What is Hajj?
Hajj in the Arabic language means aim, destination or purpose (qasd). The reason is clear: Hajj is the ultimate journey of loving submission (‘ubūdīyah) and conscious surrender (riq) to Allāh.
Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and it is incumbent upon every able Muslim to carry out this journey in order to purify himself for God.
Every year more than two million Muslims, from 70 different countries, travel to Makkah and Medina with the purpose of undertaking the great obligation of Hajj. It is an exemplary example of equality and unity when the pilgrims gather together for Hajj.
Muslims who belong to different nations, cultures, social and economical status are all dressed in two pieces of unsown cloth. All perform the same rites. There is no difference of rich and poor, all stand in front of their Lord in submission and humility.
Hajj provides a unique opportunity for Muslims to meet each other, understand each other, increase in love, get closer, improve and resolve relationships. It is from the blessings of God during Hajj that one is in continuous opportunity to gain good deeds by treating one’s Muslim brethren in the best way. And aid the poor and needy, which is also from the means of achieving great rewards from God.
The Hajj is a journey full of symbolism, for it represents the soul’s journey towards God. Each stage and each aspect of the pilgrimage is replete with profound meanings about life, worship and realities of faith, especially the love and awe of God.
The hajj carries immense symbolic significance, representing the oneness of the Islamic community (the Koran speaks of the umma wahida, the one community of the faith). The ritual that cuts across all sects, with some differences, suggests common bonds that stretch, geographically, from the Middle East to Africa and Asia and into the Muslim minority communities of Europe, the Americas and Australasia; and temporally from now to Judgment Day.
The hajj is also viewed as an affirmation of the equality of all believers. The simple white cloth that pilgrims don, and that some retain to use as a burial shroud, represents humility before God but also negates the hierarchies and inequalities that otherwise seem important in life.
Linguistically, Hajj means, ‘He prepared, or betook himself, to or towards a person… or towards an object of reverence, veneration, respect or honor.” [E.W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge, England: The Islamic Text Society, 1984), vol: 1, p. 513]
In the Sharee’ah, Hajj means a specific journey to Makkah during the designated month of Dhul-Hijjah, for the performance of Hajj as an act of worship to God: “The Hajj is (in) the well-known month (i.e. 10th month, 11th month and the first ten days of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar).
Most people do the pilgrimage for religious reasons of one kind or another. For many people, the pilgrimage is done as an act of devotion. For others, it is done to ask for benefits, for themselves or others, living or dead. Still others do it as a quest for enlightenment, or at least what they see as possible progress along that path. All of these are religious ideas.
Whatever their specific reason for doing the pilgrimage, nearly all pilgrims see the pilgrimage as a sacred activity. Many take vows. Many will vow to refrain from anger, alcohol, or sex during the pilgrimage, taking vows to abstain from what they perceive as “worldly activities” that seem to be out of place in the “sacred” realm of the pilgrimage.
‘Pilgrim‘ and ‘pilgrimage’ are words that have carried a range of meanings over the centuries.
Perhaps the most significant pilgrimage that any of us will ever undertake, however, is the spiritual pilgrimage.
The English term ‘pilgrim’ originally comes from the Latin word peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, country, land), which means a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey, or a temporary resident.
It can describe a traveler making a brief journey to a particular place or someone settling for a short or long period in a foreign land.
‘Pilgrimage’ is a term, which can be used to portray an inner spiritual journey through prayer, meditation or mystical experience. In some faiths and cultures, withdrawal from the everyday world into a monastery or hermit’s cell, choosing to enter into a physically restricted life of isolation and silence, is seen as a way of setting the soul free to travel inwardly.
The people of the world are usually aware of two kinds of journey.
One journey is that which is made to earn livelihood. The second one is that which is undertaken for pleasure and sightseeing.
In both [of] these journeys, a man is impelled to go abroad by his need and desire. He leaves home for a purpose of his own, he spends money or time for his own requirements, therefore, and no question of sacrifice arises in such a journey.
But the position of this particular journey, which is called Hajj, is quite different from that of other journeys.
This journey is not meant to gain any personal end or any personal desire. It is intended solely for God, and for fulfillment of the duty prescribed by God.
