Hajj Qur'an

Hajj in the Bible

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bartb_pt/7669689392/in/photostream/A cursory analysis into the word “Hajj” as found in the Old Testament.

When many Jews and Christians view Islam from the outside, they find parallels to their own faiths that usually inspire a great deal of curiosity. These parallels are often doctrinal, sometimes regarding the biographies of Prophets shared between the three Abrahamic faiths like Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them). Yet, sometimes striking parallels are found by the more discerning eye. Deep inquests often reveal textual and lexical similarities that are difficult—if not impossible—to explain by mere theories of one tradition borrowing from another.

As millions upon millions of Muslim devotees engage in the rites of the Hajj pilgrimage, one of the 5 pillars of Islam, we can peer into the terms used in this age-old practice that lead us to a time long before the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) was even born. Let us look at the word al-Hajj itself:

الحجّ (al-Hajj)

Typically, the entire Arabic vocabulary, like its sisters in the Semitic linguistic group, consists of words structured from triliteral triconsonantal roots. In this case the root is Hajaj (حجج). According to the classical Arabic lexicon Lisān al-`Arab it is defined:

القصد. حج إلينا فلان أي قدم

“Purpose. As in, ‘So-and-so did Hajj unto us,’ which means he presented himself before us.”1

So the general lexical meaning of the word is “intended purpose”. In the context of the Hajj, the Ka`bah within the Meccan Sanctuary is the intended destination and purpose. To list usages of this word in an Islamic context would be, for most Muslims, an appeal to the very obvious as stories of its wonder and splendor that have been related to them since childhood. However, if we peer beyond the context of Islamic rites and deep into the past, do we find this word used in the previous traditions of the Old Testament?

The answer is in the affirmative. The book of Exodus contains the following verse in reference to a Hajj in the time of Moses:

והיה היום הזה לכם לזכרון וחגתם אתו חג ליהוה לדרתיכם חקת עולם תחגהו

wa-haya ha-yōm haza lakhem li-zikrōn wa-khagōtem otō khag li-Yehōwa li-dorotaychem khuqat `olam takhaguhū

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.” [Exodus 12:14]

In this verse the King James translators rendered the uninflected noun Khag (חג) as “feast”. This word Khag is wholly cognate to the Arabic Hajj (حج). Elsewhere in the verse the word Khag is inflected as khagotem and takhaguhū. One must pay attention to the fact that the Hebrew phonetic “kh” (ח) is the pharyngeal fricative “h” (ح) in Arabic. Also, one must note that the phonetic “g” (ג) is cognate to the Arabic “j” (ج). So for analytical purposes in this context the verse would be rendered:

“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a Hajj to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a Hajj by an ordinance forever.”

Another verse using this root is the following:

ואחר באו משה ואהרן ויאמרו אל-פרעה כה-אמר יהוה אלהי ישראל שלח את-עמי ויחגו לי במדבר

wa-ākhar bā’u Mōshe wa-Aharōn wa-yomru el-Par`o koh-amar Yahweh Elohay Yishrael shalach et-`ami wa-yakhugū li ba-midbār

“And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go , that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.” [Exodus 5:1]

The inflected word that the King James translators rendered “feast” is yakhuggū (יחגו) which is cognate to the Arabic “yuhajjū” (يُحَجّوا) so for analytical purposes the verse would be rendered in this context as:

“And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a Hajj unto me in the wilderness.”

This is not to suggest that Moses and Aaron went to Mecca and performed Hajj as Muslims know it today. It is merely to exemplify that a consecrated journey and pilgrimage unto God at His Temple did, indeed, precede the rise of Islam in the 7th Century CE.

