Spiritual Impressions of the Hajj
Professor Nazeer Ahmed
To live as a “Muslim” is to live in a state of surrender to Divine presence. That Allah is greater than anything else is asserted by a Muslim five times a day when he faces the Qibla (the direction of prayer), lifts his hands, and says with conviction: “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Greater). Like the rhythm of the heart beat that sustains life this invocation is recited by a Muslim with a daily rhythm until that heart ceases to beat and life returns to its Creator.
Total Surrender to Allah
That a Muslim lives in submission to Allah does not make him oblivious to the life of this world. Indeed, he is commanded by the Almighty Creator and Sustainer to seek the bounty of this world, to enjoy all that is good and to live in a state of equity, justice and balance. Thus all relationships that make life meaningful, those within the family, the community and with fellow men area not only permitted but are encouraged. A Muslim therefore spends some of his resources, his time and his energy in sustaining himself and some in the remembrance of Allah.
But there is time when a Muslim rises above all mundane relationships, dons the robes of a mendicant and goes forth in the presence of the Almighty, reciting:
Here I am O Lord; here I am!
Here I am, You Who has no partners, here I am!
Verily, to You (alone) belongs all prayer,
And Yours is the Bounty, Yours the Sovereignty;
You who has no partners!
The soul reaches out to its Creator at His Command, asking for His forgiveness and His bounty. The veils are lifted, the pristine proximity between man and Allah is approached and the Self is showered with bounties which may not be accessible to it in its mundane earthly existence. It is the occasion when man and Allah reach out for each other, the one in supplication, humility and prayer, the other in Benevolence, Compassion and Mercy. It is the occasion when man is closest to Allah. This occasion is the Hajj.
To undertake the Hajj is to rise above this world and to aspire to heaven. A pilgrim begins his journey by offering sincere repentance of his misdeeds and by resolving not to commit an excess again, by under taking to live his remaining days on earth as a Muslim in justice, charity and balance. He pays off his creditors and puts his assets in trust. He leaves provisions for his loved ones and provides for his own journey through lawful means. He prays to the Almighty for the safety of his dear ones and for his own safety and sets out to answer to the call of his Creator. All earthly preoccupations are left behind, all relationships forgotten save the one between him and his Creator.
Demonstration of Takbir
The Hajj is concrete demonstration of Allahu Akbar (Allah is greater). Allah is infinitely and immeasurably greater than every relationship. He is greater than one’s children and wife and brothers and sisters and parents and friends and community and wealth and prosperity. By leaving behind all of these for the sake of Allah, a Muslim gives a positive, concrete demonstration of Takbir.
To undertake the Hajj is to reassert the Divine Unity as has been done from that pristine moment when the consciousness of that Unity was bestowed upon man. To undertake the Hajj is to transcend one’s time and reach out for that time when the Supreme Law, “There is no Allah but He” was revealed to man.
To undertake the Hajj is to renew the surrender (of his Self) to the Creator as was done by the First Man, Adam.
The ceremonies of the Hajj did not start with Muhammed (pbuh) although they were perfected by him. The ceremonies of Hajj go back to that moment when the First Man declared: “You are my Lord and I will worship none but You.” And for this worship Allah favored him with the knowledge to build a house of worship.
“The First House of worship constructed for mankind was that at Becca (Mecca), full of blessings (for men) and as a guidance to all the worlds.” (3:96)
To visit the First House built for worship of Allah is to recall that moment when the consciousness of the Supreme Being first dawned upon man. It is to celebrate that moment when the highest Moral Law “La Ilaha Il Allah”(there is none worthy of worship but Allah) was infused into man, like a flash of lightning, in a moment of sublime transcendence. To visit the First House of worship is to thank the Almighty for the guidance He provided man, for without this guidance man would forever be at loss.
