It is quite common during this time of the year (and understandably so) to discuss the rulings pertaining to the Hajj pilgrimage. Weekend courses are conducted, evening talks are held and scholars are inundated with questions on the matter. Hajj tours are busy and there is a sense of urgency for those involved. That being said, it is usually not something that everyone pays complete attention to, but mostly those who are fortunate and blessed to be undertaking the rite. We ask Allah for acceptance.
As for the rest of us, we bid our farewells and watch the hordes of pilgrims flock towards the Sacred Lands from the comfort of our devices. We send in our prayers, ask for forgiveness and accept any pardon requested. We also pay a nod to the Imam’s discourse around the rite, only to tell ourselves that we will focus and learn in detail when our own time arrives to undertake the journey. In the meanwhile, we prepare ourselves to celebrate Eid on the tenth day of the month, pay our sacrifice dues and proclaim the Eid takbirs. Before we know it, these momentous days are gone and we move on towards the end of the Hijri calendar year having eaten much red meat – praise be to Him! – without consciously bathing in the spiritual significance that saturates these blessed days.
For us, the events surrounding these days may feel somewhat foreign and distant. We are not there in the holy lands, so what significance do these days hold for us? In an attempt to explore this question, let’s take a step back and look at the Hajj from afar—from a perspective that is shared by both Hajji and Non-Hajji alike, and one that inspects the rite situated as a core pillar of Islam and the relationship of ours with the Divine.
As is known, Allah Almighty is characterised with Divine Attributes and many many Beautiful Names. For example, He is The Most-Merciful, The Most-Forgiving, The Ever-Living, and so forth—names that denote His beauty (jamāl)—as well as being The Mighty, The Most-Powerful, The Just, The One Who Gives Death, and so on—names that denote its counter equivalent, His awe and majesty (jalāl). Allah Almighty, the Creator of the cosmos and everything within it, discloses His aforementioned Rigour and Beauty in perfect measure and harmony (kamāl) therein: ﴾We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it becomes clear to them that this is the truth. Does it not suffice that your Lord is witness over all things?﴿ [Fuṣṣilat, 41:53]
Having understood this illuminating principle, we can now begin to take a look at the Hajj pilgrimage with this refreshing lens.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the testimony of faith (shahādah), Prayer (ṣalāh), fasting (ṣawm) and the obligatory alms (zakāh). The testimony of faith is a condition for the validity of the rest and concerns faith and doctrine, while the others are matters of practice and action that follow from it.
Returning back to our principles of jamāl and jalāl, Allah has also exhibited these mutually-complementary qualities not just in the cosmos but in His very legislations and the Divine Law.
The two pillars that exude Allah’s Majesty are the Prayer (salāh) and the obligatory alms (zakāh).
In Prayer, we, as one unified cavalry, stand shoulder-to-shoulder in rows like troops behind a ‘commander’ who leads (the linguistic meaning of the word ‘imām’) from the prayer niche. The word for the prayer niche is ‘miḥrāb’ which is derived from the root ‘ḥ-r-b’ meaning ‘to fight or battle’—an allusion to the fact that those who have gathered to pray are combatants against the devil and the enemies of Allah. Even the Call to Prayer (adhān) on top of the minarets reminds one of a rallying-cry for battle.
As for giving the obligatory alms, a person hands over a part of his wealth, assets and belongings in the way of the Lord so that they are to be distributed to those He has made recipients thereof. What he owes is collected by the Muslim ruler or his representatives who stand on behalf of the Real King (malik).
As for the fast (ṣawm) and the Hajj pilgrimage, they exude the Beauty of the Most High (jamāl). They are at heart a lover’s undertaking.
The moment the love of Allah is thrust into the heart of Man, he loses himself in Him and abandons everything else—for ﴾Allah has not placed two hearts in the chest of a man.﴿ [Al-Aḥzāb, 33:4] In His fervour, praise and blame, friends and foe, affluence and poverty become equal to him. He reaches the extent of abandoning his most primal needs – food, water, and company in Ramadan – for his Beloved far surpasses any worldly joys. He has heard that his Beloved will reveal Himself in this month, so he isolates himself in the final ten days in the hope of reaching Him (wuṣūl ilayh).
He then begins to make his way towards the Land of His Abode—with nothing on him and nothing to his name. He sets out for pilgrimage to His Beloved’s Land just as he migrates away and leaves behind sins and everything other than Him. No job, no family, no attachments. He strips his body of lowly human attributes, status symbols and of any pomp—with a shaved head, a simple shroud is all that he wraps over his body. He is a slave amongst million slaves.
As he approaches, he calls out His Name over and over again – “Labbayk Allāhumma Labbayk” — humbly pleading to his only Beloved that he has arrived in His Court for His Service. He is anxious to hear a reply, hoping that he will be accepted as a true bondsman of His.
