What is the wisdom behind circumambulating the Kaaba seven times? What is the meaning of Tawaf? (Circumambulation)
Circumambulating the Kaaba represents the idea of oneness. Its meaning regarding the social life is not to leave unity and to try to maintain this unity. Its meaning regarding individual life contains deep truths. The sky has seven layers; man has seven souls. Each turning around the Kaaba represents a phase, a stage; man covers a phase and is elevated up to the seventh sky, above the material realm. Besides, it means to rise from the lowest step of the soul, which has seven steps, to the highest one. That is, from nafs al-ammarah (soul commanding the evil) to nafs al-mutmainnah (tranquil self); from the animal life to the spiritual life.
Circumambulating the Kaaba is a kind of worshipping taken from the order of the universe. The planets rotate around the sun, the electrons around the nucleus, the moth around the candle; rotating around such a center means allegiance with love.
God Almighty states the following in the Quran:
"The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, declare His glory: there not a thing but celebrates His praise; and yet ye understand not how they declare His glory..."(al-Isra, 44)
The advancement in science as helped explain that verse. As a matter of fact, including the beings that had been thought to be lifeless, everything was found to consist of atoms. The electrons around the nuclei of the atoms rotate continuously and regularly around the nucleus; it was expressed as declaring the glory of Allah in the Quran. Therefore, to rotate around the Kaaba, which is the symbol of Islam, means to love Islam, to rotate around it like a moth and to attach oneself to Allah.
Worshipping; is fulfilling the duties like takbir, hamd, shukr by a slave for Allah in the way that He orders. Therefore, the fulfilling of the duties by each being can be said to be their worshipping and glorifying Allah.
Understanding Tawaf: Lexically, tawaf means to turn, walk, etc around something. Everything in the universe, from the tiny atoms to huge galaxies, is in a state of tawaf. In the atom, electrons turn around the nucleus, which is like the heart, with a dizzying speed; in the galaxy, billions of stars rotate around the center of the galaxy with an incredible speed. They rotate as if they worship the Creator that created them. As it is stated in the Quran, each swims along in an orbit. (Yasin, 36/40)
The view formed by tens of thousands of Muslims walking around the Kaaba is like the view of a galaxy turning together with billions of stars. Therefore, it is necessary to let oneself be on the orbit in order to get full spiritual pleasure in tawaf. A Muslim who can enter this orbit lets himself be controlled by that spiritual flow and gets the pleasure of becoming a drop in the sea of the believers. The circumambulation around the Kaaba is regarded to be the symbol of the summary of the universe and creation, and surrendering to the divine pre-ordainment.
The formidable walk by men during the first three shawts of tawaf is called ‘ramal’ and leaving the right shoulder uncovered is called ‘iztiba’.
The historical meaning of the three acts done was a display of power and intimidating the opponents. When Makkan Muslims migrated to Madinah, the climate of Madinah affected them they became a bit weak. When they went to Makkah again after seven years for umrah, they explained the situation to the Prophet. Thereupon, he told his Companions to seem powerful to polytheists and to walk formidably when they passed in front of them; and the Companions walked like that.
Doubtlessly, their walking formidably was enough to show that they were powerful that day. What about today? How will hajjis show that they are powerful today? Material power, spiritual power, moral power… What did we lose, where and how? How will we recover them? We definitely should think about them during hajj.
The ramal (formidable walking), which was performed in order to show the strength of Muslims to the Qurayshis according to what Ibn Abbas says, became a sunnah when Hazrat Prophet walked like that during the first three shawts of the Farewell Hajj. Hazrat Umar had said, after commenting on Hajar al-Aswad,
“Why do we still maintain ramal? We did it in order to be seem powerful in the eyes of polytheists, who said we were weak. As a matter of fact, Allah destroyed them.”(Bukhari, Hajj, 57)
Although Umar thought that the reason for ramal did not exist any more, he did not want to abandon something that Hazrat Prophet did and thus he continued the same application. Ramal may have continued because Muslims always need to be powerful and because they should never forget it.
A person starts tawaf leaving the Kaaba on his left. It has a symbolic meaning. The heart of man, which is the place where Allah looks, faces the House of Allah in tawaf. Allah looks at the heart of man, not his shape, appearance, money and property. In this sense, there is an interesting relation between the Kaaba and the heart of man. Therefore, the heart of man faces the Kaaba during tawaf. It also indicates that tawaf should be performed heartily.
A person enjoys the pleasure of being a believer around the Kaaba. It is very difficult to taste that pleasure, which takes place so vividly and enthusiastically in any other place. The feeling of closeness experienced in that holy place makes hajjis feel at home. Hajjis feel as if they are at home because the face of the Kaaba seems so familiar, its scent feels so acquainted and its coziness feels so comprehensive that no other love can be so attractive for a believer.
There is no difference among people who perform a prayer in congregation; similarly, there is no difference among people who circumambulate the Kaaba. All believers are equal there. There is no sign that differentiates a person from others. There exists unity, which is the symbol of oneness. It is necessary to be lost in the sea of believers and to melt in the congregation.
To turn around somebodyand to rotate like a moth around him is an act that shows hearty allegiance and that one can sacrifice everything for that person.In this sense, circumambulating the Kaaba is an indication of turning toward the Exalted Creator, bowing down only in the presence of Him and worshipping none but Him.
During circumambulation, the hajji should have a respect worthy of Him and a love between fear and hope. While circumambulating, the haji should build the house of belief, that is, his heart, just as Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat Ismail, his son, built the House of Allah by turning around it. The Kaaba is His house and the heart is the place where He looks at. The hajji continuously looks at the Kaaba, observes it and watches its loftiness; similarly, Allah watches the heart of His slave and pays attention to it. As Hazrat Prophet expressed concisely,
“Allah does not look at your shape, appearance or property but at your hearts and deeds. (Muslim, 1, 33)
It is like that both in the world and in the hereafter. As it is expressed based on the 88th verse of the chapter ash-Shuara, on the Day of Judgment, when nothing will be of any use, Allah does not want gold or silver but a sound heart.
“Oh hajji! Do not think that they want gold or silver from you. They want a sound heart on the day when wealth and sons are not beneficial.”
As a matter of fact, in our culture, the sufis use all of the adjectives that are used to describe the Kaaba for the heart and call the heart the House of Allah. Or, they call it “Bayt al-haram” (the honorable house) and they use the same expression for the heart because the heart is the house of Allah and it is haram (forbidden) for anybody but the beloved to enter there. As a matter of fact, the following hadith that the Messenger of Allah stated while circumambulating the Kaaba confirms it.
“(O Kaaba!) You are so nice; your smell is so beautiful. Your fame and honor are so high. However, I swear by Allah, in whose hand is my life, that the honor and immunity of a believer with his property and life is greater than your honor.” (Ibn Majah, Fitan 2)
1- Kur'ân'in Getirdigi - Emin Isik.
2- Kurban Kesmenin Psikolojik Temelleri - Doç Dr. Ali Murat DARYAL.
3- Kur'ân-i Kerîm ve Açiklamali Meâli - Türkiye Diyanet Vakfi.
4- Diyanet Islâm ilmihali.
5- Hac Rehberi - Irfan YÜCEL - Türkiye Diyanet Vakfi.
6- Diyanet yayinlari (hacci anlamak)