[You] will be unable to appreciate fully the benefits of Hajj unless you keep in view the fact that each and every Muslim does not perform Hajj individually but that only one single period has been fixed for Hajj for the Muslims of the whole world, and, therefore, [hundreds of thousands] of Muslims jointly perform it.
Historically, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) performed the Hajj towards the end of his life. It can thus be seen as the conclusion of his mission, or as the conclusion to his life. It can also be interpreted as a summary of one’s life on earth.
On the one hand there is the physical Hajj, which is specific to those who embark on the physical journey towards Makkah. Conversely there is also another level of Hajj, a Hajj that we are all a part of – the “Hajj of Life”. This is our journey through life. In it, there are various stations, challenges, decisions etc. Such is the life on earth.
Meaning that we are to see ourselves as travelers or wayfarers, embarking on a travel. However, wherever we stop our stay is never permanent. Such is our journey in this world, temporary, and not permanent.
The journey inevitably comes to an end, as we must return home. This is our true abode. Our hearts must therefore not be too attached to this world as it is not the end itself, but rather it is the means towards the end.
Journeying to a place of special significance plays a part in almost all cultures and religions. The goal may be a site given prominence by particular events, the shrine of a saint or other significant figure, or a remarkable geographical feature.
The journey of Hajj can be considered as a spiritual and physical healing program or journey, because it touches upon different aspects of the human self.
Every nation and society has a center of unity where they get together to worship God. They see prosperity and culture as relics of unity. People of the society get to know each other and understand each other’s difficulties. They form a unified front to remove these difficulties and achieve their goals.
Unity is vividly observed in the great pillar of Hajj, which is repeated every year and for which millions of Muslims gather from all over the world. They represent the Muslim ummah with all its different races, countries, colors, and languages. They gather in one place, at the same time, wearing the same garment and performing the same rites.
They make one stand in the same monument. They proclaim the oneness of the Lord of the worlds, submit themselves to His law, and show their unity under His banner. They announce to the whole world that they are one nation although they come form different countries and homes. They perform the rites and stand in the open areas of Makkah, where bodies become close to each other, faces meet, hands shake, greetings exchange, tongues communicate, and hearts reconcile. They meet for the same purpose and intention.
Differences in social class, wealth, race, and color vanish within these feelings and rites. A pure and solemn atmosphere of brotherhood, serenity, affection, and love prevails. In a world engulfed in dispute and division, it is a great blessing for a person to have the ability to enjoy this atmosphere of complete peace. In a world where discrepancy is the prevailing system, they (pilgrims) enjoy an atmosphere of equality. In the face of the world’s grudges, hatred, and disputation-feelings all too characteristics of the modern life-pilgrims experience a feeling of love and harmony.
Though the facilities and surrounding s around Mecca and vicinities have altered in modern days, the rites of pilgrimage and the bonds of national and international brotherhood among pilgrims have remained unaltered throughout centuries. This adds to the uniqueness of Hajj.
In this great fusion of the Muslim community, often under utmost intense conditions, all the pilgrims once together will finally get separated and return to their respective homes with hearts filled with light and minds filled with new concepts. The spiritual benefits of Hajj can be clearly estimated when the modern mind returns home utterly transformed.
In Islam there is a wisdom and purpose behind every ritual. Some of these wisdoms we know and some we don’t. The rituals we don’t understand or are unclear to us are a mere test of our obedience to the Omnipotent Lord. It is just like a corporation where a boss might give the worker a task, which he doesn’t understand. This doesn’t mean that the task is not important; there might be many reasons behind assigning such a task, one of which could be test of obedience and loyalty. The boss might want to know the level of obedience of the worker before promoting him to a higher position in the company.
Every action and ritual in Islam has a purpose. If we lose the essence and purpose of a ritual, then it becomes an empty shell with no fruit inside—meaning the benefit of the action is lost. Hajj like any other pillar of Islam has purpose, manners, virtues, values, rewards and benefits.
The Rite of the Wanderer, or the Symbolic Pilgrimage, is entirely puerile and unmeaning, unless we have learned in what ideas it originated, and what its authors intended to represent by it.
