Khutba: Hajj and the Individual

First Khutba

3 March 2000


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 (22:25-26)

As for those who honour Allah's sacred rites, that comes from the taqwa in their hearts. (22:30)

Their flesh and blood does not reach Allah but your taqwa does reach Him. (22:35)

Last week we looked at the Hajj in a general way and this week I would like to take a deeper look at the individual rites of which it is made up.

All of us have met people on their return from hajj and I think that all of us will affirm that almost no one comes back unaltered. With some returning hajjis the change is only superficial; the gloss disappears quickly; and within a very short time they are exactly as they were before. Others, however, come back utterly transformed and their lives take on a new and more meaningful quality; for them the hajj really has acted as a new beginning to their lives. It is not sufficient just to participate passively in the rites of hajj, it is necessary, as Allah ta'ala makes clear to bring to them the inner dimension of taqwa, fearful awareness of Allah. The rites are not magical, by which I mean that they have no automatically beneficial effect. Certainly there is great baraka in them stemming from the ancientness of their Divine prescription and billions of believers who have participated in them down through the centuries. But the benefit those performing them derive from them is directly proportional to the amount of taqwa they bring to them.

The first act the Hajjis perform upon their arrival in Makka is the Tawaf of Arrival, the seven circuits of the House of Allah with which the rites of hajj begin. When one enters the great wheel which night and day incessantly revolves around the Ka'ba, it is all too easy to become distracted by the amazing sight it represents and the pushing and shoving which is the inevitable accompaniment of so many people moving round in a limited space and which becomes particularly vigorous in the vicinity of the Black Stone. For this reason it is extremely important to keep a watch on your heart and remember why you are there. The circle of the tawaf is perhaps the place on hajj where one is most aware of being a citizen of the world. Every continent, race, and nation is represented and, extraordinarily, the specific characteristics of each is evident in the way they perform the rite.

On another level the act of tawaf can be seen as a reflection of our lives. If you look carefully at your life you will see that it is not so much an unbroken progression from beginning to end as a series of cycles which tend to bring you back and back again to the same point in a kind of repeating pattern. What is to be desired both in our lives as a whole and in our tawaf is that our circling should not, as it were, remain always at the same level but should rather take the form of an upward spiral so that each time we pass the same point we have come that much closer to Allah than we were the previous time round.

The tawaf ends with two rak'ats at the Maqam of Ibrahim and this really is an exercise which has great meaning for our lives as a whole. Somehow, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the haram, at the edge of, or even within the compass of, the endless wheeling of the tawaf crowd, we have to carve out a space for ourselves and locate a few moments of stillness and concentration in which we can stand and bow and prostrate and devote ourselves to the worship of our Lord.

One other definite spiritual benefit connected with the House of Allah has as much to do with people who are not there as those who are. The short length of wall between the door of the Ka'ba and the corner containing the Black Stone is known as al-Multazam. If you look at a picture of that side of the Ka'ba you will always see people spreadeagled against the wall at that point, almost as if they are trying to enter the House directly throught the wall, and when you are there you will hear and feel the intensity of the supplication in that place and there is scarcely an eye there that will not be flooded with tears. It is said that all du'a made there are answered and many people at some during their visit to the Masjid al-Haram try to take advantage of the opportunity it offers to ask Allah's help and blessing, not just for themselves but also for those they left behind.

After tawaf comes sa'y which in a way always reminds me of the rush hour in one of the great cities of the world. An endless seething mass of people flooding ceaselessly backwards and forwards in a paradoxical integration of confusion and order. Sa'y is a re-enactment of the desperate search for water by Hajjar, the wife of Sayyidina Ibrahim, 'alayhi as-salam, when she and her young son Isma'il were placed by him in the Hands of Allah in the barren valley of Bakka. She ran backwards and forwards between the two rocks of Safa and Marwa, climbing first onto the one and then onto the other searching every horizon for that group of travellers who would save them from their plight. In the end, as we know, what they needed appeared literally under their feet with the emergence of the spring of Zamzam. How often we do the same thing in our own lives. We cast about here and there, desparately seeking help of one kind or another from this one or that one, usually forgetting that Allah ta'ala is very well aware of our circumstances, and then Allah's help arrives from right under our noses or sometimes even from within ourselves and the situation is resolved.

