25 February 2000
Hajj to the House is a duty owed to Allah by all mankind those who can find a way to do it. (3:97)
And We located the position of the House for Ibrahim: 'Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who circle it, and those who stand and bow and prostrate. Announce the Hajj to mankind. They will come to you on foot and on every sort of lean animal, coming by every distant road so that they can be present at what will profit them and invoke Allah's name on particular days over livestock He has provided for them. Eat of them and feed those who are poor and in need. Then they should end their state of self-neglect and fulfil their vows and circle the Ancient House.' (22:24-27)
The time of the Hajj is upon us once again. Some of those intending to do it this year will have already set out and the others will certainly be getting ready to do so.
The Hajj is unique. There is nothing that happens on our planet that is in any way comparable to it. It represents the only truly global pattern of human social behaviour. If someone out in space were to observe the surface of the earth as a whole over a period of years, they would see many localised patterns of movement by human beings. They would see cities filling up and emptying out on a daily basis as people go to and from their places of work. They would probably notice within the continent of Europe a seasonal movement backwards and forwards between North and South as people head for the sun for their summer holidays. But in the main the movement of people about the surface of the earth would appear to be completely random to an outside observer and it would seem that there was no real cohesive human activity involving the whole human race. Just one thing would belie this conclusion.
At a certain time every year people would start, at first by ones and twos and gradually in ever increasing numbers, to move towards and gather together in one particular arid spot on the earth's surface. If the observer had very sophisticated equipment he would see the growing gathering going round and round in circles around one central point and then backwards and forwards between two adjacent points. Then on a clearly pre-specified date the whole mass of gathered people will be seen to move into a nearby valley and the following day to stream across the desert and remain stationary there for several hours. They would then return to valley from which they set out and, after a couple of days they would start to disperse and return to all the places, near and far, from which they had originally come. Our observer in space would certainly conclude that this was the one discernible phenomenon which tied together the whole human race and the only global pattern of human activity. From our necessarily limited earthbound human perspective it is all too easy to lose sight of this universal aspect of the great institution of hajj and to forget what a truly magnificent thing it is to be part of it.
Another aspect we tend to lose sight of is the ancientness of the hajj and the fact that by participating in it we are carrying on an unbroken tradition which has continued uninterruptedly from the very dawn of human history. It is at least six thousand years since Sayyidina Ibrahim instituted the rites of hajj centred on the House he built in the valley of Makka and it has been going on in that place year by year ever since that time. And there is compelling evidence from other parts of the world that similar gatherings, involving circles and straight lines, were taking place in even earlier times. So when we go on hajj we are taking part in a series of rituals that have been an integral part of human existence since well before the beginning of recorded history. We may well be the only surviving link, connecting us as human beings back to our first forefather Adam and the beginning of the human race.
Linguistically hajj means to "aim for", and in the Shari'a, it means to aim for the Sacred House in order to perform the actions of hajj in response to the command of Allah and to seek His pleasure. It is an obligation according to the Book, the Sunna and the consensus of the community. As the ayats make clear Allah ta'ala orders us to go on hajj if we can and the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Islam is based on five," and one of the five pillars is the hajj. He also said, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, "Make hajj before you cannot make hajj." (al-Bayhaqi in the Sunan) The community agree that it is only obligatory once in a lifetime. Al-Aqra' ibn Habis asked the Messenger of Allah, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, "Is the hajj every year or only once?" He said, "It is only once. Whoever does more does it voluntarily." (Ahmad)
It is obligatory for anyone who wants go on hajj to learn its rulings what is obligatory, what is forbidden, what is disliked and what is permitted because if an action is obligatory, then knowledge of it is obligatory. The first thing it is necessary for us to know where the hajj is concerned is the difference between halal and haram provision because only the halal is acceptable for acts of worship. Allah is good and only accepts the good. This has become particularly relevant in today's world when the incomes of so many of us have become tainted with the haram. Allah ta'ala says:
"Allah only accepts from people who have taqwa." (5:28)
There is a line of poetry which sums up the matter quite succinctly:
When you make hajj with money from a haram source,
your camel has made the hajj but you have not.
