Every year around two to three million Muslims travel to Makkah to perform Hajj [pilgrimage]. Due to Covid-19, they are not allowed to perform Hajj this year. Many Muslims are disappointed due to the cancellation of Hajj at a large scale. Only few thousand Muslims who live in Saudi Arabia would be able to perform Hajj. I think those who had planned to go for Hajj do not need to be disappointed. They may get the same reward without going to Hajj if Allah (SWT) wishes for they had the intention to perform it. However, we all need to understand how to get that reward for Hajj?
Hajj [pilgrimage] as a form of ibadah is a fundamental Pillar of Islam and a duty of Muslims. It is a program of spiritual, moral, and material development of people of the world. It is the source of human unity and universality of their existence. If we understand Hajj in its proper perspective then only we can form a positive opinion about it and benefit from it. To appreciate the true meaning and significance of Hajj and its proper place in the scheme of life and civilizational development, we need to focus on some fundamental truths and realities of life and the world.
The Truth and Reality
The concept of Allah (SWT) is not a socially constructed idea as falsely understood in today’s world by sociologists, experts of social sciences and religious studies. It is the manifestation and demonstration of the Truth and Reality of this world and our life. The Existence of Allah (SWT) is established in the Quran based on Knowledge supported by rational arguments and historical and empirical evidence. Allah’s Existence is as True and Real as our life and the world. If we accept Allah (SWT) it means we accept the Truth and Reality of the entire universe. Hajj is the declaration by Allah (SWT) that Islam and Muslims do not exist since the time of the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] but rather they exist since the beginning of human life on the planet. Allah SWT granted to people Islam as the Right Path of life from the very first day of their inception on earth. Hence, in truth and reality Islamic worldview is the only universal worldview. All those who accepted and followed Islam were called Muslims throughout history. In truth and reality the Muslim Ummah proves to be the universal Ummah. It is not a product in some part in history. It furnishes a practical proof of the fact that the Ummah is united in spite of apparent divide by geographical boundaries. Though its members are scattered the world over and engaged in their own problems and difficulties and divided into various groups and nationalities, during Hajj all their divergences and strife disappear. They become molded into a compact Ummah. Allah (SWT) witnesses to this fact in the Quran. He declared:
Believers, bow down and prostrate yourselves before Your Lord and obey [serve] Your Lord and do good that you may prosper. Strive in the cause of Allah in a manner worthy of that striving. He has chosen you [for His task], and He has not laid upon you any hardship in Deen. Keep to the Iman of your father Abraham. Allah named you Muslims earlier and even in this [Book], that the Messenger may be a witness over you and that you may be witnesses over all mankind. So establish Prayer, and pay Zakah, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protector. What an excellent Protector; what an excellent Helper. [22: 77-78]
Hajj: Its Meaning as Ibadah
Allah (SWT) makes a few fundamental claims and gives challenge to people of all ages to reflect about them. He claims that He is the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe. Hence, people should spend their lives in accordance with His teachings. He explains to people that He as being the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, knows what is good for them in this worldly life. He claims He is All-Knowledgeable and All-Wise, so He guides people to the Right Path – Islam - which guarantees if practiced a successful and peaceful life with prosperity and happiness. To explain all those things He equipped people with the faculties of cognition and sense perception. People are not left either in darkness or in ignorance. They were granted with Knowledge of both the physical and metaphysical aspects of life and the universe. At the very outset, Allah (SWT) taught us that we should not act or think anything without true knowledge. Hence, knowledge became the basis of life and society. Thus, He not only granted us knowledge but also taught us what we did not know. Nothing is kept secret of the metaphysical world. Islam being the worldview, way of life and code of conduct, presents various schemes for the development of society, culture, and civilization. Its scheme of Ibadath [process of obedience and submission, intimate communication with Allah (SWT) with reverence, devotion and humble submission] is fundamental to a meaningful and realistic life of mankind, so that people can spend their entire lives in obedience to Allah (SWT). The scheme and the form of ibadah is not a bundle of rites and rituals. The whole process of ibadah makes life valuable. Hence, ibadath help to understand life and all sorts of thinking, understanding and action. This constitutes ibadah. It develops sense of responsibility, commitment, dedication, devotion, and submission to Allah SWT. All forms of ibadath explain the fundamental features of life and set the direction of life. They create the consciousness that without being obedient to Allah (SWT) people neither can follow Him nor get success in life. Hence, Ibadah - obedience to Allah (SWT) - is the fundamental condition for a successful and good life. To make people obedient to Him He prescribed some specific forms of Ibadah such as Salat [ prayers], Saum [fasting]and Hajj which are called the Pillars of Islam. They are made obligatory to make people obedient to Allah (SWT). People do not perform some rituals during these obligatory Ibadath but review their consciousness of being obedient to Him. This sense and consciousness of obedience to Allah SWT allows us to dedicate our lives for the sake of righteousness and well-being, which is integral to the idea of good life.