Like all the rites of hajj the act of sa'y is packed with wisdom and many different insights can be gained from its performance. Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi has this to say about it in his seminal work, The Way of Muhammad:

When the hajji begins his sa'y, he joins an already moving bank of people between the two rocks of Safa and Marwa, so that the stream of people between the two Waymarks is endless. As you fall into that sea of activity rushing from here to there and there to here, and the ocean of faces washes past you, some seen again and again, others seen once and for all, the rhythmic running from a place to a place takes on the impulse of activity that has governed all one's life of forgetfulness. All the struggle and fretfulness of existence, all the coming and going, becomes condensed into these seven terrible flights from A to B and from B to A. Seven times is enough for the life of one to be exposed to one's palpitating heart.

The next step on the hajj is the move to Mina on the 8th of Dhu'l-Hijja. It is perhaps at Mina that the reality of the umma of Islam is most clearly to be seen. People tend to be camped according to the geographical area of the world from which they come so that at Mina all the races and nations of Islam more or less preserve their ethnic and national distinctions and yet are all in close juxtaposition to one another within a very confined area. So for a few precious days communities normally separated by thousands of miles find themselves right next door to one another and in the benign atmosphere of hajj that brotherhood of Islam, which is so elusive in today's artificially divided world, finds genuine and heartwarming expression, as Muslims from every part of the globe meet and enjoy the pleasure of one another's company. Another thing that is also made apparent is how much was stolen from us by the breakup of the khilafa and how much we stand to gain from the political reunification of the umma once more under one khalifa. May Allah bring that about again within our lifetime.

Second Khutba

Allah has confirmed His Messenger's vision with truth: 'You will enter the Masjid al-Haram in safety, Allah willing, shaving your heads and cutting your hair without any fear. He knew what you did not know and ordained, in place of this, an imminent victory. It is He who sent His Messenger with the Guidance and the Deen of Truth to exalt it over every other deen and Allah is enough as a witness. (48:27-28)

The Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, said, "Hajj is 'Arafa," so it is evident that the great gathering of the hajji's on the plain of 'Arafa is the core rite of hajj. This is what everyone has come for. There is no doubt that in an almost explicit way it prefigures that Final Gathering which all of us will inevitably attend on the Last Day. It is there at 'Arafa that the reality of the state of ihram is made most manifest. The lives of all who are present are stripped down to the barest essentials. All distinctions are removed. Wealth and poverty, every kind of class distinction, all the things which normally set people apart from one another in their worldly lives, all these things are set aside and all that remains is the simple fact of our common humanity. All we have is our actions, what we have done with ourselves up to that point, what we have turned ourselves into by what we have done, nothing more and nothing less than what we truly are. It is a priceless opportunity to take stock. We stand there, as it were, naked in front of our Lord, with all the normal distractions and cushions taken away, face to face with Allah with nothing in between but the veil of our own existence.

The three rites of the eid after returning to Mina are stoning the Jamrat al-'Aqaba, sacrificing an animal and shaving the head. All of them represent very specific actions and in one way the meaning of them is inextricably bound up with the actual doing of them and unfolds for every individual as they take place. But, of course, much has been written about them over the centuries and all of us inevitably reflect on their significance before and after actually performing them.

Stoning the jamras is often referred to as stoning Shaytan. Allah warns us against Shaytan and informs us unequivocally that he is our enemy and perhaps one lesson we can learn is that even on this most blessed of days, the Eid al-Adha, we are not safe from Shaytan's insinuations and must protect ourselves from them. Shaykh ibn al-'Arabi al-Hatimi takes that one step further in his explanation of the rite. He says that at 'Arafa we purify our understanding of tawhid and rid ourselves of shirk and that in throwing the seven stones the next day we are casting out of ourselves certain Shaytan inspired thoughts that make us associate other things with Allah and that is why we call out the takbir as we throw. So rather than throwing stones at Shaytan we are casting out from ourselves shaytanic thoughts.

