Concept 2: Why Anti-Clockwise Circumambulation at the Kâ’bah?

First, let us say the obvious, that there must be one direction for a circumambulation ritual,[i] not a mixture of the two possibilities.  Worshipping Allah and praising Him when all the Hajjis are moving in the same one direction is a reinforcement of their unity as a community. A community must do more than sit together to hear the weekly Khutbah or stand together in Salah; they must move together to accomplish the purposes of the Islamic Ummah. Their individual spiritual energies, intertwined together, contribute to a group spiritual camaraderie when they carry out any activity together. It is important for a functioning Islamic community to move forward together in one direction, united in their joint affairs.

Furthermore, when we travel together symbolically around the Ka’aba, we are travelling in the land travelled by all the prophets of Allah, from Adam to Muhammad (ﷺ). The Ka’ba in Makkah is never free from circumambulators. But why the particular one direction and not another? Why an anti-clockwise (counter-clockwise) movement around the Ka’bah —rather than a clockwise direction?

Scholars have discussed the question of why the direction of awwaf would be fixed as anti-clockwise. Here are the kinds of things typically mentioned:

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  • Generally: In keeping with the natural order of our universe, when we circle the Ka’aba in an anti-clockwise direction we are circumambulating it on the same pattern of movement built into the universe as a whole and into all the creations of Allah, from the tiniest particles to the largest galaxies…
  • Specifically: The electrons of an atom orbit around their nuclei in the same manner as done in performing awwaf, in an anti-clockwise direction. Likewise the moon orbits the earth in an anti-clockwise direction. The earth rotates on its own axis in an anti-clockwise direction. The planets of the solar system orbit around the sun in an anti-clockwise direction. The sun, along with its whole solar system, orbit in the galaxy in an anti-clockwise direction. All the galaxies orbit in space in an anti-clockwise direction.
  • The Coriolis Effect:[ii] Another anti-clockwise motion we can notice on earth is that when water goes down a drain, it will circle in an anti-clockwise direction when seen from above. The direction of ocean currents, trade winds and hurricanes follow the same pattern, with the northern hemisphere of the earth being a mirror image of the southern hemisphere.[iii]

Of course, a Hajji is not required to know the hidden secrets of anti-clockwise circumambulation in awwaf in order to complete his awwaf properly, but no doubt most of us have wondered why anti-clockwise. Note that the term “Anti-Clockwise Direction” is to be understood as the direction when viewed from above. When we view hajjis from above them, their direction of movement is anti-clockwise.  [We do NOT view them from under their feet or from inside the earth. That is, we do NOT observe them looking up from below, so to speak. Viewed from below, the hajjis would be seen as moving clockwise.]

Conversely, when we model the motion of the earth, sun, moon, planets, etc., we view their motion as if from above, as an outside observer looking down from the magnetic north pole of that heavenly body.  This differs from our own experience on earth when we look up at the sky: From our position on earth [this time we ARE looking UP FROM BELOW as it were], we see the sun rise in the east and set in the west. That earth-bound human experience is consistent with the earth’s daily revolution on its north-south axis in an anti-clockwise direction when observed as it were from its North Pole.

When we see the sun “rising” from our east and “setting” in our west, it is actually the earth which is revolving on its axis [west to east /anti-clockwise, as seen from above] relative to the sun —and not the other way around.  Another way to explain this is to say that the “apparent path of the sun” [which we see looking up], or the opening and closing of daylight, which we witness daily, proceeds east to west [clockwise] across the face of the earth. This clockwise direction of movement seen by humans looking up from the surface of the earth [from their viewpoint as if from the magnetic South Pole] is the opposite of what an astronaut would see from his viewpoint in space [as if from the magnetic North Pole] looking down from above.

Concept 3: Why Seven Circumambulations in awwaf?

The explanation given by some scholars above for the anti-clockwise direction of awwaf is similarly adopted for the number seven: that there must be something “natural” about it, something woven into the fabric of the universe.  Can we discover what is relevant to the number seven?