The Importance of Hajj in Life and Society
Hajj being fundamentally a form of Ibadah is one of the important Pillars of Islamic way of life. It is performed just after two months of Ramadan. In the month of Ramadan we renew our consciousness of obedience and dedication to Allah (SWT) at both individual and social levels. After this concentrated period of Ramadan and fasting, people plan to go for Hajj to further renew and develop their commitment to human unity and universality.
People perform every act of Hajj with the sense of Ibadah and obedience and gratitude to Allah (SWT), Who created everything of this world for our use and benefit and also made them subservient to us. If the entire universe is not made subservient to us, it was not possible for us to make successful achievements in the area of science and technology. It became feasible for the humanity because Allah (SWT) granted us ability to explain them.
People are unable to perform Hajj this year. This is disappointing for many who had planned to perform it. The government of Saudi Arabia is not allowing people from other countries to come for Hajj. This decision may be right or wrong, it may be controversial for some but at a time when we all are facing and suffering from the pandemic of Covid-19 and low economic growth, I think we should avoid this controversy and focus on the spirit and benefits of Hajj, without of course going for Hajj.
Benefits of Hajj
There are two dimensions of benefits from Hajj. First, increasing our commitment, sense of sacrifice, righteousness, love and fear of Allah (SWT). Second, the consciousness of being an integral part of a bloodless brotherhood embracing all people from all over the world for a noble cause. These spiritual benefits can be achieved, improved and developed even without going to Hajj.
Sincerity, Purity of Intention, and Sacrifice
We all do everything sincerely as we do understand sincerity and purity of intention are very important. Hajj is the manifestation of purity of intention of people who go for Hajj, leaving families behind only for the sake of Allah (SWT). Hajj is related to Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismael (PBUT), their obedience and sacrifices. During Hajj we leave everything behind, our family, job, business and all other activities and fully concentrate on our commitment to Allah (SWT). We improve our sense of mission and dedication to Allah (SWT). We tolerate every difficulty and hardship and spend money and time and go for Hajj to prove that nothing is important in our life except the obedience to Allah (SWT). Hence, we are bound our best to obey in each and every dimension and occasion in our life. Our whole life, individual and collective, needs to be regulated in accordance with the teachings of Allah (SWT). We are directed to purify our mind, soul, feelings, dreams, desires everything and be ready to scarify time, money, and energy for the sake of Allah (SWT) by way of implementing the teachings of Allah (SWT) in our individual and collective life. Our family, children, relatives, and friends everyone must be tied to obedience to Allah (SWT) and His Messenger. We read the Quran during Hajj. Now we have a better time, as we are not travelling for Hajj, to read and understand the Quran. If we do this, definitely we would get reward from Allah (SWT) even without going for Hajj.
Hajj is the Manifestation of Unity of Humanity
Secondly, Hajj is an international, inter-territorial, inter-racial gathering of people, black, white, brown, and red. During Hajj we all declare that no one is superior and no one is inferior to others, except those who have righteous life and a very close adherence to Allah (SWT). It is a practical declaration of human dignity, equality, and mutual respect for others. It creates sense of unity and belonging to all crossing the boundaries and barriers of race, color, language, and ethnicity. Apart these benefits, Hajj provides opportunities to develop strong bond of social responsibilities and political awareness, a powerful focal point for human unity reducing the racial and national particularism, without losing their diversity. It promotes a real commitment to unity with diversity. Today we can use social media to promote and strengthen a kind of spiritual brotherhood which stands against exploitation of weak people. The ongoing conflicts between so-called Muslim nations must be avoided and eliminated. This year’s economic benefits should be sacrificed wholeheartedly. I hope Allah (SWT) will provide substitute to it. Through Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) humanity was reminded to the benefits of Hajj. It was said in the Quran: “...and publicly proclaim Hajj for all people so that they come to you...from every corner of the world to witness the benefits in store for them, and pronounce the name of Allah [22: 27-28]”.
