Islamic Faith: Purpose of Hajj
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Those Muslims who follow the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAS) would perform Hajj only once in life. Those who have already performedhajj more than once better ask for forgiveness of the Almighty. Allah is the most merciful.
- HolyHajj Pilgrimage
As Muslims from all over the world are preparing to perform the annual and truly one time holy Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, it is of paramount importance for Muslims to know, along with the process of this important pilgrimage but also the purpose of it so that the Haajis after the Hajj live as the best possible humans as model Muslims for the society and humanity at large so as to help them derive inspiration from them and benefit tremendously this way. .
Holy Hajj is the largest human gathering on earth for religious purposes. Over three million registered pilgrims are taking part in the rituals which will be over on a scheduled day every year. Many pilgrims, however, conclude the pilgrimage one day earlier.
Hajj is performed annually by Muslims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, grouped by nationality, stone the devil in Saudi Arabia’s Mina valley on the scheduled day as the Hajj reached its final stages.
Muslims of all ages and colours, men, women and children from 189 countries, many of whom had saved up for years to make the trip, hurled pebbles at the vast stone pillars that represent Satan, shouting “Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest).” They walked easily from one pillar to the next, moving in groups by nationality and carrying their countries’ flags so as not to be separated in the sea of humanity. Generally no members get lost in the massive crowds.
Security forces are heavily deployed in the stoning area and first aid teams remained on high alert around the three adjacent pillars representing Satan. According to the authorities, 168,000 police officers and civil defence personnel were mobilised for this year’s hajj. For the stoning, they organised specific times of day for groups of pilgrims to perform the ritual.
In 630 CE, Prophet of Islam Muhammad (SAS) led his followers from Medina to Mecca; it was the first Hajj to be performed by Muslims alone, and the only Hajj ever performed by Muhammad (SAS) . He cleansed the Kaaba, destroyed all the idols, and re-ordained the building as the house of God. It was from this point that the Hajj became one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (SAS) was known to regularly perform the Umrah, even before he began receiving revelation. Historically, Muslims would gather at various meeting points in other great cities, and then proceed en masse towards Mecca, in groups that could comprise tens of thousands of pilgrims. Two of the most famous meeting points were in Cairo and Damascus. In Cairo, the Sultan would stand atop a platform of the famous gate Bab Zuwayla, to officially watch the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.
Ihram is the name given to the special spiritual state in which Muslims live while on the pilgrimage. During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in the ihram, a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab—normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face. The Ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims, in front of God: there is no difference between a prince and a pauper. Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat (like Zu ‘l-Hulafa, Juhfa, Qarnu ‘l-Manāzil, Yalamlam, Zāt-i-‘Irq, Ibrahīm Mursīa). While wearing the Ihram, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, have sexual relations, uproot or damage plants, kill or harm wild animals, cover the head [for men] or the face and hands [for women], marry, wear shoes over the ankles, or carry weapons.
The ritual is an emulation of Abraham’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where it is said Satan tried to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. The ritual, which takes place in the kingdom’s usually-deserted Mina valley and comes to life only during the annual pilgrimage, began with the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday as the faithful began by stoning the largest pillar, Jamrat al-Aqaba.
Associated with devil stoning, Mina used to be the most dangerous phase of the hajj and the most problematic for the Saudi authorities, marred as it was by deadly stampedes as well as fires in tent camps. In the past few years, however, tents have been fire-proofed and gas canisters and cooking are now banned. The stoning area has also been expanded to avoid overcrowding. Saudi authorities have built a five-level structure around the three stoning sites, allowing for a smooth flow of pilgrims who are only permitted to move in one direction throughout the area to prevent congestion.
Pilgrims confess that there’s a sweet feeling about getting tired during Hajj, which Muslims who sincerely follow the Prophet of Islam, must perform only once in their lifetime. “Ever since I was a child I had dreamt of standing on the Mount of Mercy in Arafat,” where the Prophet Mohammed (SAS) is said to have given his last sermon, one pilgrimage said with a smile. “They were purely spiritual moments. The trip to perform the hajj costs many poor pilgrims all the money they had been saving small amounts for many (over 15) years and some people say they finally sold all their jewellery to “reach this place.”
