By Faisal Kutty
Millions of pilgrims from all over the world converge on Makkah every year. They retrace the footsteps of millions who have made the spiritual journey to the valley of Makkah since the time of the first Prophet Adam (peace be upon him).
Hajj literally means, “To strive continuously to reach one’s goal.” It is the last of the five pillars of Islam (the rest includes a declaration of faith in Allah, the five daily prayers, offering Zakah and fasting during the month of Ramadan). Pilgrimage is an once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake the journey.
Hajj is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the great Prophets and Messengers (peace be upon them). Pilgrims symbolically relive the experience of exile and atonement undergone by the wife of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), Hajar, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa searching for water for her thirsty baby. She was answered with the well of Zamzam. Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate the sacrifice of Ibrahim (peace be upon him) for the sake of Allah.
Yet, the Hajj is more than these elaborate rituals. It brings about a deep spiritual transformation, one that will make the pilgrim a better person.
In the Islamic tradition, Hajj encapsulates this spiritual journey toward this essence. The current state of affairs —both within and outside the Muslim world— greatly increases the relevance of some of the spiritual and universal messages inherent in the Hajj.
Indeed, the Qur’an teaches:
Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another. (Aal `Imran 3:195)
Clearly, you see the white sea of men and women side by side performing tawaf (circumambulation) around Ka`bah. The fact that millions of Muslims transcending geographical, linguistic, level of practice, cultural, ethnic, color, economic and social barriers converge in unison on Makkah, attests to the universality of the Hajj. It plants the seed to celebrate the diversity of our common humanity. Pilgrims return home enriched by this more pluralistic and holistic outlook and with a new appreciation for their own origins.
One of the most celebrated Western pilgrims (one who has completed the Hajj), the African-American civil rights leader El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbaz, profoundly reassessed his previous views during the Hajj. This transformation, of course, sealed his break with the Black Nationalist Movement of the Nation of Islam.
Contrary to the teachings of the Nation, he concluded that Islam encompassed all of humanity and transcended race and culture. He says: “In my 39 years on this Earth, the holy city of Makkah had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of all and felt like a complete human.”
In Makkah, he discovered himself mixing with, “fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was whitest of white.” Malcolm X was so inspired by what he witnessed, that, in letters to friends and relatives, he wrote, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.”
Upon returning to America, he embarked on a mission to enlighten both blacks and whites with his new views. Malcolm X understood that in order to truly learn from the Hajj, its inherent spiritual lessons must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims to forging a common humanity with others.
In fact, as part of the spiritual experience, the pilgrimage links people across religions through a past shared by several Ibrahimic traditions. This, combined with the Islamic teaching regarding the common origin of humanity, holds out much hope. Indeed, the Qur’an teaches:
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. (Al-Hujurat 49:13)
This is a great celebration of the differences and at the same time unity of all of humanity.
Another essential spiritual message of the Hajj is one of humility to Allah and His Supremacy and control over all that we know. The multitude of people and their inner beliefs and practices are all to be judged by Allah and Allah alone in His infinite wisdom and full knowledge. Indeed, as the Qur’an insists,
“Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith, truth stands out clear from error.” (Al-Baqarah 2:256)
The result of a successful Hajj is a rich inner peace, which is manifested outwardly in the values of justice, honesty, respect, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy. And it is these values –all are Attributes of Allah, the Almighty— are indispensable to us all if we are just to get along in this world.
Hajj and congregational prayer in Islam represents the highest and clearest representation of equality between all human-beings, far from any discrimination based on the caste system, race, color and sex. In Islam, an impoverished person stands next to the rich and a servant stands next to his master in prayer and Hajj.
In the pilgrimage, people from around the world including rich and poor, black and white come together and assemble in one place in one dress.
The value of equity in Islam is not limited to prayer and Hajj, rather, the whole system of Islamic Shari`ah intends to teach equality and equity in human society.
Unlike the Hindu religion which differentiates between people on the basis of caste, a Shudra cannot enter the temples of the upper castes, the people of low caste are not allowed to read the Vedas and they cannot sit next to a Barahman. In fact, the faith of the Hindu religion itself declares that it is a human product that was invented and developed by some Hindu monks to humiliate mankind. On the other hand, the nature of Islamic principles declares that message of Islam is a pure revelation from One Allah the Creator, Who never differentiate between His slaves.
And the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” (Ahmad)
Source: Taken from www.whyislam.org with modifications.