This symbolic journey is also emblematical of the pilgrimage of life, which, man soon enough discovers, is often dark and gloomy, surrounded by sorrow, and fear, and doubt. It teaches him that over this dark, perplexed, and fearful course lays the way to a glorious destiny; that through night to light must the earth-pilgrim work his way; that by struggle, and toil, and earnest endeavor, he must advance with courage and hope until, free of every fetter, and in the full light of virtue and knowledge, he stands face to face with the mighty secrets of the universe, and attains that lofty height, whence he can look backward over the night-shrouded and tortuous path in which he had been wandering, and forward to sublime elevation—to more glorious ideals, which seem to say to him, “On, on for ever!”
Such, then, is the grand and inspiring lesson, which this Symbolic Pilgrimage is perpetually repeating to the brethren. Let them study it well, and labor with faith; for it announces a progress in science and virtue, which will reach through eternity.
As long as man continues to live in this world, his soul and body are not separate. Man’s body is a manifestation of his soul and the acts of the body are manifestations of his inner feelings. In the same way that physical acts represent spiritual acts, the physical acts push the soul towards spiritual journey.
The Hajj consists of the Hajj of the Body (walking, standing, collecting and throwing), the Hajj of the Mind (performing the rites with understanding) and the Hajj of the Heart (performed in total submission to The Almighty).
The Ka’bah is not the destination; it is the starting point of one’s commitment to cast away one’s bad ways and to begin afresh a new God-centered life. The pilgrim is like a drop of water that has become part of the river that is flowing to its origin, the ocean of Eternity.
In essence, hajj is man’s evolution toward God; his return to Him. It is a symbolic demonstration of the philosophy of creation of Adam, the first man. To further illustrate this, it may be stated that the performance of hajj is a simultaneous show or exhibit of many things.
It is a show of creation. It is a show of history. It is a show of unity. It is a show of Islamic ideology. It is a show of Ummah, the community of Muslims. That is why, it is said in the Quran: “And proclaim unto mankind the hajj. … That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.” (Quran 22:27-8)
Our modern mind is at times so much engaged in the material pursuits of life that we sparingly find time to respond efficiently to the yearning of our soul. The retreat and solace found in Hajj fill this void by procuring a spiritual bliss and peace to our body, mind and soul.
The pilgrimage is daily life. The way you live your life during the pilgrimage becomes the way you live your daily life afterwards. Pilgrim’s lore is full of stories of miracles of reformed sinners, of people who have changed for the good. I’ve never yet heard a story of a pilgrim who became worse after doing the pilgrimage. Of course, some people probably have returned from the pilgrimage unchanged or changed for the worse, but they aren’t part of pilgrimage lore precisely because the pilgrimage is seen as a positive transforming experience. That’s what people expect to happen — change for the better, one way or another.
Progress is one of the basic themes of the pilgrimage. This idea of progress, progress within and of the mind, is central to ideals of the pilgrimage. Whatever your current level of mind, you can progress to the next level.
Though the pilgrimage is cast in terms of sacred activity, the sacred and the secular are so thoroughly blended that the distinction between the two breaks down. This teaches the lesson that there is no essential difference between the two. As a result, the improved person who has finished the pilgrimage goes back to that other everyday life, ready for further progress.
While the Persian mystic Mansur al-Hallaj famously thought that the hajj could be done in one’s own home as an inner journey, other centers have developed throughout the Muslim world. Karbala and Qum for the Shia, Nizamuddin/South Delhi in India and Dewsbury in Yorkshire for the Tablighi Jamaat, and Kaolack in Senegal for the Niassene Tijaniyya Sufis are just a few examples of the many other forms of pilgrimage that exist.
Like the great pilgrimage to Mecca, they assume a spiritual significance beyond the act of travel and, like them, are subject to political and social contestation.
While it obviously constitutes physical movement from one place to another, it is pre-eminently a journey of the mind, projecting believers across space and time, even often in the process overcoming barriers of gender and politics.
The external acts of Hajj symbolize the spiritual stages of the prophets and the Imams. Hajj is a display of the spiritual journey of the devotees and the stages of servitude.
All of these behaviors will lead you to enlightenment. It doesn’t matter whether you do them during the pilgrimage, at work, at school, at home, or when going about your life in town. In fact, what matters is not when or where you live this way. What matters is that you do live this way.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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