5 To Perform Hajj (pilgrimage to the Ka'bah)
In many verses, the Quran alludes to life being a journey toward the Creator.
“Verily, we belong to God, and, verily, to Him we are returning.”
“Everything in the heavens and in the earth belong to God; and to God all things will be returned.”
“And unto Allah leads the [straight] Way, but there are ways that deviate.”
“Hasn’t he had news of what was in the books of Moses and Abraham…that your Lord, He is the [final] goal?”
“[The believers say,] ‘We hear, and we obey, [we seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord; and to You is the end of all journeys.’”
A scholar from the second generation of Muslims was asked, “What will it be like to go before Allah?” He answered, “For some it will be like a reunion with a long-lost loved one. For others it will be like a runaway slave being dragged back to his master.”
Hajj is a reminder that life is a journey. You disentangle yourself from the routine of life and forego the comforts and familiarity of home. You expose yourself to uncertainty, inconvenience - maybe even danger - in search of a spiritual gain.
Of course, pilgrimage is a feature of many or most religions. One of the things that makes Hajj unique is that this pilgrimage is made to the first house ever built for the worship of the One God. Allah says in the Qur’an,
“The first House [of worship] appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Mecca), a blessed place, a guidance to the peoples.”
“And remember [that] Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House.”
The fact that Abraham built the Ka’bah (The greatest Islamic mosque) means that it is quite ancient, but this verse implies that Abraham and Ishmael raised the House on foundations that were already there, which would make it even older. The physical environment of Mecca is devoid of anything that people naturally take delight in. It is a forbidding landscape of searing desert and black mountains that remind one of the surface of the moon. So the motive for coming there has to be spiritual, not worldly.
Many of the actions commemorated in Hajj are based on actions done by Abraham, his son Ishmael and his wife Hagar. Their actions were expressions of the readiness to sacrifice everything for the pleasure of God. Thus Hajj affirms the continuity of God’s religion, the religion of all the prophets, and reminds the participants that the willingness to sacrifice is a key feature of a believer’s personality. Hajj also becomes a form of training in patience and endurance. For the pilgrimage to be accepted a person must refrain from arguments and fighting. When more than two million people are crowded together there is bound to be jostling and long waits to use toilets, bathe, etc. It is a marvel that so many people gather every year without the brawls and rampages so common in rock festivals and other types of gatherings. The reward for performing Hajj properly and refraining from arguments, fights and lewd behavior is that the pilgrim will return home as free of sin as the day his mother gave birth to him. Muslims do not believe in original sin or inherited sin, so that means all his sins will be forgiven.
Another difference between Hajj and other pilgrimages is that no other gathering is so universal. Virtually all of the world’s races, ethnic groups and languages are represented. People literally come from every continent on earth, except, perhaps, Antarctica. God told Abraham:
“And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men; they will come to you on foot and [mounted] on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways, that they may witness things of benefit to them.”
They come together in a spiritual environment that emphasizes their common humanity. The men all wear two unsewn pieces of white cloth that erase the distinctions of wealth, education and status. The huge assembly of people on the plain of Arafah reminds the pilgrims that all humanity will be assembled on a featureless plain on the Day of Judgment. The white garments of the men are reminiscent of the funeral shroud.
It was the experience of Hajj that caused Malcolm X to reconsider the racist teachings he had embraced and propagated as the leading spokesman of the so-called Nation of Islam. He had never had an encounter with a white person in America that did not reinforce his view that white people were devils. Yet at Hajj he saw people of every shade of brown, yellow, red and white eating together from the same plate, sleeping side by side and worshipping the same God as brothers and sisters. What a difference from America, where white Christians and black Christians worshipped Jesus in segregated churches! When he came back to the U.S., he announced that he had been wrong about some of his conclusions. He held out hope that there was a possibility for white and black people to live together peacefully in America, if they were to accept the real Islam