Given that you have done your best to ensure that your provision is halal, it is very important to make the hajj as soon as you are in a position to be able to do it because the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said "If anyone possesses the provision and transport which will take him to the House of Allah and does not make hajj, there is nothing to stop him dying a Jew or a Christian." (at-Tirmidhi) and he also said, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, "If anyone not prevented by illness or obvious need or a tyrannical ruler fails to perform hajj, he might as well die a Jew or a Christian." (Ahmad)
And, of course, there is nothing but good in going on Hajj since there are few better actions that it is possible for a human being to perform and the reward for an accepted Hajj is forgiveness for all past wrong actions and the chance to make a totally fresh start to one's life. The Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was asked, "Which action is best?| He said, "Iman in Allah and His Messenger." He was asked, "Then what?" He said, "Jihad in the Way of Allah." He was asked, "Then what?" He said, "An accepted hajj." (al-Bukhari & Muslim) and he also said, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam,
"Whoever goes on hajj and does not have sexual relations or commit any outrage will return as he was on the day his mother bore him." (Bukhari)
"Actions only go by intentions. Everyone gets what they intend. Anyone, therefore, who emigrates to Allah and His Messenger, his emigration is indeed to Allah and His Messenger. But anyone who emigrates to gain something of this world or to marry a woman, his emigration is to that to which he emigrated.'"
Although modern means of travel have made going on hajj far easier, there is no doubt that the very lack of difficulty now involved has in a certain way made it more difficult to bring to it the same intensity of purpose that was almost automatic for the Muslims of past generations. When going on hajj meant leaving home for a minimum of several months, and in some cases for a year or more, people tended to think much more seriously about what they were embarking upon than we do when it is just a matter of hopping onto a plane for a couple of hours. In the old days the departure of someone for the hajj and their eventual return from it were the reason for significant celebrations not only for individual families but also for whole communities; nowadays it has become so commonplace that people's departure and arrival almost pass unnoticed in most places.
Another way in which the experience of hajj has been to a certain extent devalued has been the unparalleled proliferation of photographs and television coverage of the holy places. Our ancestors' exposure to the Masjid al-Haram and the Ka'ba only happened through the spoken words of people they met who had been there, written descriptions they may have read or heard, primitive illustrations in books of fiqh and the almost symbolic depictions to be seen on the walls of mosques and zawiyyas. This meant that the reality of direct vision of the holy places was confined for them to when they arrived there and saw them with their own eyes. How ardent was their longing and how profoundly moving for them the actual sight.
We, however, have been bombarded with photographic images of these wonderful places no Muslim home is complete without a photo of Makka al-Mukarrama and another of al-Madina al-Munawwara gracing its walls somewhere and nearly all of us have witnessed the crowds circling the House of Allah and running between Safa and Marwa on television; it is even possible to attend the Jumu'a prayer in the Masjid al-Haram and the Mosque of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi sallam, without leaving your favourite armchair, and many people do. While it is certainly not true of the Muslims to say with regard to these things that familiarity breeds contempt, I think it can fairly be said that familiarity does breed a certain casualness towards them, a kind of know-all-about-it feeling, which it is really quite difficult to be unaffected by.
The reason I have dwelt on this a little is because it has an immediate bearing on what is probably the most important aspect of going on hajj, this journey which is the most significant one we make in our lives. This ease of travel and excessive pictorial exposure to the holy places definitely has an effect, and one unfortunate result of it is that the amount of forethought and preparation, both inward and outward, people now bring to it tends to be significantly less than it used previously to be. There is little doubt that it has made it much harder for most people to generate the same intensity of purpose which came so naturally to our forebears. The sheer difficulty and unknown quality of what they were going to made a strong intention an almost involuntary factor for Muslims of past generations but, paradoxically, we, as Muslims of this information age, when direct visual evidence of what is in front of us is so freely available, may well have to make a far more conscious effort to generate within ourselves the same strength of intention which came so naturally to those before us.
