Earlier this month, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declared that hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Ka’bah in Makkah – would be scaled down allowing only a thousand of local Saudis to observe it. No overseas Muslims, which accounted for a majority of some three million pilgrims in a regular year – would be allowed to perform hajj this year. The Saudi decision was taken to preserve global public health in the absence of any vaccine to fight Covid-19.
The hajj event will start on July 29, corresponding to the 8th day of Islamic calendar Dhul-Hijjah.
It is the first time in the Saudi kingdom's nearly 90-year history that foreign Muslims have been barred from performing Hajj. No one over the age of 65 or with chronic illnesses would be allowed to perform Hajj. Pilgrims will be tested for the new coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Makkah and will be required to quarantine at home after the ritual ends.
Wearing face masks at all times will be mandatory for pilgrims and organizers. Touching or kissing the Ka’bah, the holiest site in Islam, will be banned during Hajj this year, and a physical distancing space of 1.5 meters (five feet) between each pilgrim during the rituals - including congregational prayers and while inside the Ka’bah tawaf (circling) area - will be imposed. The access to holy sites at Mina, Muzdalifah, and Mount Arafat will only be limited to those with Hajj permits until August 2.
As I have noted in an earlier article, Hajj has been cancelled in the past because of war and past epidemics throughout history. Ken Chitwood, Lecturer, Concordia College, New York, has a good article citing such occasions when hajj could not be held.
So while the ban on foreign Muslims who had intended to perform Hajj this year is disappointing, they should be reminded of the Prophetic hadith that provides guidance about traveling during a time of an epidemic: “If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.”
In Islam, intention counts and who knows Allah (SWT) may accept their intention even though they cannot or couldn’t perform the hajj this year.
In this regard, I like to share the well-known story related by Imam Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (r: Rahmatullah Alayh) who was one of the illustrious followers of the great Imam Abu Hanifa (r). Abdullah ibn Mubarak was born in 118 A.H. of a Turkish father and a Persian mother. He was a noted authority on Prophetic Traditions and a famous ascetic. In alternate years he would perform hajj, and go out for Jihad, and a third year he would engage in commerce. He would divide the profits of this trading among his followers. He distributed much of his wealth in alms to the poor.
When Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (R) was living in the holy city of Makkah one year, having completed the rites of pilgrimage, he fell asleep. In a dream he saw two angels descend from heaven.
“How many have come this year?” one asked the other.
“Six hundred thousand,” the other replied.
“How many have had their pilgrimage accepted?”
“Not one,” said the angel. “However, there is a cobbler in Damascus called Ali ibn Muaffaq. He has not come on the pilgrimage, but his pilgrimage is accepted and all his sins have been forgiven.”
When Abdullah (r) heard this, he was filled with sadness: all these people who had come from far distant ends of this earth, traversing wide deserts, all their labor was in vain. He decided to go to Damascus and visit that person. After he went there, he found Ali the cobbler, and told him of the dream. Hearing this, the cobbler uttered a cry and fell unconscious. When he recovered, Abdullah inquired, “Tell me your story.”
The man told, “For thirty years now I have longed to make the pilgrimage to Makkah. I had saved up 350 dirhams from my cobbling. This year I had resolved to go to Makkah. One day my pregnant lady smelt the smell of food coming from our neighbor and asked me to get some food from there. I went and knocked on the neighbor’s door and explained the situation. My neighbor burst into tears. She said, ‘My children have eaten nothing for three days. Today I saw a donkey lying dead, so I hacked off a piece and cooked it. It would not be lawful food for you.’ My heart burned within me when I heard her tale. I took out the 350 dirhams and gave them to her saying, ‘Spend these on the children. This is my pilgrimage.’”
“The angel spoke truly in my dream,” Abdullah declared, “and the Heavenly King was true in His judgment.” [Tadhkirat al-Auliyah]
Niyah or intention is important in Islam. The above story highlights that one’s hajj may be accepted by Allah (SWT) for meritorious deeds like feeding of the poor and the needy.
The second story I want to share is about Abu Bakr al-Kattani (r), a native of Baghdad. He was a disciple of Junayd al-Baghdadi (r). He was called the Lamp of Sanctuary, because he later settled in Makkah. He lived there for nearly 30 years until his death in 322 AH (934 CE). He used to pray all night at the Ka’bah completing the recitation of the Qur’an every night.
At the beginning of his spiritual journey, he sought permission from his mother to go on the hajj (pilgrimage).