The Quran speaks of seven heavens and refers to seven known planets:

He it is who has created for you all that is on earth, and has applied His design to the heavens and fashioned them into seven heavens; and He alone has full knowledge of everything. [Surat Al-Baqarah 2:29]

The seven heavens and the earth and those that are therein extol His glory; and there is not a thing but glorifies Him with His praise; but you understand not their glorification. [Surat Al-Isrâ’, 17:45].

And, indeed, We have created above you seven [celestial] orbits, … [Surat Al-Mu’minîn, 23:17]

Seven days to a week is mentioned in the Hadith:

Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:

It is the right of Allah upon every Muslim that he should take a bath (at least) on one day (Friday) during the seven days (of the week) and he should wash his head and body. (Sahih Muslim 849)

Seven is a number found often in the hadith, but so are other numbers. While seven days is commonly the prescribed duration of a medication, both ancient and modern,[iv] nevertheless, one hadith mentions a succession of odd numbers for cure. Seven is only one of those odd numbers:

Thawban narrated that the Prophet (S.A.W) said:

“When one of you suffers from fever – and indeed fever is a piece of the Fire – let him extinguish it with water. Let him stand in a flowing river facing the direction of it and say: Allahummasahfi ‘abdaka wa saddik Rasulak (‘In the name off Allah. O Allah! Cure your slave and testify to Your Messenger.)’ Do so after Salat Al-Subh (Fajr) and before the rising of the sun. Let him submerse himself in it three times, for three days. If he is not cured in three, then five. If he is not cured in five, then seven. If he is not cured in seven, then nine. For indeed it will not remain after nine, with the permission of Allah.” (Jamî al-Tirmidhi, 4.2.2084, graded Da’if)

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) showed a preference for odd (not even) numbers, but seven was not necessarily the preferred odd number:

Jabir (b. Abdullah) reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:

An odd number of stones is to be used for cleaning (the private parts after answering the call of nature), and casting of pebbles at the Jamras is to be done by odd numbers (seven), and (the number) of circuits between al-Safa’ and al-Marwa is also odd (seven), and the number of circuits (around the Ka’bah) is also odd (seven). Whenever any one of you is required to use stones (for cleaning the private parts) he should use odd number of stones (three, five or seven). (Sahih Muslim 1300)

So it seems that seven is the odd number related to the forms of worship unique to one’s Hajj, including the worship of awwaf

In contrast, the worship ritual of alah is counted in pairs of rak’ât —a pair [two] is an even number— whether performed at the Ka’bah or anywhere else on earth. The first exception to the even count for alah is that a third rak’ah is added to a single pair of rak’ât for alat al-Maghrib, making a total of three rak’ât, an odd number. This Prayer, alat al-Maghrib, takes place at the time when the daylight is giving way to darkness; the second exception to the even number of rak’ât  is when closing the night prayer with alat al-Witr. alat al-Witr  is to be done sometime after  the last Prayer at night and before dawn (alat al-Fajr), when the darkness is giving way to daylight.

Ibn ‘Umar narrated that:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Salat in the night is two by two [in pairs of rak’ât]. So when you fear the dawn [is near] then make it [the total] odd by [adding] one [rak’ah], and make [the number of rak’ât in] the last of your Salat odd.” (Jami’ Al-Tirmidhi 437, graded Sahih)

I [Allah] swear by the dawn — and the ten nights — and the even and the odd — and by the night when it departs.  [Surat Al-Fajr, 89:1-4]

Allah associates Himself with odd numbers:

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:

There are ninety-nine names of Allah; he who commits them to memory would get into Paradise. Verily, Allah is Odd [He is ‘One’ [singular], and ‘one’ is an odd number] and He loves odd numbers. “ (Sahih Muslim 2677a)

It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“I have been commanded to prostrate on seven bones [points touching the ground].” (Sunan Ibn Majah, 1/5/883, graded Sahih)

 Concept 4: Why perform awwaf as many times as one is able?

We cannot perform awwaf at any place apart from the Ka’bah in Makkah, and accordingly we are advised to perform as many awwafs as possible when we are visiting God’s house — whether we are performing Hajj,Umrah, or at any other time during a presence in Makkah.  The fact that there is the category awwaf al-Nafl [voluntary awwaf] indicates that there is extra reward for performing awwaf  beyond those required, just as there is reward for performing more Salat beyond the minimum required.

