by: Maulana Hussain Ahmad Qasmi*
Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world. It is a demonstration of the solidarity and harmony of the Muslim people, and their submission to Almighty Allah. It is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in the life time of every Muslim who can afford to do it. The holy Quran makes it mention:
And pilgrimage to the House is duty unto Allah for mankind, for him who can find a way thither. (Quran: 22: 97)
Hajj is an Arabic word which literally means “to set out” with the intention of devotion or reward to a sacred place. However, Islamically, it means travelling for the purpose of visiting the Holy Kaba – the House of Allah - in Mecca, the direction which Muslims turn to in Prayer, in order to perform a series of rituals that are based on the actions and words reported in tradition of the holy Prophet's Hajj, such as Tawaf (walking around the Holy Kaba seven times), Sa`i (running between the hills of al-Safa and al-Marwah seven times), standing at the mountain of Arafat, and throwing pebbles at the Jamarat in Mina.
Truly, Hajj and its rites first were ordained by Allah in the time of the Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) and he was one who was entrusted by Almighty Allah to build the Holy Kaba – the House of Allah – along with his beloved son Hadhrat Ismail (PBUH) at Mecca. The holy Quran says:
And (remember) when We prepared for Abraham the place of the (holy) House, saying: Ascribe thou no thing as partner unto Me, and purify My House for those who make the round (thereof) and those who stand and those who bow and make prostration. And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine. (Quran: 22: 26-27).
After building the Kaba, Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) would come to Mecca to perform Hajj every year, and after his death, this practice was continued by his son.
The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar used in the Western world, the Gregorian date of the Hajj is eleven days earlier from year to year. The Hajj is associated with the life of the holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but the ritual of pilgrimage to Mecca is considered to stretch back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) and his beloved son Prophet Ismail (PBUH), the prominent figures in both Islam and Judaism.
One who intends to perform Hajj should first make taubah (repentance to Allah), settle his debts, prepare sufficient provision for his journey and for his family until his return, give back trust to their rightful owners, and meet his expenses by lawful means. He is recommended to accompany righteous men to help each other in their journey. If there is a group of people going out for Hajj, they should choose one of them to be their leader during their journey so as to set their affairs in order.
Mecca is the center of true and pure monotheism, and the place where Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH), The Friend of God, left as a monument for all the true believers of the world throughout history a symbol of monotheism which is the subjugation of one's carnal desires and complete submission before the divine command by bringing his beloved to the altar. Here is the place where the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) raised the flag of monotheism against the wishes of the arrogant and bullying elements and the wealthy of his time.
Hajj maintains the spirit of unity among Muslims, individuals and communities and educates Muslims, and even non-Muslims, about the true meaning of equality, which is manifested in the pilgrims' unified dress code and their observance of the rituals irrespective of their race, language, gender, or social positions. Hajj is full of lessons for Muslims whereby we can affect real changes in the way we practice Islam as well as in the way we behave. Hajj teaches us to break the barriers that separate people from one another: barriers of race, nationality, ethnicity, color, and language. Hajj instills in us the great values of faith, surrender, trust, and sacrifice for the sake of Allah the Almighty and for the truth.
Islam lays emphasis on the very principle of equality between all people. It makes it clear that people are as equal as the comb teeth. The holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) declares:
“O people! Your Lord is One, your father is one. You are all sons of Adam and Adam is created from dust.” (Abu Dawood, No. 4452)
In prayer, a person may wear his own traditional costumes and thus may be distinguished. In Hajj, it is totally different as all people put on two pieces of white cloth that resemble a shroud. This is the highest form of equality. In Hajj, man enters into a state of total sanctity that prevents him from violating the life or the safety of any human being. Hajj is the sign of the universality of this Divine message. All people come from all parts of the globe celebrating the praises of the One true God, no colors, races, regional borders. All barriers are removed and all pilgrims are molten in one brotherhood that gathers their hearts and strengthens their bonds and sense of belonging to one religion. Hajj is, above all, a revolution against all usual matters.
Hajj experience promotes peaceful coexistence, equality, and harmony. Hajj increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects, and the Hajis - those who have performed the Hajj - show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions.
Hajj is the opportunity to review and revisit these great lessons. Each and every corner of Hajj is the embodiment of unity and solidarity among the believers where natural and contractual differences fade away and the significance of the true and monotheistic unity and brotherhood is upheld. Hajj is one of the best means of Islam for the elimination of negligence. As if the universality of this ritual imparts the message that the Muslim Ummah in their collective identity, besides the individual duty of every Muslim, is duty-bound to remove negligence from them. On the other hand, the glory and grandeur of this unique congregation acquaints us with the reality of the great Islamic Ummah, which transcends the nations, races, colors and languages. This intertwined and harmonic congregation, these tongues all chanting a single word, these bodies and hearts all marching towards a single Qiblah and these human beings representing tens of countries and nations all belong to a great unit and collection, that is, the Islamic Ummah.