It must create sense of oneness of humanity and Ummah. This year many of us are unable to go for Hajj, but we are definitely capable of nurturing all the above-mentioned qualities among ourselves. If we do not find in ourselves the feelings and commitment to humanity and Ummah, it means we do not benefit from Hajj. Hajj is the source for unity and universality of people.
Fight Against Shaitan and Shaitanic Forces
During Hajj symbolically we throw stones on Shaitan, but in our practical life we must remember him and his strategies and must defeat him. Greediness, lust for power and money, misuse of power, negligence from our duties, ignoring needy people in society, creating problems to weak and poor people, increase in corruption, all these are Shaitanic strategies and qualities. We can fight against all these immoral traits without going to Hajj and throwing stones at Shaitan. We must consciously eradicate all the bad habits and avoid wrong doings if we wish to get the reward of Hajj.
Increase in Charity
For Hajj we spend our money and perform journey for the sake of Allah’s pleasure. As we know we are unable to perform Hajj this year, we can increase our charities and spend time, energy, and money for needy people. Thousands and thousands of people have lost their jobs and businesses and millions of workers and refugees around the world are in need of our help. Those who have money but unable to perform Hajj this year, for them there is a great opportunity to get the pleasure of Allah (SWT) by way of spending their money willingly to help the needy. Due to Covid-19, thousands of families are suffering from lack of food, lack of health facilities, and lack of education fees for their children everywhere in the world especially in the so-called third world countries. It is an excellent chance for Muslims to get reward from Allah (SWT). All Muslims who planned for Hajj and those who did not, must come forward to spend money for the sake of Allah (SWT). At a time when people plan to make more money by exploiting Covid-19 situation, Muslims must set the example of charities and sacrifices. I am sure without going for Hajj they all would get excellent reward from Allah (SWT).
Service to Humanity
We are not going to spend this year being away from our families and relatives for Hajj but we can use our time, energy, and money for the well-being of people. The focus of all teachings and ibadath of Islam are directed towards service to people. Muslims around the world should develop mechanism and network at a large scale to serve humanity selflessly only for the sake of Allah (SWT). The Hajj has the capacity to forge a living, purposeful and selfless contact among people of the world imparting a new sense of life of sacrifice for the sake of others. Allah SWT said in the Quran:
Allah has appointed the Kaabah, the Sacred House, as a means of support for [the collective life of] people, and has caused the holy month [of Hajj], and the animals of sacrificial offering and their distinguishing collars to assist therein [5: 97]
In the changing circumstances of the world wherein people are misguided for hate and Islamophobia, it is imperative for all Muslims of the world to strengthen their personal bond of relationship with all people around them irrespective of faith, ideology, ethnic, and racial differences. The biggest lesson of Hajj today for everyone is to realize the importance of human beings, their rights, dignity, and life. Millions of people around the world are suffering from hundreds of problems and miseries especially from Covid-19 pandemic. The Muslim Ummah is capable with manpower and other resources to liberate people from their miserable conditions. This should not remain as a desire and dream of Muslims but it must turn into a genuine commitment to humanity. The Hajj, Salat and Saum all ibadath relate us with people and ask us to serve them without any discrimination. All the people of the world belong to the family of the Prophet Adam [pbuh] and Eve. This is the truth and reality of people. How Muslims would develop their good relationship with people around them is the biggest question for them. All Muslims especially those who love to perform Hajj are addressed to answer practically this question. Millions and millions of people do not understand what is Islam, who is the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] and what is the Quran as well as the nature of their relationship with all of them. They do not know that Muslims stand together to serve them, to reduce their burdens and to guide them to the Right Path of culture, civilization, and development. It is our duty, as Muslims, to love people and educate them about Allah (SWT), Islam, Prophet Muhammad [PBUH], and the Quran as the SAVIORS of Humanity.
Dr. Muhammad Mumtaz Ali earned his PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University, India. He started his career as an Assistant Professor in International Islamic University, Malaysia in 1987. He is still serving in the same University. Currently he is in the Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences.