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  The Spirit of Hajj  

It is s incumbent upon Muslims to perform Hajj, at least once in a lifetime, as long as they possess the means. As is clear from the following excerpts from the Qur’an and Hadith, Hajj is one important pillar among the five foundation pillars of Islam:

        “Pilgrimage to the House is a duty to Allah for all who can make the Journey.” (3:97)

        “The first House ever to be built for man was that at Makkah, a blessed place, a beacon for the nations.” (3:96)

“There are five basic pillars of Islam,” said the Prophet Muhammad: “To bear testimony that there is no deity save Allah,  and that Muhammad is His Prophet; to establish prayer and pay the poor-due; to make pilgrimage to the House, and fast during Ramadan.”

The root meaning of the word “Hajj” is “to set out” or “to make pilgrimage.” Canonically, it has come to refer to a Muslim act of worship, performed annually, in which the worshipper circumambulates the House of God in Makkah, stays awhile in the plains of Arafat and performs other rites which together constitute Hajj—the act of pilgrimage.

Hajj is a comprehensive act of worship, involving both financial outlay and physical exertion. Both remembrance of God and sacrifice for His sake are part and parcel of Hajj. Hajj is an act of worship in which the spirit of all acts of worship has, in some way or another, been brought into play.

The sacred duties of Hajj revolve around the House of God in Makkah. What does the House of God represent to a believer? It brings to life a whole prophetic tradition, stretching from Abraham to Muhammad. The House of God stands as a model of true faith in God, and submission to the Master of the House. “The Prophets gave up everything and followed the Lord,” is the message that rings out from the Lord’s House; leave all and follow Him. They were obedient to His will; be you so also. They served His cause on earth; serve Him until you die, and you will prosper forever.”

The journey to Hajj is a journey to God. It represents the ultimate closeness one can achieve to God while living in this world. Other acts of worship are ways of remembering God; Hajj is a way of reaching Him. Generally we worship Him on an unseen level; in Hajj we worship Him as if we saw Him face to face. When a pilgrim stands before the House of God it seems to him that he is standing before God Himself. He is then moved to revolve around the Lord’s House, like a butterfly encircling a flower, clinging to His doorstep as a slave begging for his master’s mercy.

The uniqueness of Hajj lies in the unique nature of the place in which it is performed. Throughout the ages, Makkah has remained a venue for the manifestation of God’s signs. It was here that the great communicator of the divine message, the Prophet Abraham, made a memorial to man’s life of belief and submission. And it was here, following in the same tradition, that the foundation of Islamic history was laid: fourteen hundred years ago the Prophet Muhammad changed the spiritual face of Arabia, from one littered by many godheads, to one illuminated by the countenance of the One God.

Much history lies behind the rich and noble tradition existing in Hijaz. It is a land that has received God’s special grace. The spiritual wealth it has on offer is enough to enrich any poor traveller, enough to revive any languid heart. A sea of divine mercy flows where only sand and sky meet the eye, in the environs of Makkah and Madinah. There the pilgrim washes and is cleansed.

Among all Muslim acts of worship, Hajj holds a prominent position. In one hadith, the Prophet called it the supreme act of worship. But it is not just the rites of pilgrimage that constitute this importance, it is the spirit in which Hajj is performed. Let us put this another way and say that it is not merely a matter of going to Makkah and returning. There is much more to Hajj than that. Hajj has been prescribed so that it may inspire us with new religious fervour. To return from Hajj with one’s faith in God strengthened and rekindled — that is the hallmark of a true pilgrim. Hajj only takes its place as a supreme act of worship when it is undertaken in its true spirit, and performed in the proper manner. It will then be the greatest act in a pilgrim’s life: he will never be the same again.

To make Hajj is to meet God. When the pilgrim reaches Meeqat, the border of the Sacred Territory, he is filled with awe of God: he feels that he is leaving his own world, and entering God’s. Now he is touching the Lord, revolving around Him, running towards Him, journeying on His behalf, making sacrifice in His name, smiting His enemies, praying to the Lord and seeing his prayer answered.

The House of God in Makkah is one of God’s signs on earth. There, souls which have strayed from the Lord take comfort in Him once again; hearts which have become hard as stone are brought low before Almighty God; eyes which have lost their vision are filled with divine radiance. But these blessings of Hajj are available only to those who come prepared for them. Otherwise Hajj will be just a tour, a visit which leaves no lasting impression upon its perpetrator.

“Hajj is to stand in the plains of Arafat.” These words of the Prophet Muhammad illustrate the importance of sojourning in that place. The plain of Arafat, in which pilgrims spend one day, presents a picture of the arena of the Judgement Day. Host upon host of God’s servants flock in from all sides to witness the spectacle. And what a spectacle! All are dressed in similar, simple attire. There is nothing to single any person out. All are reciting the same words: “Here we are at Your service, Lord.” How can one who witnesses this spectacle but call to mind the like of this verse of the Qur’an:

     “When the Trumpet is blown, and behold, from the graves they rush forth to their Lord.” (36:51)

The pilgrims gather on the plain of Arafat in order to recall the time when they will gather on the plain of the last day. What they will experience in practice in the next world, they conjure up visions of it in this world.

For all these reasons, Hajj reigns supreme among all acts of devotion. Like the Sacred Mosque in Makkah has a status above all other mosques, so the worship that is performed there—as part of the pilgrimage—stands head and shoulders above all other acts of devotion.


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