Hajj literally means ‘to set out for a place’. In Islamic terminology it however refers to the annual pilgrimage that Muslims make to Makkah with the intention of performing certain religious rites in accordance with the method prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
Hajj and its rites were first ordained by Almighty Allah in the time of the Prophet lbrahim (Abraham). And he was entrusted by Allah to re-build the Kabah – the House of Allah – along with his son Ismail (Ishmael) at Makkah. Allah described the Kabah and its building as follows in the holy Qur’an “Recall to mind the time when We assigned the site of this House (the Ka`bah) to Ibrahim, saying, “Do not associate anything as a partner with Me; keep My House clean and pure for those who go round it and for those who stand and bow down and prostrate (in worship).” (Qur’an – 22:26)
After building the Kabah, Prophet Ibrahim would come to Makkah to perform Hajj every year, and after his death, this practice was continued by his sons. However, gradually with the passage of time, both the form and the goal of the Hajj rites were changed. As idolatry spread throughout Arabia, the Kabah lost its purity and idols were placed inside it. Its walls became covered with poems and paintings. During the Hajj period itself, the atmosphere around the sacred precincts of the Kabah was akin a circus. The people’s prayer was devoid of all sincere remembrance of Almighty Allah and was instead reduced to a series of hand clapping, whistling and the blowing of horns.
Singing, drinking, and other acts of immorality were rife amongst the pilgrims and the poetry competitions, which were held, were a major part of the whole Hajj event. In these competitions, poets would praise the bravery and splendor of their own tribesmen and tell exaggerated tales of the cowardice and miserliness of other tribes. Competitions in generosity were also staged where the chief of each tribe would set up huge cauldrons and feed the pilgrims, only so that they could be well-known for their extreme generosity.
Thus the people had in totality abandoned the teachings of their forefathers and leader Prophet Ibrahim. The house that he had made pure for the worship of the Almighty Allah alone had been desecrated by the pagans and the rites which he had established were completely distorted. This sad state of affairs continued for nearly two and a half thousand years. But then after this long period, the time came for the supplication of Prophet Ibrahim to be answered:
“Lord, raise up from among them a Messenger who shall recite Your Revelations to them and teach them the Book and Wisdom and purify their lives. You art all-powerful and all wise” (Qur’an – 2:129)
Sure enough, a man, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was born in the very city that Prophet Ibrahim had made these supplication centuries earlier. For twenty-three years, Prophet Muhammad spread the message of Tawheed [true monotheism] – the same message that Prophet Ibrahim and all the other Prophets of Islam came with – and established the law of Almighty Allah upon the land. He expended every effort into making the word of Allah supreme and his victory over falsehood culminated in the removing of the idols inside the Kabah which once again became the universal center for the worshippers of the one True God.
In this way, all the pre-Islamic practices, which were based on ignorance, were abolished and Hajj was once more made a model of piety, fear of Almighty Allah, purity, simplicity and austerity. Now, when the pilgrims reach the Kabah, they no longer find the frolic and frivolity that had once occupied the minds of the pilgrims there before. Now, there is the remembrance of Almighty Allah at every step and every action and every sacrifice that is devoted to Him alone. The faithful hope that it will bring about a deep spiritual transformation and help make each a better person. If such a change from within does not occur, then the Hajj was merely a physical and material exercise devoid of any spiritual significance.
The current state of affairs — both within and outside the Muslim world — greatly increases the relevance of some of the spiritual and universal messages inherent in the Hajj.
The fact that millions of Muslims transcending geographical, linguistic, level of practice, cultural, ethnic, colour, economic and social barriers converge in unison at Makkah, attests to the universality of the Hajj. It plants the seed to celebrate the diversity of our common humanity.
Hajj is refutation of all false parameters of greatness made and maintained by ignorance and arrogance. Hajj is the most evident and effective lesson of equality and brotherhood to mankind. Hajj is the foundation stone of unity in one belief and faith in One God. Hajj destroys racism, murders casteism, eradicates regionalism, eliminates nationalism, and systematically annihilates polytheism from the minds of worshipers gathered in His house under His watch to submit before His will.
Hajj is the most complete worship and the most comprehensive act of submission before the Lord of the Worlds. It is hope for humanity immersed in materialism and polytheism. Hajj disciplines the human, teaches Tawheed (Oneness of God), purifies the soul, creates unity with other fellow believers without arrogance, prepares the mind for death and sense of accountability towards his creator, ushers in a feeling of humbleness, and – most importantly – strengthens the faith of a true believer.
Pilgrims return home enriched by this more pluralistic and holistic outlook and with a new appreciation for their own origins. The Islamic teaching of the common origin of humanity holds out much hope. Indeed, the Qur’an teaches: “We created you from a single pair of a male and female (Adam and Eve), and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other and not that you might despise each other. The most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you” (Qur’an- 49:13). This is a great celebration of the differences and at the same time unity of all of humanity.
The result of a successful Hajj is a rich inner peace, manifested outwardly in the values of justice, honesty, respect, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy. And it is these values – attributes of God almighty — that are indispensable to us all.
It was this kind of Hajj that was worthy of the reward of paradise, as the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) said: “The reward for an accepted Hajj is nothing less than paradise” May Allah grant us all the ability to visit His House and perform the Hajj. Aameen.
(The writer is businessman and is associated with Jamat e Islami Hind, Goa)