An additional and astonishing dimension to this that makes the concept of lexical borrowing between the Old Testament and the Qur’an improbable, if not outright impossible, is found in an alternate form of the root in Hebrew, Khug (חוג). Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (1846) defines this word:

“חוג To describe a circle, to draw a circle, as with compasses. Job 26:10…m. a circle, sphere, used of the arch or vault of the sky, Pro. 8:27; Job 22:14; of the world, Isa. 40:22.”2

Let us look at the verses he has cited above:

“When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass (חוג) upon the face of the depth.” [Proverbs 8:27]

“Thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of heaven (וחוג שמים).” [Job 22:14]

“It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth (חוג הארץ), and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” [Isaiah 40:22]

Thus, this word not only means sacred pilgrimage and feast unto God in the Bible, it also means to encircle. To any Muslim this will be a striking discovery.

Semitic languages have been, since time immemorial, broad and deep systems of expression where one word’s many variant, but supplementary, meanings all coalesce to a greater understanding of that lexeme. So in this case we have a root which has a form meaning a feast, also meaning a pilgrimage, and in one form meaning to encircle! The Hajj pilgrimage, which is at its core an encircling of the Ka`bah called Tawāf, is concluded with none other than the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command. Borrowing all these meanings buried in lexica that did not even exist until hundreds of years after the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would require no short of a Semitic linguist and Biblical scholar. It should be noted that the Bible itself would not be available until 200-300 years after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ ((The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, p. 982)) . Such lexical depth and lucidity is consistently found throughout the Qur’an as God has stated therein:

“This Qur’an could not have been authored by any other than God, as it rectifies what came before it and elucidates what was in the previous scriptures. Let there be no doubt that this is, indeed, from the Lord of all Worlds.” (Qur’an, 10:37)

  1. Lisan al-`Arab, Ibn al-Mandhur []
  2. The Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, p. 263 []

About the author

Shibli Zaman

Shibli Zaman

Shibli Zaman was born in Summit, New Jersey and raised in Houston, Texas. Since his childhood, he has frequently traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Later in life, much of this time was spent studying Islamic jurisprudence in the Shafi`i and Hanbali schools of law. He has a deep appreciation for different cultures and is literate in several languages such as Arabic, Persian, Pashto and Urdu. Surprising for a Muslim, he is also adept in Hebrew and Aramaic. Having a proclivity for Semitic linguistics enabled him to study the Biblical texts from a unique perspective. He holds a gold medal in Bible Memory from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has contributed to one of the most significant websites defending Islam's textual sources and traditions from an academic perspective, Islamic-Awareness.org. He was an employee of Shaykh Salman al-`Awdah from whose inspiration he benefited tremendously and assisted in the early phases of his English website, Islamtoday.com.


  • Very interesting article mashaAllah. Very good insight into the subtleties of the Hebrew language, especially the meaning of Hajj that renders “encircling” or Tawaf.

  • An insight into the lanuage of the Quran, and corresponding languages of the civilisation in an environment that gave rise to our faith and the future that lies ahead. A must read and study of a discipline that is far greater than pure recitation without understanding.

  • In the Torah, the Zubar and the rest of the books in the Hebrew Bible, Hag (Haj) refers to one of the three pilgrimage (to Jerusalem) festivals. The two most important of them Passover (celebrating the Exodus from Egypt) and Sukkot (a fall harvest festival) last for seven days. The phrase Hag L’Adonai means The Lords Holy Day and A Divine Pilgrimage. Both the Jewish and the Muslim Haj are descendants of Abraham’s Haj with his son Isaac/Ishmael) to Jerusalem/Makka. Rabbi Allen S. Maller

  • Some of Allah’s Worlds Are Discovered by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

    Both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal evolution of life. Recent astrophysical studies discover ever more evidence of the truth of this Biblical and Qur’anic view.

    Space may be vast, but it isn’t lonely. New research indicates the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets like ours, circling stars just like our sun.Astronomers calculate that in our galaxy alone there are at least 8-9 billion stars (22%) like our sun with Earth-sized planets that are ‘not too hot or not too cold’ for life to develop.

