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Spiritual and social dimensions of Haj

By Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan

“Behold! We gave the site of Ibrahim, of the (sacred) House, (saying): Associate not anything with Me; and sanctify my House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow or prostrate themselves (therein in prayers). And proclaim to the people the Haj; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come through deep and every distant mountain pass.” (Sura Al-Hajj verse 26-27)

Amongst the five pillars of Islam, Haj occupies a unique place because of its wonderful vitality. Its significance can be gauged from the fact that a dedicated Sura has been revealed on the subject which no other pillar of Islam has this distinction. Hajj as an ibadah has a wholesome bearing on a believer’s life and personality. The pilgrim is shorn of his past sins and his very existence experiences a complete transformation if it is performed with sincere intention unpolluted with worldly fame and showoff, and with an aim to seek the pleasure of Allah (SWT). There is an authentic Hadith of the holy prophet (SAW) narrated with an unbroken chain of transmission which says:

“Whoever performs Haj for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and therein utters no word of evil, nor commits any evil deed, shall return from it free from sins as the day on which his mother gave birth to him”. (Bukhari, Muslim)

In order for Haj to be accepted (Hajj e Mabroor), there are certain preconditions that must be met before embarking upon this spiritual journey.

Firstly, there must be sincerity of intention both before and after the performance of Haj. There should be no pomp and show and no publicity  to capture public attention and gain worldly fame. One should not desire to earn the title of a “Hajji”. Many people talk about the expenses incurred on this journey, their charity among the poor and the needy,their devotion and worship in Masjid Al-Haram and Masjid -e- Nabawi, their assisting the weak and the old etc.

They engage in video recording of each and every act they perform inside both these holiest and the most revered places of worship that amounts to sacrilege. All these acts  lead to “Riyaa” (showoff and insincerity) which is against the very essence of ibadah (worship). In Sura Al-Nisa verse no. 142  of the Holy Quran such an act has been disapproved and has been termed as a sign of a hypocrite.

Secondly, the money spent on this sacred journey must be a legitimate and permissible earning. One must ensure that the expenses he incurs on Haj is pure and has a permissible source.

Thirdly, all the rituals associated with Haj must be performed with utmost religiosity, devotion and deep sense of spiritual understanding. While performing the rituals, the esoteric dimensions of the ibadah must always be kept in mind throughout.

Social dimensions of Haj

Haj is a grand Islamic congregation where Muslims coming from across the globe and belonging to different regions, nationalities, colours and speaking different languages meet wearing same robe, performing same rituals, chanting same slogan, “Lab Baik Allahumma Lab Baik” on the acclaimed day that is called the day of “Araffa” having a majestic and awe-inspiring view reflecting the universality of Islam as a “Deen”, manifesting the equality of mankind and serving as a reminder of the Day of Resurrection. When the pilgrims coming from across the globe gather at one place representing one brotherhood, they practically demonstrate the grand message of the Holy Quran wherein Allah (SWT) says:

“The believers are but a single brotherhood.” (Sura Al-Hujurat verse no.10)

The core message of Haj is equality of mankind where there is no difference between the rich and the poor, the mighty and the weak, the ruler and the ruled, the black and the white, old and young, male and female; all of them stand before their Creator without any kind of discrimination. In Sura Al-Hujurat verse No. 13 of the Holy Quran, Allah (SWT) says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most righteous of you.”

In his farewell sermon, the holy Prophet (SAW) made it very explicit when he proclaimed: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over non-Arab nor a non- Arab has superiority over an Arab. Also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except piety.” He further said:

“Learn that every Muslim is brother of every other Muslim and that all Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”

Hajj provides a great opportunity for pilgrims to interact with each other and build social relations, develop mutual understanding and cement the bond of Islamic brotherhood. It also provides an opportunity to learn about mutual problems, hopes and aspirations in the future, share experiences, exchange information in different fields and foster a sense of universal brotherhood amongst the Muslims.

Spiritual dimensions

One of the most amazing features of Haj is that no other religious or non-religious event on the face of earth can be compared to it in terms of the number of participants, duration of the event and scope of worship. But a deeper insight into the event provides a spiritual meaning to this grand event. For instance, when a pilgrim embarks upon the journey with the sincere intention, that is only to seek the pleasure of Allah (SWT), his/her whole disposition undergoes a complete transformation. He/she atones for his/her past sins and tries to keep himself/herself free from all kinds of indecency, abuse, squabbles and bickering.