The construction of the Ka’aba predates history. It is shrouded in the same layers of prehistoric times as is the origin of man It is at this confluence of time and man that the erection of the structure of the Ka’aba takes place. It is asserted that the First Man, Adam, built the House of Allah, and worshipped and glorified His Name in it. As is the case with all knowledge, the knowledge for the construction of the House of Worship was given to the First Man by Allah. Ages went by and the Ka’aba was destroyed by the Great Flood and all that remained of it was a heap of rubble. Then came a time when the consciousness of the Supreme Law was re-infused into man, this time in the person of Ibrahim (pbuh). The sensitive soul of Ibrahim searched the skies, the stars, the moon and the sun for its Creator. This search was rewarded with the illumination: “There is no god but God.” Thereafter, his long and eventful life was governed by a single credo that of total submission to the Will of Allah. He was a Muslim par excellence, an Ummah of one. His extensive travels took him to the land of Egypt where he took his second wife, Hajira (May Allah be pleased with her). In time, a son, Ismail (pbuh) was born to Hajira. By an act of faith, Ibrahim (pbuh) proceeded to the valley of Mecca to leave Hajira and Ismail there. And as he departed from Mecca, he prayed:
“O my Lord, I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sanctified House, in order O our Lord, that they may establish regular prayer. So fill the heart of some among men with love towards them and feed them with fruits so they may give thanks.” (14:37)
After Ibrahim (pbuh) left, Hajira was left to fend for herself and her infant son. Driven by thirst, she left the infant next to the Sanctified House and climbed up a hill to look for water. There was no water. She ran to an adjacent hill hoping to find water there. And as she ran she prayed to the Almighty for His compassion. When she had thus struggled a long time, running from one hill to the other, beseeching Allah for sustenance, she saw water spring forth from under a rock near where the infant was left. In her elation she cried out: “Zumi ya mubaraka!” (Stop! O blessed gift of Providence!). She thanked the Provider that He had rewarded her struggle and the mother and child drank to their heart’s content
As Ismail grew to manhood, the patriarch Ibrahim returned to pay him a visit, and at the command of Allah, to build a house where only He would be worship-ed. Father and son worked together to raise the foundation of the House on the site where the Ancient House stood:
“Behold! We gave the site to Ibrahim, of the (Sanctified) House, (saying): ‘Associate not anything (in worship) with Me. And sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).
“And proclaim the pilgrimage among men. They will come to you on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant highways that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allah through the days appointed… (22:26-28). “
In this Sanctified House only the name of Allah was to be invoked. All associations with His name were to be discarded. Man was to rule the created word as the khalifa (vice regent) of Allah, answerable to and worshipping his Creator alone.
But Allah does not let the belief of his worshippers go untested. Ibrahim (pbuh) and Ismail (pbuh) received a Divine Command in a vision to offer his only son as sacrifice:
“Then, when (the son) reached (the age of serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I see in vision that I offer you in sacrifice. Now see what is my view.” (Ismail) said: “O my father! Do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah so wills, one practicing patience and constancy. (37:102)”
When father and son had submitted themselves to the Creator, they proceeded towards a hill where the sacrifice was to be carried out. On his way, Ibrahim (pbuh) was tempted by Iblis (Satan) to desist from his undertaking whispering to him that the vision was not a divine vision. Ibrahim (pbuh) was steadfast in his faith and paid no heed to the satanic mechanizations. And when father and son were ready for sacrifice Ibrahim (pbuh) heard the Divine Revelation:
“You have already fulfilled the vision. (37:102”
Ages passed and the House of Allah again became a house for Allah. It remained so until the Almighty in His Compassion and Mercy for man, sent down the Qur’an and showed the way again to a lost humanity. The Messenger this time was Muhammed (pbuh). In his last pilgrimage the Prophet Muhammed laid out the rites that men were to perform in commemoration of the Blessings of the Almighty on Adam, on Ibrahim and Ismail, and on Muhammed (peace be upon them) and through them on all those who submit unreservedly to Him. They were to come, men and women, from all nations, from lands far and near, on foot , by sea and by air, to reassert the Unity of Allah, to ask for His forgiveness and His Bounty just as Adam and Ibrahim and Hajira and Muhammed (peace be upon them) had done before them.