    The Zabur of David says, “Your kingdom is a kingdom of all worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (Zabur-Psalms 145:13); and the Qur’an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107). Muslim commentators say this refers to the 18.000 inhabitable worlds created by Allah. Our world is but one of them. (Mir’at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77)

    It’s been only 20 years since the discovery of the first extrasolar planet around a star. Since then, we have learned that most stars have planets of some size orbiting them, and that Earth-size planets are relatively common in close-in orbits that are too hot for life. But even if only one in a thousand earth size planets are in the habitable zone just right for life to develop, there are millions of them.

    NASA launched the Kepler space telescope in 2009 to look for planets outside the solar system that cross in front of, or transit, their stars, which causes a slight diminution — about one hundredth of 1 percent — in the star’s brightness.

    From among the 150,000 stars photographed every 30 minutes for four years, NASA’s Kepler team reported more than 3,000 planet candidates. As of February, 2014 the total number of confirmed newly discovered planets outside our solar system was almost 1,700.

    Most of these are much larger than Earth — ranging from large planets with thick atmospheres, like Neptune, to gas giants like Jupiter — or in orbits so close to their stars that they are roasted. The astronomers estimate that 22 percent of all sun-like stars in the galaxy have Earth-size planets in their habitable zones.

    “The primary goal of the Kepler mission was to answer the question, ‘When you look up in the night sky, what fraction of the stars that you see have Earth-size planets at lukewarm temperatures so that water would not be frozen into ice or vaporized into steam, but remain a liquid, because liquid water is now understood to be the prerequisite for life?'” Marcy said.

    All of the potentially habitable planets found in the team’s survey are around K stars, which are cooler and slightly smaller than the sun. But the researchers’ analysis shows that the result for K stars can be extrapolated to G stars like our sun. Had the Kepler space telescope survived for an extended mission, it would have obtained enough data to directly detect a handful of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of G-type stars.

    “If the stars in the Kepler field are representative of stars in the solar neighborhood, … then the nearest (Earth-size) planet is expected to orbit a star that is less than 12 light-years from Earth” the researchers wrote in their paper.

    Each new discovery in astronomy yields new evidence of God’s wisdom and power. As the Qur’an says, “Verily in the heavens and on the earth are signs for those who believe.” (45:3) And prophet David says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The universe proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Zabur-Psalms 19:2)

    Perhaps this why Jews and Muslims are so open to learning about new scientific discoveries. During Medieval times Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic earth centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth. The Catholic Inquisition even punished those who dared to voice other ideas. Some Christians still think that human beings must be at the literal center of God’s creation.

    Thus, even in America today, many Christians avoid learning about new scientific discoveries. According to a recently (February 2015) completed study “Religious Understandings of Science”, among members of non-Christian religions; 42 percent of Jews, and 52 percent of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus (taken as a group) are twice as interested in new scientific discoveries compared to only 22 percent of Protestant evangelicals.

    Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com

  • Bismillaah! Shukh’raan for the ilm, good Dawah 411 as well. My question is regarding the “Exodus out of Egypt” narrative that bares no evidence in most research of the times mentioned. No less than Historians of African and Egyptian history, Anthropologist, etc. and the late Anwar Sadat in an interview with Barbara Walters, when asked about the enslavement and “Exodus” of a people called “Jews” in Egypt. “Never happened”,

  • Thank you so much for this thoughtful and scholarly article, dear Shibli Zaman. I love it when the authentic commonalities in our traditions are revealed.

    I want to suggest a slight emendation to your revised translation of Exodus 12:14 which would reinforce your point and also be more faithful to the original Hebrew.

    In this verse, the word חג (khag) appears three times, twice in a verb form and once as a noun. However in your translation, you left it as “festival” once and revised the translation to “Hajj” only twice. I think it would be more accurate and make your point stronger to translate it the same all three times, like this:

    “And this day shall be unto you for a Hajj; and ye shall keep it a Hajj to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a Hajj by an ordinance forever.”

    I’ll further back up your argument by pointing out that the commandment of Passover is the very first one given by God to all the Children of Yisrael and in this verse, it uses that word חג three times. That certainly indicates the importance of חג in the Biblical world.

    Thank you so much for opening up this learning and sharing with us all.

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