Here it is important to note that by just performing the rituals of Haj without having an understanding of its inner dimensions and without internalizing its spiritual aspects and teachings one cannot attain the primary objective of this most important ibadah. Indeed, in Islam, the rituals of any ibadah be that Namaz, Saum or Zakat with only  outer dimensions in view and devoid of inner meaning are meaningless and many a time misrepresent the real teachings of Islam. However, it is important to understand that to start with as an initiate, a believer is not required to understand the deeper meaning of every ritual or be aware of its inner dimension because when it comes to fulfilling religious obligation, it is only blind faith and total unconditional submission that is required. Nevertheless, understanding the esoteric dimensions of ibadah is a much superior virtue in Islam as it provides the much needed enlightenment to the heart and nourishment to the soul thereby supplementing the exoteric aspect of worship.

It is important to know that every ritualistic act a pilgrim is required to perform, has a deeper spiritual meaning attached to it. Some of such ritualistic acts that have deeper spiritual dimensions are succinctly discussed here for the benefits of the interested readers:

“Ihram” the simple and humble dress of the male pilgrims made of two un-stitched white sheets of cotton cloth signifies two things. Firstly, it signifies that after donning it the pilgrim completely surrenders himself before the Will of Allah (SWT) as His most obedient slave and places himself at His disposal, and with this all the discrimination based on wealth, race, colour, language and region disappear in the presence of Allah (SWT). Secondly, it represents the shroud that is used to wrap the dead body at the funeral and burial,  and in the same dress he will be resurrected and will be presented before Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgment.

Secondly, the “Talbiah”, “Lab Baik Allahumma Lab Baik” which every pilgrim recites the moment he wears “Ihram” and which is continuously vocalized loudly by every pilgrim at every stage of Haj, signifies the profession that all mankind will be present before Allah (SWT) on the Day of Resurrection. It is a declaration of his presence on the day of Reckoning with total surrender and submission.

Thirdly, the “Circumlocution” (Tawaf) of Ka’ba seven times. This act symbolizes the resolve of the pilgrim to obey the commandments of Allah (SWT) the way it was obeyed and performed by Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his family. This act of having seven rounds around Ka’ba demands from a believer a total and unconditional submission subordinating all his/her desires to the Will of Allah (SWT).

Fourthly, the “Sa’ee”, ie., running seven times between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa symbolizes the desperate struggle one has to make in order to attain a grand objective and not to give up in the face of adversity.

Fifthly, the Wuqoof (standing for a certain period) in the plains of Arafat on the 9th Zulhijja is indicative of the pilgrim’s seeking forgiveness from God for his/her past sins, his/her repentance and giving an undertaking to lead a righteous life in the future.

Sixthly, the grand congregation in the plains of Afafat demonstrates the equality of human beings and unity of Muslim Ummah and symbolically acts as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when everyone will be required to present his/her account before Allah (SWT).

Seventhly, the night stay at Muzdalifa, collecting pebbles and next morning marching to Mina and from there marching towards “Jamarat”(pillars representing Satan) and stoning them has both outer and inner dimensions ie., fulfilling the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) when he stoned the Satan to reject his attempt to dissuade him from sacrificing his son as was asked by Allah (SWT), and also  symbolizes a believer’s attempt to resist his own evil desires and do his duty to Allah (SWT).

Moreover, as the whole event is commemorative of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his family’s act of sacrifice and total submission, it drives the believer to a new level of faith and God consciousness. It also fosters in the believer the love of Allah (SWT) and sincere desire to sacrifice the most beloved thing for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) in order to achieve the summum bonum (the supreme objective).

Hajj is, thus, not merely a ritualistic performance of certain acts; it is rather a spiritual journey of human soul towards the Creator carrying a deeper esoteric meaning.

Thus, a pilgrim is required to go beyond the ritualistic performance of Haj, understand its inner dimensions and benefit spiritually from this magnificent ibadah. Surely, if perceived and performed with deep understanding, Haj can bring a complete metamorphosis in the personality and life of a believer, and a perceptible change can be felt in the conduct, attitude, behaviour and  day to day affairs of a believer.





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1 Comment
  1. Dur Wali says

    Very comprehensive and well articulated write up with interesting elaboration of social and spiritual dimensions of Hajj-e- baitul- Allah. Of course, hajj is the physical journey towards the greatest House of Allah and a spiritual journey towards Allah the Owner of this greatest House.
    No doubt, if hajj performed with good intention to seek the pleasure of Allah only, it will definitely give spiritual satisfaction to a person. Otherwise, with the intention of world popularity and publicity will negate the true spirit of this great ibaadat.
    Hajj basically gives us an opportunity for praying to Allah for giving us the strength to not commit sins in future if we perform hajj with sincere intention. But, “No one else ever knows the strength of one’s love for God except God”.

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