The Hajj is based on a pilgrimage that was ancient even in the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAS) in the 7th century. According to Hadith, elements of the Hajj trace back to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim), around 2000 BCE. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was unable to conceive, and upon her request, Abraham had taken their female servant, Hagar, as a second wife. Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ishmael. It is believed that Abraham was ordered by God to leave Hagar (Hājar) and Ishmael (ʼIsmāʻīl) alone in the desert. Looking for shelter, food and water, Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times with her son. In desperation, she laid the baby on the sand and begged for God’s assistance. The baby cried and hit the ground with his heel (some versions of the story say that the angel Gabriel (Jibral) scraped his foot or the tip of his wing along the ground), and the Zamzam Well miraculously sprang forth.
The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God (Allah in the Arabic language). The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. Pilgrims generally travel to Hajjin groups, as an expression of unity. Some airlines have special packages for Muslims going to Mecca such as the Haj subsidy. Ships also take pilgrims to Mecca.
Though Hajj is associated with the life of Islamic prophet Muhammad from the 7th century, the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered by Muslims to stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham (Ibrahim). Pilgrims join processions of hundreds of thousands of people, who simultaneously converge on Mecca for the week of the Hajj, and perform a series of rituals: Each person walks counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaaba, the cube-shaped building which acts as the Muslim direction of prayer, runs back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinks from the Zamzam Well, goes to the plains of Mount Arafat to stand in vigil, and throws stones in a ritual. The pilgrims then shave their heads, perform a ritual of animal sacrifice, and celebrate the three day global festival of Eid al-Adha.
Prior to Prophet Muhammad’s era, each year tribes from all around the Arabian Peninsula would converge on Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans. Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad as jahiliyyah, the “Days of Ignorance”, during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols – totems of each of the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, with idols of pagan gods such as Hubal, al-Lat, Al-‘Uzzá and Manat.
However, not everyone was satisfied with the way their pilgrimage had turned out. Not every pilgrim had enough to eat. Nearby, many pilgrims struggled to reach the food and water a parked truck was offering free to pilgrims.
Performing Hajj was a hazardous journey for early pilgrims; Ibn Jubayr noted the skeletons of pilgrims who had died of thirst during the journey. In the seventeenth century a group of Egyptian pilgrims lost over 1,500 people and 900 camels. In 1924 around one-fifth of a group of Syrian pilgrims died and two years later 12,000 are thought to have died during the journey.
In the past few years, however, tents have been fire-proofed and gas canisters and cooking are now banned.
Walking wearily towards the pillars, an exhausted 63-year-old man told bluntly “my trip has been bad.” Abdullah Jad, as he identified himself, said a company he had paid to organise his pilgrimage took his four-year savings and provided nothing in return, leaving him homeless and penniless as he moved across the holy sites. “An office took the money and told me they will have everything ready for me here,” said Jad. But “upon my arrival, I found out that I had been fooled and that I had no transport and nowhere to stay,” said Jad, still dressed in his traditional white pilgrimage robes and carrying an umbrella offered to him as part of an advertising campaign by a local telecom company.
The old man’s voice quivered as he said that he had been sleeping at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and did not have enough money left to eat. Drenched in sweat, Jad said the trip had cost him around 25,000 Egyptian pounds (nearly $4,000 dollars).
As many pilgrims prayed after and during the stoning, others were taking pictures on their mobile phones of themselves next to the pillars. The photographing was criticised by members of the security forces who said through loudspeakers: “How are you people stoning Satan and taking pictures with him at the same time? That is the satanic mindset of Muslim even during and after the Hajj.
What is missing in doing this nonsense is obviously the purity of Hajj intent. Presumably, Muslim pilgrims want to make more profits after the Hajj and expect God to help them in their material endeavor whereas Hajj is meant to purify men and women of their devilish desires, end their material greed. Profits are made even by non-Muslims without performing Hajj and Muslims need not undertake this pilgrimage for profits.
Hajj should be used as a tool to advance personal private worldly material ambitions, though politicians and others must be doing exactly that.
As a result, most of the pilgrims, if not all of them, rerun home not purified but as guilty persons.
- An Observation: Holiness of Hajj
Hajj is final pillar of Islam and is obligatory for Muslims. Since it is treated as the most important life achievement in this material world for the individuals, Muslims are expected to be very very conscious and cautious about the pilgrimage in full since Hajj is considered to be an asset made here in the world for the life Hereafter.
