January 15, 2006
Hajj has its own wisdom
By Bilal Ahmed Malik
Haj, a journey in obedience, struggle, self-purification and submission, purifies the soul
AS Zil-Hijjah, the last month of the lunar year, approaches, millions of believers throughout the world experience a strong sense of longing to visit the Ka'aba and perform the pilgrimage. They dream of beholding the place where the first house ever dedicated for pure worship was built, to walk around it, pray close to it, and walk between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al- Marwah, where Hajrah, Prophet Ishmael's mother, walked when she searched for water for her thirsty young child.
They feel a strong urge to travel to Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina, to pick up pebbles and commemorate Prophet Abraham's action as he stoned the devil that tried to dissuade him from obeying God's Orders. It is stated in the Holy Quran: And proclaim that the people shall observe Haj pilgrimage. They will come to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They will come from the farthest locations. [22:27-8]
A question persists in our minds: What is the wisdom behind imposing this duty which involves much endurance of hardship and requires a substantial amount of money to fulfil? People continue to ask about the wisdom behind the pilgrimage rituals. Why do we walk in an anti-clock wise movement seven times around the Ka'aba? What effect does this Tawaf have on us mentally and psychologically? Why do we walk between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah? Why do we take the trouble to gather at Arafat at a particular time on one particular day each year, as hard as that may be? Why do we then go to Muzdalifah and Mina, and why do we shave our heads or cut our hair and do the stoning ritual?
It may be suggested that the tawaf in an anti-clockwise walk around the Ka'aba is akin to the planets' movement around their orbits. The Saie between the two hills commemorates Hajarah's search for water, and the stoning commemorates Hazrat Ibrahim's action in defiance of Satan. All this is true, but why do we have to undertake such a long journey, enduring such hardship and cost for that, knowing that our difficulties are multiplied by the fact that all these rituals must be performed at a particular time every year, leading to much overcrowding? Needless to say, a walk similar to the movement of planets in their orbits and a commemoration of the deeds of Hazrat Ibrahim and his wife, Hajrah, can be achieved without going through all this difficulty. Appreciating the real hardship involved in pilgrimage, the Prophet (PBUH) describes it as jihad for women and weaker persons.
The purpose of the acts of worship is to draw man's attention to the privilege he has in the universe. That purpose is achieved by fully recognizing the Creator of the universe, undertaking a spiritual journey towards Him, shedding off of all kinds of material pollutions from one's self, being illuminated with God's light, and being absorbed in infinite joy as a result of affinity with God, Who is Absolute Beauty and Infinite Perfection.
Haj has a double purpose, it has the quality of purification and it is an ornament as well. They both remove the darkness of mammonism from the heart and illumination the heart and soul with Divine Light. Almsgiving, being far from one's family, having no ease and comfort of one's home, one's business and jobs, tolerating the sufferings of a trip, having to put up with short-tempered co-travellers, sunburn, insufficient sleep, performing rather unfamiliar acts are not pleasant by the norms of the superficial intellect. Yet, throwing pebbles at Satan in Mina, waling at a fast pace, getting out of one's normal clothes, and shaving one's hair are extremely useful in purifying man's heart from the evil of arrogance and egotism, and in taming the haughty and the disobedient souls. This is part of the purifying quality of Haj.
It is the most intense and demanding of all Islamic obligations. It involves hijra (migration from one's place of abode), jihad (struggle with one's self nafs) and specific acts of worship that are physically and mentally demanding. An estimated two million Muslims from every part of the world are expected to converge on Macca every year to re-enact the experience of Prophet Ibrahim, Ismail and Muhammad (upon them all be peace, all of them Allah's messengers), in one of the most moving acts of worship.
Haj is supposed to be a journey in obedience, struggle, self-purification and submission. It is also a journey undertaken to meet and to greet fellow Muslims from around the world and to share their experiences of suffering, reflection and contemplation. Most Muslims, however, are unable to do this. Mundane (self imposed) personal problems and physical impediments (created) by the system leave little time to benefit from the truly spiritual and divine aspects of Haj. The true content seems to have been reduced to rituals, thus making this unique experience a mere mechanical exercise.
Haj is a very spiritual journey towards the Creator. The tourist is not a mere traveller but a Haji who is exclusively invited by the Creator. Our focused aspirations must be to re- enact the experiences of Prophet Ibrahim, whose selfless sacrifice has no parallel in the annals of mankind. Prophet Ismail, whose example of obedience and submission is awe-, inspiring for humanity until eternity. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who firmly stood on the plains of Arafat and proclaimed the completion of his mission, i.e., establishing the Sovereignty of One Creator over everything and everyone. L
Let us pray in the coming days and nights of this holy month that we be blessed with the courage of Prophet Ibrahim to break all the idols that, we be blessed with the fervent desire of obedience and submission of Prophet Ismail to the Will of One God alone and we be blessed with the courage, patience and perseverance of Hajrah and optimism to survive in the midst of nothingness, that, we be blessed with all of the above that is epitomized in the life and character of our last and eternal leader, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). May Allah give everyone the wisdom and courage to perform this sacrosanct act with full devotion and faith according to injunctions of Holy Quran and Sunnah. Amen.
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