We can only speculate what might be the measurable effects of the geological forces at play in the earth at the Ka’bah —and thus the beneficial and exhilarating physical and spiritual effects of awwaf on submissive believers. This is an area of research that should be undertaken and its results made known.  In the meantime we are promised the pleasure of Allah for properly completing the rituals of Hajj or ‘Umrah. We can say with confidence that worshipping Allah in the ways that He has prescribed and with the correct intent is always rewardable.

Abdullah b. Mas’ud reported that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said:

None loves one’s own praise more than Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, does. It is because of this that He has praised Himself, and none is more self-respecting than Allah and it is because of this that He has prohibited abominable acts and there is none who is more anxious to accept the apologies of the people than Allah Himself and it is because of this that He has revealed the Book and sent the Messengers.  (Sahih Muslim, 2760b)

Samura b. Jundub reported:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The dearest phrases to Allah are four: Subhan Allah (Hallowed be Allah), Al-Hamdu-lillah (Praise be to Allah), La ilaha illa-Allah (There is no deity but Allah), Allahu Akbar (Allah is Greater). There is no harm for you in which of them to begin with (while remembering Allah)…  (Sahih Muslim, 2137a)

Allah “loves” both required and voluntary [nafl] worship and obedience.

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Verily Allah ta’ala has said: ‘Whosoever shows enmity to a wali (friend) of Mine, then I have declared war against him. And My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved to Me than the religious duties I have obligated upon him. And My servant continues to draw near to me with nafl (voluntary) deeds until I love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to seek refuge with Me, I would surely grant him refuge.’ ” (Bukhari40 Hadith of Nawawi, 38)

What we can say with confidence is that we are assured of the spiritual benefits of awwaf.

Dawud bin ‘Ajlan said:

“We performed awwaf with Abu ‘Iqal in the rain, and when we finished our awwaf, we came behind the Maqam. He said: I performed awwaf with Anas bin Malik in the rain. When we finished the awwaf, we came behind the Maqam and prayed two Rak’ah.’ Anas said to us: ‘Start your deeds anew, for you have been forgiven. This is what the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to us when we performed awwaf with him in the rain.’  (Sunan Ibn Majah, 4.25. 3118, graded Da’if)

awwaf is prayer, so when performing awwaf, Hajjis must not miss the opportunity to send up their praise and supplications to Allah.

Abdullah bin Umar said:

“Speak little when you are performing awwaf for you are in a state of Salah. (Sunan al-Nasâ’i 2923, graded Sahih Mawquf)

So then, in conclusion, it is my desire to advise all people who find themselves in Makkah for Hajj and ‘Umrah to perform more and more awwaf for the benefit of their physical and spiritual health[v] and to increase Allah’s blessings.  I pray that the insights presented here will inspire pilgrims to perform up to 50 awwafs —or  however many is possible for their circumstances— in order to obtain the maximum benefits of this special form of worship.

“And God knows best!”





[iv] During the 17thcentury, India was much advanced in the world. Aurangabad (Maharashtra, India) which was the capital of the Moghul rulers was a famous centre of Tibb (Medicine) and Hakeems were available in the hundreds, and thousands of books and research works on Tibb were written by them. Some of their descendants are in existence even today. One extraordinary, experienced and intelligent Hakeem said that the circulation of the blood in a man’s body is actually 100% completed within 7 days, i.e. from the toe nails to the last tip of the hair on the head. It takes a complete seven days for all the blood to circulate in each and every micro-part of a man’s body. This practice to provide medications for 7 days was in existence all over the world.

[v] In Sudan there has been a practice for hundreds of years to go to Makkah to perform awwaf for a person who is ill or not physically in good condition. The ill person used to perform awwaf for a number of times per day and then return back home after three or four months with complete fitness and good health.

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Dr. Shaikh Ramzan

Al-Haaj Dr. Shaikh Ramzan, M.A., M.Ed., Ph.D. (History) of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India is a founder president of Markaz-e-Khidmaat-e-Hujjaj that provides training to Hajj pilgrims since 1991 read more...

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