The first thing to bear in mind is that intention is not just a matter of verbal expression. There may well be formulae which clearly articulate the intention we want to make but it is vital to remember that this must be the outward expression of a clear inward purpose contained in our hearts. An intention is a bit like an iceberg: the words expressing it are like the tenth which appears above the surface which is only there because of the nine tenths hidden below it. Inside our hearts we must have a clear picture of exactly what we are intending to do. Obviously you do not and cannot know exactly what is going to happen and the reality is always very different from any idea we may have of it, nevertheless it is vital to have in your mind a clear outline of the various rites and practices you are intending to perform. The basic picture is quite simple and not difficult to grasp. Once you have got hold of it you will always be able to focus on the task you have undertaken and are less likely to become distracted from it by the chaotic bustle which will almost certainly envelop you when you arrive at your destination.
The basic sequence of hajj events is as follows: ihram talbiya tawaf of arrival sa'y going to Mina on the 8th of Dhu'l-Hijja standing at 'Arafa on the 9th spending the night at Muzdalifa returning to Mina on the morning of the 10th stoning the Jamra al-Aqaba sacrificing shaving or cutting the hair Tawaf al-Ifada leaving ihram stoning the three jamarat for two or three days tawaf of departure. This, then, is the outline plan of the rites of hajj and everyone going on hajj should study this basic sequence of events before they leave and make them their own so that once there they will have an internal blueprint to refer to whenever they need it.
I would like to finish by remembering what happened to Shaykh Aziz Schaller, when he went on hajj in 1993. He went with a group from England and Spain and they met up by prearrangement in Jeddah airport. After the usual bureaucratic nightmare they eventually got their papers cleared and made their way straight to Makka. They were lucky enough to be staying quite near the Masjid al-Haram and fulfilled their tawaf of arrival and say'i without difficulty. On the requisite day they went out to Mina and then on to 'Arafa. They stayed there correctly until after sunset but because many people had left early when they arrived at Muzdalifa it was difficult to find a spot to spend the night. They eventually found somewhere but it was a long way from a water supply and Aziz spent much of the night plying backwards and forwards with bottles of water making sure everyone in the group had enough for wudu and drinking in the morning. They completed the hajj successfully and returned to Makka and then after a couple of days set out for Madina.
Because of traffic congestion the journey to Madina took twenty-four hours and they finally arrived on a Tuesday just before Maghrib. They were given a place to stay overlooking the graveyard of Madina, al-Baqi', where so many of the Companions and great early Muslims are buried. On the Wednesday Shaykh Aziz complained of feeling weak. On the Thursday the weakness increased and a couple of the group accompanied him to the local hospital for treatment. The rest of the group were invited out for the evening. When they returned and went to enquire how Shaykh Aziz was they were informed that he had just died. They washed and prepared his body for burial and the funeral prayer was done for him in the Mosque of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, after Jumu'a. The funeral procession went directly from the mosque to al-Baqi' and Aziz was buried between Sayyidina Uthman ibn 'Affan, radiya'Llahu 'anhu, and Imam Malik, rahimahu'Llahu ta'ala.
As far as he himself or any one else knew Shaykh Aziz was in perfectly good health when he set out, yet the time from when he first felt unwell until his death was scarcely twenty-four hours. I am not suggesting that this is a common occurrence, although we must remember that millions of Muslims daily ask Allah for such an end in their du'as, but it does bring it very forcibly home that it is a very real if remote possibility. The vital lesson we can learn from what happened to Shaykh Aziz is that whatever happens the reality is that everyone who goes on hajj, the most important journey which any human being can make, is going to meet their Lord and it is this which should be the explicit intention of all who set out to do it.
Return to Home Page