Thus the pilgrim approaches the House of the Beloved and circumambulates (ṭawāf) the walls of His Abode to catch a glimpse of His Beauty. Repeatedly, he makes the same trip, around and around, like a lover magnetised in orbit. He wanders thirstily in the valleys and plains of the hot Arabian desert to get there. Though it is his body that seemingly circumambulates, it is far more an act of the heart. And so he cares not for his physical appearance, his hair is long and his nails untrimmed. The Beloved has not disclosed Himself to him yet, so he cleaves onto the draped curtains of His Abode and kisses it.
Umirru ‘alā al-diyār diyār laylā
Uqabbilu dha’l jidār wa dha’l jidār
Wa mā ḥubbu al-diyār shaghafna qalbī
Wa lākin ḥubbu man sakana al-diyarā
I wander the dwellings, the dwellings of Layla
I kiss this wall, I kiss that wall.
It isn’t the love of the dwellings that has captured my heart
But rather, it is the love of the one who resides therein! (Qays ibn Mulawwah)
The Pilgrim runs between the mountains of cleanliness (ṣafā) and chivalry (marwā) hoping to be cleansed of all vices and for his heart to be filled with dignity and honour. He briskly walks to and fro—this fluctuation between the two mounts mirroring the tipping of the Scale of Deeds (mīzān) in front of the Beloved. He is desperate not to disappoint.
He then remembers that his forefather’s – Prophet Adam – repentance was accepted in Mina. Thus, he rushes there and stays praying and beseeching His Lord, crying that he was not able to fulfil the right of Love. He realises the worthlessness of this world and remembers the Hereafter.
It is in the plains of Arafat that we shall be resurrected, where each nation will be gathered with its leaders. It was here where the beloved of the Beloved, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, delivered his final sermon. The day in Arafat is the day when the Lord is Close to all those there. It is where He asks the angels: “What do they desire?” so that He may grant it to them [Muslim 1348]. The pilgrim asks for forgiveness, for himself and for all his loved ones, for the wrongs that they have done, for the oaths that they have broken, and for the inadequacy of their servitude. Tired, weary and broken-hearted, prayers are accepted here.
Thus, with a new sense of resolve, the pilgrim proceeds to Muzdalifah following the footsteps of Prophet Adam who resided there. Remembering how the Devil tried to deceive his Masters – Prophet Adam in the Garden of Eden and Prophet Ibrahim after his Pilgrimage – the pilgrim collects rocks and pebbles to stone the Devil with them, throwing his own selfishness away with each and every launch, thereby rejecting his advances.
Throughout the journey of Hajj, the pilgrim sustains himself with the water of life – Zamzam – for just as it gave life and sustenance to the Prophet Isma’il, this water quenches the pilgrim’s ‘thirst’ for proximity with Allah.
In reality, the entire journey of Hajj is a pilgrimage of love. It exemplifies the servant’s love for Allah; a servant who has no consciousness for anything else.
Mā lī siwā rūḥī – khudh-hā
W’al-ruḥ juhd al-Muqilli
I have nothing but my soul – take it
The soul is but the minimal sacrifice (Hallaj)
Since the Beloved has forbidden him from taking his own life, he follows the sacrifice of Prophet Abraham, who although was willing to sacrifice his own son was told to sacrifice an animal instead. An absolute surrender to the Almighty. The sacrifice symbolises the annihilation of one’s personhood, a voluntary death of the ego, emphasising further that all that exists is for the glory of Allah—even the blood that gushes forth from pulsating veins. No death for the sake of the Beloved goes to waste, so the meat of the animal is shared with friends and family, as well as the less fortunate, highlighting the universality of His Beneficence.
As the final stages of Hajj conclude, the realised pilgrim finds himself at the culmination of a profound spiritual journey. They have moved beyond earthly attachments, and the love for the Divine overflows and washes away all traces of their former self. The deep and spiritual transformation that unfolds through Hajj symbolises the peak in the quest for Divine Love. Perhaps this is why the Hajj pilgrimage is only obligatory to be undertaken once in a lifetime, in that it symbolically represents the culmination of one’s ascent and journey in love for the Beloved—the ‘summom bonum’ of the mystical endeavour. Life after death, death of the ego, death of all else that resides in the heart other than Allah.
The Zamzam does not merely satisfy a corporeal need but grants a spiritual rejuvenation that transcends the temporal world. It serves as a symbol of spiritual sustenance more than a physical one; one that grants vivacity beyond this transient realm.
With the sacrifice made and the Zamzam drunk, the pilgrim emerges reborn, their lives forever changed—imbued with a love for the Divine, and their journey of Hajj, a reflection of the voyage to Allah.
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