As Muslims from all over the world begin to travel to the Hijaz for Hajj, ZAFAR BANGASH, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT), discusses the true nature of the annual pilgrimage.
Hajj is physically, spiritually and financially the most demanding of all the ibadaat in Islam. Its performance is linked to both time and place, neither of which can be changed or deferred. Yet each year millions of Muslims perform this great act of worship without appreciating its true significance and meaning. Hajj is performed by most people in a mechanical way, overlooking the varied purposes and implications for which Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ordained it. “And people owe Allah [the obligation of] Hajj to the Sacred House; [that is] for those who have the means and the ability to undertake the journey” (al-Qur’an 3:97). The “means” and “ability” refer to financial as well as physical ability to fulfil the task.
Physically Hajj is the most demanding exercise, which the physically infirm cannot perform. Like other acts of ibadah, the first and foremost requirements for Hajj is to make the niyyah(intention). For the vast majority of Muslims, it also involves hijrah (migration) from one’s place of abode to the House of Allah in Makkah. This migration must be undertaken in the specified months. “Hajj is in the well-known months, and whoever is minded to perform the pilgrimage therein, [let them remember that] there is [to be] no lewdness nor abuse nor angry conversation during Hajj...” (2:197). According to most scholars these months are: Shawwal, Dhul-Qa’dah and Dhul-Hijjah. Unfortunately, under the Saudi regime, Hajj has been confined to a matter of a few days in the month of Dhul-Hijjah. There are great impediments for people wishing to come earlier (in the months of Shawwal and Dhul-Qa’dah), and the hujjaj are herded out of the kingdom immediately after Hajj.
Most ulama and books of fiqh emphasize the rituals of Hajj. They drill into the minds of Muslims that certain acts must be performed in a particular way and that if their instructions are not followed to the last detail, then the requirements of Hajj or umrah have not been fulfilled. There is certainly merit in doing things correctly, yet Hajj must be understood beyond its mere rituals. It is first and foremost the servant’s total submission and attachment to Allah, the Creator. The talbiyya, “Labbayk, Allahuma labbayk; labbayka la sharika laka labbayk; innal hamda, wa n’imata laka wal mulk, la sharika laka labbayk” (“Here I come, O Lord, here I come in answer to Your call. There is no god but You [Allah]; here I come, for all dominion, all bounty and all goodness belong to You; here I come”), is the servant’s affirmation that he has turned his entire being to Allah, away from all other authorities and allegiances. The talbiyya means total commitment; there are no half-measures here. Unfortunately, many Muslims recite these words without being aware of their significance. It is this lack of understanding that is one of the roots of the Ummah’s problems today.
Hajj is a great equaliser. Donning the ihram (consisting of two simple pieces of unstitched cloth) demolishes distinctions of class and wealth; everybody stands equal before Allah. In our daily salah, we are required to stand in a single line without distinction of position or authority, but people are free to wear what they like, which still allows room for oneupmanship. Not so at Hajj; everyone must wear the same two pieces of unstitched cloth. Similarly, standing in Arafat is like standing before Allah on the Day of Judgement. All of one’s past deeds coming surging to the forefront of one’s mind; one is forced to seek Allah’s forgiveness with total sincerity, because Allah has said that it is the time and place for forgiveness.
Every aspect of Hajj is linked to Prophetic history. The performance of Hajj is the enactment of the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (as) to make a great sacrifice when commanded by Allah to do so. There was no hesitation on his part, nor indeed on the part of Ismail (as), his son, to submit to Allah’s command. Hajj links our present with their history and gives us an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of not one but several great Muslims — Ibrahim, Hajar, Ismail and Muhammad (saw) — in order to purify our nafs, our deeds and our lives. When we perform the tawwaf(circumambulation) of the Ka’aba, we affirm our commitment to Allah alone. We are His guests at His House and beseech only His help. After completing the tawwaf, when we stand at Maqam-e Ibrahim to perform two rakah nafl prayers, we are refreshing the memory of Ibrahim (a.s). The sa’i between the hills of Safa and Marwah is similarly a re-enactment of the desperate search for water by Hazrat Hajar, the wife of Ibrahim (as), as her infant son lay dying of thirst. When we quench our thirst at the well of Zamzam, we partake of the spring that gushed forth when the Angel Gabriel struck the ground with his foot to save the infant and his mother from certain death.
The outward journey from Makkah to Mina and Arafat and the return journey to Mina through Muzdalifah are rich in symbolism and acts of sacrifice, and these must be understood as such. It is the march of the great army of Islam, moving towards Allah; there is no room here for other powers. Wuqoof (standing) in Arafat is not a mechanical exercise; it is a reminder to us of the Day of Judgement, when we will have to account for our deeds. During Hajj an estimated two million people, dressed in white shroud-like cloth, stand before Allah to seek His mercy and forgiveness; on the Day of Judgement, all of humanity will have to account for their deeds.
The march from Arafat towards Muzdalifah must start after sunset, not before. This is important. The army of Islam must take all precautions to move under the cover of darkness. The purpose is to gather stones in Muzdalifah to fling at the shaitans in Mina. The stones stand for the weapons of the Islamic armies, for use against the evil represented by the three jamarat in Mina. Every year, Muslims throw their stones with fervour and vigor, and yet are unable to make the connection between those stone pillars and the shaitans of today. It is this great disconnection that prevents us from fulfilling our obligations. Is the throwing of pebbles at stone pillars all that is required? What about the evil forces at work in the world today — the US, Russia, the zionist state of Israel, India, Serbia et al — that are killing Muslims to crush the spirit of Islam? Only when we Muslims understand the significance of the act of stoning, and realize the symbolism in our own lives, will the requirement of this ritual be truly fulfilled.
There are two other aspects of Hajj that demand attention. First, Hajj is the grand annual assembly of the Ummah, unmatched by any other event in contemporary history. It is meant to reflect the unity of the Ummah. While Muslims gather from all over the world, the vast majority come and go quite oblivious of their fellow Muslims. This is a great opportunity wasted. Allah wants us to know one another; Hajj provides a perfect occasion to do so and yet most Muslims perform Hajj in the company of millions of fellow Muslims while remaining quite oblivious of their problems or well-being.
Linked to this is the Qur’anic command that Muslims must proclaim their dissociation from the mushrikeen at the time of Hajj (9:3). These ayats were revealed in the ninth year of the hijrah when the Muslims, led by Abu Bakr (r.a), had already left Madinah for Makkah. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, immediately dispatched Imam Ali to proclaim these ayaat at the time of Hajj in Arafat. This open and clear dissociation from the mushrikeen is a Qur’anic command, yet under the weight of official dogma and historical perversion it has been abandoned and almost forgotten.
Hajj provides a unique annual focal point for asserting the unity of the Muslim Ummah, our commitment to the cause of Allah, and our determination to stand against all the oppressive forces in the world, in line with Divine command and the example of the Prophet (saw). The plight of the people of Palestine and the continued occupation of al-Quds by the zionists make it imperative that Hajj be used to mobilise Muslims against the enemies of Islam. If we Muslims fail to undertake this urgent task, we will be answerable to Allah on the Day of Judgement for dereliction of our Islamic duty. Hajj must not be turned into a ritual exercise or a commercial jamboree devoid of divine and Prophetic content. Reversing the apparently inexorable trend in this direction, and reviving the real Hajj, the Hajj of Allah and the Qur’an, the Hajj of the Sunnah of Rasool-Allah, peace be upon him, is the great challenge facing Muslims today.