As Allah tabaraka wa ta'ala makes clear, the important element in the rite of sacrifice is that awareness of Him in us which must accompany the physical act and which alone imbues it with meaning. We should remember that it commemorates the occasion when Sayyidina Ibrahim, 'alayhi as-salam, was absolved from having to sacrifice his beloved son and given a ram to sacrifice in his stead. So what the rite indicates is our preparedness to give up what is most precious to us for the sake of Allah. The thing more precious to us than anything else is our own selfhood, our own independent existence, and so, in its highest sense, the sacrifice represents our willingness to give up our own will and submit ourselves entirely to the will of our Lord and the truth is that by doing this we stand to lose nothing and to gain our heart's desire. Allah ta'ala says in Surat at-Tawba:

"Allah has bought from the muminun their selves and their wealth in return for the Garden,"

and then at the end of the ayat:

"Rejoice then in the bargain you have made. That is the great victory." (9:112)

The sheer physical relief of removing the accumulated dust and grime and dishevelment of our days in ihram in itself gives a more than adequate meaning to the act of shaving the head and the cleaning process which accompanies it. It really does give one a sense of starting life all over again. It is this very feeling which validates a slightly more symbolic interpretation of the rite which is, that in getting rid of your hair you are in a certain sense stripping away your past and that the new hair growth as it emerges truly is indicative of a new beginning to your life as a whole. In the case of women, who may only shorten their hair, and men who decide to do that rather than shave, the same applies but in a more symbolic way.

One aspect of the journey to the Hijaz we have so far not mentioned at all is the visit to Madina al-Munawwara. This is strongly recommended to the point of being considered a sunna of the hajj journey. Qadi 'Iyad said about it, "Visiting the tomb of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, is a sunna among the Muslims on which there is agreement. It is a virtue which is encouraged." If Makka is a crucible where the hajji is purged and purified, Madina is a pool of tranquillity where he finds peace and refreshment. Remember that it was in Madina that the social reality of Islam was first given form, where the justice and compassion of Allah's deen found their most perfect expression, that city about whose inhabitants Allah Himself said, "You are the best community ever to be produced before mankind." (3:110) What was latent and implicit during the long and difficult years in Makka, became realised and explicit in Madina and a community of human beings living according to the laws of Allah by following the example of His Messenger brought about the best human social situation ever to have existed on the surface of the earth. It is the resonance of this which emanates from the grave of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and still pervades the city which welcomed him and made it possible for Islam to be implemented in its totality.

One does not have to go too far to discover the spiritual benefits of the visit to Madina. What blessing could be greater than being greeted by the Messenger of Allah himself, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and as he himself said that is what happens to all who greet him in his grave. In the famous hadith from Abu Hurayra, radiya'Llahu 'anhu, related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and al-Bayhaqi, he said, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, "There is no one who greets me but that Allah will return my ruh to me so that I can return the greeting to him." And certainly there are very few hajjis who do not experience something of the sweetness of the Prophetic presence during their stay in Madina. So just as the hajj itself imbues one with a greater sense of the Divine presence and fosters love of Allah in the heart, the visit to Madina opens the heart to greater love for His Messenger and by extension to the whole umma of Islam.

What I have hoped to do by talking of these things is to indicate something of the inner dimension of the various rites of hajj. But in the end, although such indications may perhaps open a door or two to a deeper appreciation of the hajj, it is only your own tasting of the acts themselves which will really be of any use to you. It is only your direct experience of the rites of hajj which will actually constitute your hajj, and your hajj will inevitably be uniquely your own, totally different from everyone else's, even that of someone who may have been alongside you for most of the time you were there. This is because the hajj is as much an inward journey as an outward one and, as we have seen, it is that inward dimension, the unknowable amount of that outwardly indefinable but indispensible quality of taqwa which you bring to all the rites you perform, it is that and that alone on which the amount of benefit you receive from the hajj and its acceptability to Allah in the end depends.


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