Muslims would do better to remember that they cannot and should not even think of overtaking the Prophet of Islam in any endeavor. Performance of holy Hajj is a case in point. .
However, mere performance of Hajj does not automatically offer a passport to Heavens as today’s Muslims who spend money tend to believe. If the rich help the genuine poor but committed Muslims to perform it, the benefits they can reap by that service could be more than by other means. Why don’t they trust Islam?
The Hajj pilgrimage obtains the religious sanctity only if it is performed with honest resources and proper ways, with full dedication and total and unconditional submission to GOD- not as a show peace to impress the material world.
One, however, doubts if religious spirituality is properly taken care of by the holy Hajj pilgrims- before, during and after the pilgrimage. By repeated pilgrimages by the wealthy Muslims and those who have made wealth by illegal and immoral means have made the holy Hajj a mere formality – skeleton without blood and flesh. .
Hajj is not a show of one’s wealth, some Muslims keep going for life time Hajj maybe just for fun. Though already rich by petrodollars, Saudi Arabs still want more profits from the pilgrimages as well and hence they do not insist on spiritual aspect of the Hajj and do not refuse permission to perform the Hajj for a second time and more times.
Saudi Arabia should have evolved a system by which every Muslim in the world gets a chance to perform Hajj before the death since Hajjis obligatory for every Muslim if conditions are available to them. It is possible only if a few steps are undertaken by Islamic world. Muslim community and the Mosque could help those poor Muslims with financial support. Instead of repeatedly performing Hajj year after year, the rich people could wholeheartedly extend money to the needy because that we believe Hajj performed by these poor and needy would be in their name too. It is possible only if a few steps are undertaken by Islamic world.
When Muslims do not offer Friday Juma prayer twice, how can we presume that the most important obligatory Hajj could be performed several times? It is the mischief of Saudi Arabian rulers and rich Muslims of the world who encourage the rich to perform Haj more times.
It is time Muslims change their own rules of Hajj in order to suit their mindset.
Muslims should not try to justify their multitimes Hajj pilgrimage in any manner. They should have broad heart to accept their mistakes committed deliberately or unknowingly and return to the right path of Islam as shown by out Holy Prophet in his own life .
Muslims are free to visit Mecca and Medina as many times as they want, even perform Umrah every month if they have the resources but performing Hajj more than once could amount to a serious crime. If the rich Muslims want to offer their resources to Saudi Arabia they are welcome to do it. But better they spend their huge resources on mosques, Islam, Muslims and funding the Hajj pilgrimages. Obviously, they could be blessed by Allah.
It is true many Muslims have plenty of resources and they go for the Hajj every year – at times as special guests of the king of Saudi Arabia who accepts huge sums and valuable gifts as service charges from the “state guests”. That is not correct approach to Islamic faith.
Since one time Hajj is the only proper format, those who have resources s could use the resources for positive propagation of Islam and promotion of Muslim interests, even helping those who have are practicing Muslims with no such resources. That would perhaps bring the Haji closer to what he intents by a Hajj.
Behaviour of those Muslims who have performed Hajj is very important for the Muslim society. They are required to commit themselves to the Cause of Islam and Muslim society by continuing to do good work for the Muslim community. Those who do this know they are definitely the favourites of the Almighty. .
Pilgrims should make sure they do not make the devil happy by their carelessness. When parameters other than self-purification – like business, photography, videography etc – chosen by the pilgrims themselves the pilgrimage becomes unworthy! Significance of entire pilgrimage is lost. Such pilgrimage could backfire too!
Fear of wrath of God is somehow missing among Muslims. The attitude “so what?” could even harm the pilgrims after the Hajj.
As God is not shared with others for worship, similarly, hajj is not linked to other non-spiritual matters. Almighty would not want Muslims to use stolen type money for Holy Hajj. The money should be properly earned- a fact the Saudi officials hide in order to promote Hajj as a tourism package.
It is essential to remember that after stoning the devil, the pilgrims should see the devil does not come after them.
Without any sense of spirituality, very often Hajj also remains a mere formality. Saudi Arabia that hosts the Hajj should ensure that the Pilgrimage is a meritorious effort by Muslim community!
May the Almighty save and bless all of us!