Hajj – The Spiritual Climax

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Al-Hajj (Pilgrimage to the House of God and Mecca). Belief in the Oneness of God is the most fundamental principle of Islam; Prayer regulates the believer’s relationship with God; Zakah controls his relations with society; fasting exercises and strengthens his will: the Hajj offers Muslims, as one nation, the opportunity to exercise the high principles, values and objectives upon which Islam bases the shaping of the individual and the nation. It is the climax of the individual’s spiritual life and an embodiment of the unity of the nation which is based on a brotherhood in the faith that towers above narrow considerations or race, nationality, color or tongue. In this light we can see the following functions of the hajj which complement the functions of the other pillars of Islam:

(a) A psychological and spiritual function: The hajj is an exercise of the will of the believer at its height, where he rises above day-to-day preoccupations and casts off what men ordinarily cherish. Thus we can understand the deep symbolic meaning of the clothes he wears during ihram (the state of consecration). They symbolize his inner state which makes him leave behind his family, home, wealth, position and everything dear to him. With his free choice he leaves the good things that were lawful to him and enters a spiritual haram (sanctuary) which he sets up within himself before he enters with his body into the haram in Mecca. The stations at which pilgrims must stop to enter the state of ihram serve to remind them of the inner renunciation of worldly preoccupations so that their pilgrimage may produce its desired effect.

Pilgrims gather in the
tent city of Mina

(b) A moral, behavioral function: The stations of the hajj are entrances through which pilgrims pass coming from every distant quarter, repairing to the sacred House, whither the message of Truth was imparted to Muhammad . In this blessed land the Muslims meet to live a spiritual life on a special level, enacting a rite that exposes the exalted value of Islam and where equality, brother-hood and unity among the faithful is embodied, where response to the call of God comes before that to any other call: “And proclaim among men the pilgrimage: they shall come to you on foot and upon every lean beast; they shall come from every deep ravine.” (Quran 22:27) The hajj is an unique gathering that gives the pilgrims an experience unavailable to them at home in their usual life. In hajj there is an exercise of strict self-discipline and control where sacred things are revered and the life of even plants and birds is made inviolable and everything lives in safety: “And he that venerates the sacred things of God, it shall be better for him with his Lord …” (Quran 22:30); “And he that venerates the Symbols of God, it surely is from devotion of the heart” (Quran 22:32); “And when We made the House (at Mecca) a resort for men and a sanctuary…” (Quran 2:125)

(c) The hajj is a rigorous training in self-control: “The pilgrimage is in the well-known months. He that undertakes the duty of the pilgrimage during them must abstain from coition, ungodliness and acrimonious dispute, and whatever good you do, Allah is aware of it. Take provision (from it) for yourselves, for the best provision is piety.” (Quran 2:197) “Take provision” indicates that the effects of this experience should extend to the conduct of the Muslim in his normal life afterwards, and that he should live and conduct himself by the values that manifest piety, “the best provision”.

The day atonement: Pilgrims praying at mount Arafat

(d) A social function: this has many aspects and dimensions in the life of Muslims as a nation. The Quran points to this function in the hajj verse cited above: “And proclaim among men the pilgrimage: they shall come from every deep ravine; they shall come to witness things of benefit to them and mention the Name of Allah.” “To witness things of benefit to them” is a general expression that covers benefits to individuals and groups in the religious and worldly spheres. The fact that it is placed in the verse before mentioning God’s Name (which is the foremost objective in the devotional act of hajj) is intended (I think, but God knows best) to dispel any thought that acquiring benefit from trade, for instance, necessarily contradicts the spirit of the hajj. What we deduce from this verse was explicitly stated elsewhere in the Quran: “It is no sin for you to seek the bounty of your Lord…” (Quran 2:198). The expression, “seeking His bounty” covers, in other usages, benefits from trading, as in “…and others travel in the land in search of the bounty of Allah…” (Quran 73:20). The only condition is that such worldly benefits remain a secondary objective and not a diversion of the spiritual meaning of the hajj. The desired balance is maintained in the verse by using the concessionary expression, “It is no sin for you…”

In all events, the “benefits” the pilgrims could derive from the experience of the hajj, for themselves, their countries, and the Muslim nation as a whole could, with good planning and guarantees for effectiveness and continuity, bring about enormous changes in the life of Muslims of which they are in dire need. The benefits are numerous, perennial and capable of increase from age to age and of taking various forms to suit different individuals, groups or countries. We understand this in the Arabic expression from the use of the indefinite plural in the word, “benefits”. Within the limited scope of this paper I will give one example of the benefits Muslims could derive from the hajj, properly understood.

Pilgrims spend a homeless night in the plane of Muzdalaifah

The hajj gives an opportunity to all Muslims from all groups, classes, organizations, systems and governments from all over the Muslim world to meet annually in a great congress. The time and venue of this congress has been set by their One God. Invitation to attend is open to every Muslim. No-one has the power to bar anyone. Any such attempt would amount to the crime of debarring Muslims from the House of God which He has made “a resort for men and a sanctuary”. Every Muslim who attends is guaranteed full safety and freedom as long as he himself does not violate its safety: “Whoever enters it is safe.” (Quran 3:97). Such a congress is a miniature of the Muslim nation and offers an unique opportunity for discussion of all Muslims’ problems and issues whether related to the system of government, economics, culture, education, military and defense matters, industry, trade or commerce and the condition of Muslims in every part of the Muslim world. Such discussion could take place on the level of the layman, or at specialist level, in the hajj atmosphere of detachment, inspired by the sense of unity instead of self-seeking individualism, and enriched by a multiplicity of ideas and experience. It could also take place on the level of Muslim decision-makers and rulers whom the hajj calls from the towers of authority to mingle together and with ordinary Muslims in complete equality before their One Lord. What a tremendous assembly that should be, and what great “benefits” the Muslim could derive from it!

In the footsteps of Prophet Abraham, pilgrims throwing stones at the pillar of temptation to reaffirm their commitment to repel all that is evil.

We do not, in fact, go too far when we ask for the unity of the Muslims to be the first issue to which all efforts should be directed during the hajj season: the efforts of rulers, politicians, economists, thinkers, jurists and all efforts of the media. Let the unity of the Muslim ummah and work for it be “the provisions” Muslims take from the hajj when they make for the House of God from every corner in their lands, and let this unity be their starting and finishing point when they seek the “benefits” to which God has invited them on the hajj. If this happens (and we pray to God to open the Muslims’ hearts, eyes and ears to it) it would restore to the hajj its foremost function, and realize the message of this devotional act which, alas, appears nowadays to be devoid of it: yet “God prevails in His purpose, but most men do not know it.” (Quran 12:21)


Excerpt from “Islam and the Pillars of Faith” published in Islam and Contemporary Society.