah, prince of amir al-muminin. Built by Abd Allah Ibrahim by Allah’s instruction. 58 H.”

North of Taif is an interesting area, hilly and plain both. Much of it is green. Here are some more impressive remains of Zubaidah’s Way, the holy route from Abbasid capital Baghdad to the holy city of Makkah. Zubaidah was a devout Muslim and she herself performed Hajj six times during her life. Here in this area survive two pools built by the Queen. One of them is circular and perhaps the largest on Darb al-Zubaidah. When empty it is just like a Roman amphitheatre. It has a depth of some 8m and the base dia of 44m. This pool is linked with a cistern of 40x27m. These structures, roads and other facilities remained in active use till the middle of the 13th C. But when the Mongols plundered Baghdad in 1258 the security of pilgrims was once again put in jeopardy. The famous Darb al-Zubaidah went into neglect and was never reactivated.