By Sayyid Abu Al–A`la Al-Mawdudi
Hajj, or pilgrimage, is the fifth obligated act of worship, which Islam enjoins upon you, as referred to in the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the five pillars of Islam. Like the prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it mounds your life and prepares you so that you may live in surrender to Allah.
The word Hajj means to make a resolve to visit a holy place: visiting the Ka`abah in Makkah is therefore called Hajj.
How did it begin? The origin of Hajj is rooted in the Prophet Ibrahim’s life (peace be upon him).
The Prophet Ibrahim and Ka`abah
Muslims, Christians and Jews dignify Ibrahim (peace be upon him) as their leader. The Prophets Musa, `Isa and Muhammad (peace be upon them) are all his descendants. It is the lamp of guidance lit by him that has for long illuminated the whole world. It was in Makkah that Ibrahim and his son built the Holy Ka`abah, the center of the Islamic movement, on a site chosen by Allah Himself. This building was not intended for worship only, as mosques are; its purpose was to act as the center for spreading the universal massage of Islam, a world-wide gathering point for Muslims to assemble to worship Allah in congregation and go back to their respective countries carrying with them the message of Islam. This assembly was named Hajj. Exactly how this center was constructed, with what hopes and prayers both father and son raised its walls. The Qur’an described this:
Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds In it are clear signs [such as] the standing place of Abraham. And whoever enters it shall be safe. (Aal `Imran 3:96-97)
Have they not seen that We made [Makkah] a safe sanctuary, while people are being taken away all around them? (Al-`Ankabut 29:67)
Peace always reigned in and around the Ka’abah, when all around it were rampant plunder, murder, devastation, conflict and warfare, such was its sanctity that even the Bedouins who respected no law, if they detected in its precincts the murderer of even their father, did not dare to touch him.
Prayers of Ibrahim
Look at Ibrahim’s prayers to find out what the real purpose and significance of Hajj is:
And [mention] when We made the House a place of return for the people and [a place of] security. And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer. And We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer].” And [mention] when Abraham said, “My Lord, make this a secure city and provide its people with fruits – whoever of them believes in Allah and the Last Day.” [Allah] said. “And whoever disbelieves – I will grant him enjoyment for a little; then I will force him to the punishment of the Fire, and wretched is the destination.” And [mention] when Abraham was raising the foundations of the House and [with him] Ishmael, [saying], “Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing. Our Lord, and make us Muslims [in submission] to You and from our descendants a Muslim nation [in submission] to You. And show us our rites and accept our repentance. Indeed, You are the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. Our Lord, and send among them a messenger from themselves who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed, You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (Al-Baqarah 2:125-129)
And the Glorious Qur’an says:
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said, “My Lord, make this city [Makkah] secure and keep me and my sons away from worshipping idols. My Lord, indeed they have led astray many among the people. So whoever follows me – then he is of me; and whoever disobeys me – indeed, You are [yet] Forgiving and Merciful. Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful. (Ibrahim 14:35-37)
Moreover, Almighty Allah says:
And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass. That they may witness benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. So eat of them and feed the miserable and poor. (Al-Hajj 22:26-28)
This is the story of the beginning of that Hajj which is the fifth pillar of Islam. You now understand that Makkah was head-quarter for the mission of the first Prophet appointed to propagate the message of Islam. Ka`abah was the focal point from where this preaching was spread across the world, and the worship rites of Hajj were introduced so that all those who chose to live in surrender to Allah Alone should belong to one center where they could assemble every year, and go around it again and again. Their lives of faith were to be like the wheel tied to and revolving around its axle.
The historical background of Hajj shows clearly the monotheistic nature of Hajj since Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) renewed the faith of Monotheism in Makkah. It is interesting to talk in brief about the Kumbh Mela in India that is believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth which held every 12 years on the banks of the ‘Sangam’- the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. The Mela alternates between Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar every three years. The one celebrated at the Holy Sangam in Allahabad is the largest and holiest of them.
When we take a quick look at both religious gatherings; the great religious gathering in Makkah and the ritual gathering of Hindus at the shores of Ganges, in terms of historical, religious, moral and social aspects, we find Hajj closer to the human instinct and the purest, whether morally or religiously. In Hajj, every act that defies the common taste is prohibited; rather it presents a figure of piety, spiritual atmosphere that could not be found in any religion of the world except Islam. From a historical perspective, we find Kumbh Mela farther from the requirements of the human sense and farther from the public ethical taste. Its historical background is filled with myths and superstition.
We find completely naked monks who do not have even a thread on their bodies standing with each other at the bank of river Ganges. However the instinct of modesty and shyness in human nature is a gift from Almighty Allah that never remain silent. There is a picture of Kumbh Mela that dates back to 1953 which says: “Photographers! Please note that no photographs are allowed within the sangam (confluence) area beyond this point.” I think the prohibition of photography was due to the fact that their naked pictures and images would not spread among Muslims that will become a mark of disgrace for their religious ritual as those pictures are enough to undermine their faith.
On the contrary, we find the pilgrimage in Makkah is overflowing with spiritual, moral and religious feelings. When a pilgrim returns from Makkah he is more determined to do good and righteousness, even a viewer to those scenes though he is not on the pilgrimage becomes inspired and motivated for the worship of Almighty Allah. Anyway, the rite of Hajj carries herewith the ample evidence of honesty, truth and guidance, while Kumbh Mela holds inwardly and outwardly the evidence of lying, nullity, deceit, guile and sensuality.
Source: Taken from www.whyislam.org with modifications.
(1) http://kumbhmelaallahabad.gov.in/english/index.html (last accessed on 26-8-2013)