“When I was proceeding into the desert,” he recalled, “a state overtook me compelling me to wash for self-purification. I told myself perhaps I had not set out under the proper auspices; so I turned back. I reached home to find my mother seated behind the door of the house, waiting for me. ‘Mother,’ I said, ‘did you not give me permission?’ ‘Yes,’ my mother replied, ‘but without you I could not bear to look at the house. Since you departed I have been seated here. I resolved that I would not rise up until you come back again.’”
It was not until his mother died that Al-Kattani (r) ventured into the desert once more to complete his hajj. [Tadhkirat al-Auliyah]
The story above highlights the importance of caring for one’s parents. In a famous hadith, a man came to the Prophet Muhammad (S: sallal-lahu alayhi wa sallam) and said, O Messenger of Allah, how do I enter Jannah (paradise)? The Prophet (S) asked, “Is your mother alive?” The man said, “Yes, she is alive.” The Prophet (S) said, “Find her feet and stick yourself to them (which is an Arabic expression, meaning “to lower and humble yourself to service your mother”); there you will find Jannah.”
Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that once the Prophet (S) said: “Let him be humbled, let him be humbled, let him be humbled.” His companions were perplexed, and they asked: “Allah’s Messenger, who is he?” He (S) replied, “He who finds his parents in old age, either one or both of them, but did not use their presence (by doing good to them, etc.) to cause him to enter Paradise.” [Muslim]
The third story I want to share is that of Bishr al-Hafi (r), the barefooted one. He was born in Merv around 767 CE and settled in Baghdad. In his early years, he lived a life of dissipation but later he repented and became one of the ascetics of Islam.
A man once came to seek advice from Bishr al-Hafi (r).
“I have 2000 dirhams lawfully acquired. I wish to go on the pilgrimage.”
“You want to walk for your own amusement,” Bishr (r) replied. “If you are really intent on pleasing Allah, then go and pay someone’s debt, or give the money to an orphan, or someone in poor circumstances. The ease thus given to a Muslim’s heart is more acceptable to Allah than a hundred hajj.”
“I put prior the desire to make the pilgrimage,” the man said.
“That is because you have obtained this money by means that are not good,” Bishr commented. “You will never find rest until you have spent them in improper ways.”
The fourth story I want to share is about the importance of doing good to others (similar to the theme of the previous story) and meeting the basic needs of others instead of busying oneself with prayer alone during the hajj.
A pilgrim had returned from Hajj. He was relating his adventures to Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (r) – a great scholar of Islam and a contemporary of Imam Abu Hanifa (r) - and his companion. He was most impressed with one of his companions of Hajj, and was praising him: “What a pious man, we were so blessed to have him with us, he was busy praying and worshiping all the time. As we would stop somewhere, he would rush to a corner and start prayers.”
Imam Jafar (r): “Then who was attending to his duties? Who was watering and feeding his animal (ride)?”
Man: “Of course, we had the honor of doing all that for him. He was busy in his sacred quest, and had nothing to do with such mundane things.”
Imam Jafar (r): “Then indeed, you all are better than him.”
[Anecdotes of Pious Ones]
The last story I want to share is the celebrated story from Shaykh Abu’l-Qasim al-Junayd (r) who was a great teacher. He (r) asked a pilgrim who had returned from Makkah, “Since the first moment that you started your journey from home, have you been journeying away from sins as well?” The pilgrim replied “No.”
Junayd (r) continued, “In that case you have not accomplished any journey... Did you cover and distance between you and God, as you stopped from place to place on your way?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you have not covered the path from stage to stage... When at the required place, you donned the pilgrim’s robe, did you throw away the qualities of human nature just as you had thrown away your clothes?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you were not clothed in the robe of a pilgrim... When you stood at Arafat, were you even for a while lost in meditation about God?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you were not standing at Arafat... When you were at Muzdalifa and your wish was fulfilled, did you completely give up all your worldly wishes?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you have not gone to Muzdalifa... When you went round the Ka’bah, did you see the vision of God in that house of purification?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you have not gone round the Ka’bah... When you ran between Safa and Marwa, did you feel purified?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you did not perform the ceremony of running... When you arrived at Mina, did you feel that all your desires had been ended?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you did not visit Mina... When you reached the place where sacrifices are offered, did you slaughter your worldly wishes?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you offered no sacrifice... When you threw pebbles, did you also discard all worldly desires that were within you?” The pilgrim replied, “No.”
Junayd (r) said, “In that case you threw no pebbles... The pilgrimage has not yet been accomplished by you.”
[For many such devotional stories, the interested readers may like to read the author’s book – Devotional Stories, pub. A. S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2011).]
May Allah guide us all to be better Muslims in this time of fitnah (trial and tribulation) and fasad (corruption and depravity).