Here I am O Lord!
When the pilgrim sets out on his journey he remembers the favors of Allah on His Messengers and eagerly awaits that time where he may walk the same hallowed earth that the Messengers did. Neither the difficulties of the journey nor the absence of dear ones, neither hunger nor thirst dilutes this craving. His anticipation increases as he approaches Meeqat, dons the Ihram and recites the Talbiya: Here I am O lord! Here I am …..”” Like the soul returning to its Creator the pilgrim hearkens to the call of the Lord for asking all that is dear to him and undertaking to celebrate only His praise.
The first sight of the hills around Mecca fills his heart with awe and humility. Upon the sight of Mecca the pilgrim offers a humble prayer beseeching the Almighty to accept His presence in the sanctuary as a token of his submission to His Will, to forgive him and to admit him to the company of those who earned His pleasure. When he is in this city his heart beat quickens with anticipation. He cannot bear to wait for that moment when he enters the Haram (the Sanctified House) and presents himself. He literally runs in thrilled enthusiasm. The first sight of the Haram makes him recite Talbiya that much more. It makes him say Darudand Istaghfar humbly, quietly. He is now within sight of the Sanctified House. His movements quicken and with tears swelling his eyes he enters the First House of Allah.
Here at last he is, on the same ground trodden by Adam and Ibrahim and Hajira and Ismail and Muhammed (peace be upon them) and his Companions. Here at last he is on the blessed ground that witnessed the first prayer of man to His Creator. Here at last he is on the ground where Ibrahim prayed, where Hajira beseeched Allah for His bounty, where Ismail submitted and where Muhammed (peace be upon them) preached. He wonders if this is all real, if he is truly where he had so much longed to be. He declares: Labbaik, Allahumma Labbaik, and with sure quick steps merges himself into the multitudes circumambulating the Ancient House. Whatever goodness Allah has given him pours forth. Whatever evil lurked within him evaporates. He walks like a pure spirit, almost imperceptibly, in utter awe of the place and of his proximity to it, submitting himself in his totality to the Almighty, the Compassionate, Merciful. Without the slightest conscious effort he lifts his hands as he approaches Rukn-Yamani and recites: Bismillahi, Allahu Akbar, Wa Lillahil-Hamd (In the Name of Allah, Allah is the Greatest; all praise is to Him) and moves along with the flow of the worshippers. Almost imperceptibly he finds himself moving ever closer to the Blessed House. He is here in the audience of Allah and all else is wiped away from his consciousness. He feels the radiations in the space, from those around him, yes even the hot sun feels soothing and comforting. He keeps his shoulders high, chest heaved forward as the Prophet taught him to do and walks with firm steps in due humility.
Gradually and slowly he becomes conscious of the thousand faces around him imploring Allah in a thousand languages for His forgiveness and asking for His bounty. There is no king here and no servant, no nobleman and no lowly beggar. Each one is here in the same garb wrapped in two unsewn sheets, just as he would be if he were to meet his Lord in death, equal in the eyes of Allah, and equal in the eyes of man. Differences of tongues and manner, of origin and color all disappear. All that remains is that pristine humanity facing Allah in a one to one relationship.
The pilgrim pauses at Hijr-e-Aswad hoping he might get near enough to kiss it. But the dynamics of the throng prevents him. He moves on. He sees Bab-e-Multazim. He tries to pauses and offer a silent prayer for himself, for his dear ones and for those who believe. He moves on. He sees young strong men walking slowly, humbly, with bowed heads; he sees old men, their faces shimmering with tears of repentance; he sees ladies their faces radiant with Noor-e-Ilahi, praying for their sons. He keeps moving almost riveted to the rhythm of the throngs. He makes his way towards the place of Ibrahim where that Messenger and his son stood when they laid the foundation of the Ka’aba. When he completes circumambulating the Ka’aba seven times he stops here again, offers two Rakats of Nafl prayers and offers his thanks to the Almighty for his benevolence in that He brought him to this Blessed House.
The pilgrim now moves to the well of Zamzam to drink of its water and to recall the Mercy of Allah on a desperate mother and a helpless child. From there to Safa and Marwa for Sa’i which means struggle The pilgrim walks the distance between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa several times much as Hajira did in search of water. He runs part of that distance simulating the struggle of a mother in search of Allah’s bounty. As he does so, the pilgrim recalls with gratitude that all the struggles of man can be answered by the Mercy of Allah alone and none else. In answer to the struggle of a desperate mother Divine compassion brought forth water from under a rock. In much the same way, in answer to sincere struggle, Divine Light shines on hearts hard as rock, mellowing and turning them into founts of abundance. Struggle precedes compassion. That is the message of Sa’i. Therein lies the dynamism of Islam. The pilgrim resolves to struggle for the rest of his life seeking the bounty of Allah both in this world and in the Hereafter. He resolves to dedicate himself to the service of justice, balance and truth, as a Muslim, so that truth prevails in the land.
After the first Tawwaf till the time he proceeds to Mina for the rites of Hajj, the pilgrim visits Baitullah, time and again for prayer and meditation. The great mosque that surrounds the Ka’aba is a magnificent monument to the aspiration of man towards Allah. It is an imposing structure which, like the Ka’aba itself, overwhelms you, yet which liberates you from all worries and bestows upon you inner peace and beauty. During the cool nights of the winter months when the midnight moon shines on the great mosque, the Harem takes on a transcendental character. It is as if the balmy rays of the moon bear witness to the million voices that rise up from this House declaring His Oneness, bowing to His Will and worshipping Him and Him alone. In those moments, in the hours of the late night, the world fades from your consciousness and the realty that pervades all creation stands forth as clearly as your consciousness can bear.
Stay at Mina
The rites of the Hajj start with donning the ehram, pronouncing theTalbiya and doing the Tawwaf. But the greatest event of this undertaking, namely, the gathering in Arafat, begins with a stay in Mina. The pilgrim fortifies himself with prayer for the great experience that awaits him. In Mina lies the mosque of Khaif. The Prophet stayed in this mosque during this last pilgrimage. On the morning of the 9th of Dhul Hajj the pilgrim gets up early and offers his Fajr prayers in this mosque. When the prayers are over the entire mosque resonates to the sounds of Labbaik, Allahumma Labbaik and the resonance of the million voices echoes from the hills of Mina.
From here the pilgrim proceeds to Arafat. This journey provides one of the most moving spectacles that the eye can behold. Here one sees a mass of humanity, on the move from the hills of Mina to the Plain of Arafat. They move, on foot, on the backs of animals, by car and by bus. By the tens of thousands one sees them, moving swiftly like a mighty river speeding towards its destination. It is an endless flow of humanity all headed towards an audience with the Lord of the worlds. Witnessing this tide of mankind one cannot but feel in one’s bones the truth of the Prophet’s saying: On the Day of Arafat Allah comes down to the lowest heaven so that He may shower His worshippers with His Bounty.
After the eye witnesses this great march for mile upon mile, it catches the first glimpse of the Plain of Arafat. Here spreads out a tent city the likes of which are unknown anywhere on this globe. It is a vast carpet of tents woven together and laid out from horizon to horizon. The Plain of Arafat stretches out holding forth countless souls in supplication before Allah. Beyond the plain lie the mountain chains, layer upon layer of them, inviting the eye to behold ever wider horizons.
Arafat literally means knowledge and recognition. It symbolizes the knowledge and recognition that Allah gave to Adam and Eve. Hence it is a reminder of the common origin of all mankind. When Adam and Eve prayed to Allah Almighty to forgive their lapse, Allah forgave them and gave them knowledge and recognition of each other. Adam and Eve stood in prayer and thanked the Almighty for His Compassion and Mercy. Here on the plain of Arafat gather the sons and daughters of Adam, from all corners of this earth, to reassert their common humanity and to thank Allah for His Munificence.
The pilgrim recalls that exalted moment when Allah created man “in the best of molds” and the moment when He made earth the habitat for this genre. This great gathering is a celebration of the presence of man on earth and of Allah’s gifts to him. On this day of knowledge and recognition the pi8lgrims re-assert the commonality and brotherhood of man and recall the declaration of the Qur’an:
“O mankind! Be aware of your Creator and Sustainer Who created you from a single Soul, created, of like nature his mate, and from them scattered countless men and women. Be aware of Allah from Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (be aware of) the wombs (that bore you) for Allah ever watches over you. (4:1)”
The Hajj is thus a moving declaration of the brotherhood of man. On top ofJablur Rahman (the Mount of Mercy), which is located to one side of the plain of Arafat, stands a single pillar as a monument to the knowledge and recognition bestowed upon man and woman.
Camping at Arafat is essential for Hajj. Indeed, Arafat is the Hajj. The other important requirements, namely the donning of Ehram, Talbiya, Tawwafare included in the Umrah but Arafat is what makes the difference between Hajj and Umrah. Looked at another way, this great gathering of men and women, dedicated to the recognition and knowledge that they are all human beings with a common origin, an Ummah united in obedience to and worship of the Creator, the Sovereign, the Lord of the worlds, constitutes the core of the Hajj.
It was in the Plain of Arafat that the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) prayed like a mendicant asking for Allah’s mercy on his Ummah. It was at the foot of Jablur Rahma that the Prophet delivered his last sermon:
….”O Men, listen well to my words, for I do not know whether I shall meet you again on such an occasion in the future. O men, your lives and your property shall be inviolate until you meet your Lord. The safety of your lives and of your property shall be as inviolate as this holy day and holy month. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. Thus do I warn you. Whoever of you is keeping a trust of someone else shall return that trust to that rightful owner. All interest obligations shall henceforth be waivered…you will neither inflict nor suffer inequity.
…..”O men, to you a right belongs with respect to your women and to your women a right with respect to you…Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. Remember that you have taken them as your wives and enjoyed their company. …..I am leaving you with the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger. If you follow them you will never go astray…”
It was here in the plain of Arafat that the last Ayah of the Qur’an was revealed:
“This day have I perfected your Deen, completed my favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your Deen. (5:53).”
The pilgrim recalls the association of God’s favors with this hallowed ground. He stands in his tent invoking the compassion of God. He proceeds towards the Mount of Mercy, and lifting his hands towards the heavens asks for the forgiveness of his sins and of his loved ones and for the bounty of God in this life and in the Hereafter. Emotions swell in him as he realizes how the Almighty has befriended Him and has conferred His favors upon him by giving him this opportunity to bear witness to this great gathering dedicated to the worship of God and the brotherhood of man.
Jumraat and Tawwaf e wida
The pilgrim proceeds to Muzdalifa and participates in the symbolic stoning of three pillars to commemorate the encounter and triumph of prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) over Satan. Then he offers the sacrifice to remember the trials and the sacrifice offered by Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them). He returns to Mecca with a heart suffuse with the Light that comes from the presence of Allah, performs the last Tawwaf and bids farewell to the Sanctified House.
Visit to Madina, the City of Light
Madina is the city of the Prophet. It is also called the city of Light. A visit to Madina is not a requirement of the Hajj. But how can you come so close and stay so far from the blessed earth where the Messenger of God lies entombed? A visit to this city is full of the choicest blessings. It is here that the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) gave concrete form to the ideal life which until then was only a concept. It was in Madina that the first mosque was built and it was this city that witnessed the struggle to establish justice on earth.
To travel from Mecca to Madina is to retrace in part the footsteps of the Prophet. Although the route is serviced by a first class road, the sensitive Hajji can still catch a vibration or two of the epic journey of the Messenger of God. The road may be paved but the hills are still the same. The pilgrim may travel by car but the stars and the moon are the same. On a cool winter night, he can look up the clear Arabian sky and see that panorama of brilliant stars that must have borne witness to the safety of the Prophet. It was this same gathering of heavenly lights that heard the Revelation “By the Star as it sets.” The moon follows the pilgrim along the entire route, as a companion, as if it too is on its way to Madina.
If he is fortunate, you will arrive in Madina in the early hours of morning. The city of Light shimmers in the light of the rising sun giving it an enticing, enigmatic appearance. As the eyes witness this enchanting sight, Darud springs up from the depths of your heart.
The Hajji may decide to visit the Mosque of Quba first, before he visits the mosque of the Prophet. Quba is located about three miles from Masjid-un-Nabawi. It was here that the Prophet camped before he entered Madina. The pilgrim recalls that Abu Bakr (r) accompanied the Prophet on his journey. Ali (r) had stayed behind in Mecca to confound the would-be assassins of the Prophet and to return all the trusts that the Prophet held. After he had successfully accomplished both, Ali (r) walked on foot in the mid-summer heat the entire 430 kilometers from Mecca to Madina and joined the Prophet at Quba.
What fortitude did those Companions possess!
The mosque of Quba is the first mosque of Islam. The Prophet helped build it with his own hands. The Prophet said: “If a man performs ablution and prays two rakats here, then his prayer is equal (in beneficence) to an Umrah.” This saying of the Prophet is inserted on the mehrab (niche) of the mosque.
From here the pilgrim heads to Haram-e-Nabawi. On the road he observes that here, in the city of the Prophet, the pace is slower as compared to Mecca, the sun more temperate, the surroundings greener. The Prophet’s mosque, looked at from a distance, reflects this soothing, inviting character. It invites you, entices you, beckons you to its hallowed precincts.
The mosque of the Prophet is the most revered one after Masjid al Haram in Mecca. It was from here that the Prophet inspired, guided, molded and established an Ummah “enjoining what is good, forbidding what is evil and believing in Allah.” The hills of Mecca heard the beginnings of the Divine Message. The valley of Madina saw its fulfillment and its fruition. God spoke to man in Mecca infusing into his consciousness the Eternal Message. God spoke to man in Madina guiding him to establish the kingdom of God on earth.
The pilgrim walks to the mosque, his mind filled with these thoughts, his heart brimming with happiness. As he enters the mosque he offers his salaam to the Prophet. A visit to the enclosed area where stood his house follows. As he approaches the Prophet’s tomb the following Ayah flashes through his mind:
“Wa ma arsal naka illa rahmatal lil Alameen – And We sent thee not except as a mercy to all the universes”.
Recollections of the Prophet’s life flash through the pilgrim’s mind. The Prophet’s early life, the first Revelation at Jabl-e-Noor, his call to Tawheed, the ridicule, abuse and persecutions in Mecca, attempted assassination, the Hijra, the welcome of the Ansar, the establishment of this mosque, the building of an Ummah, the attacks of the Mushrikeen and the Munifiqeen, the sacrifices of the Companions, his rectitude through years of trial, his triumphant return to Mecca, his generosity and forgiveness of his former foes, the last Pilgrimage and the sermon at Jablur Rahman in the plain of Arafat. With humility and reverence, the pilgrim offers his salaam to the Prophet and recites the Darud.
Now that he has completed the rites of the Hajj and has partaken of the blessings of a visit to Prophet’s mosque, the pilgrim returns to his land, his family, his village and his town, wherever it may be in the far corners of the earth, to spread that light of brotherhood, peace and love that he acquired as a Hajji.