Lessons from Al-Hajj

The season of Al-Hajj is an opportunity to look inward and introspectively at our performance as individuals and as a community. I will limit myself to two issues that require attention from all of us. The objective is to come out with specific actions and recommendations that help us in our journey of change going forward. Change is not going to happen by waiting for it. The celebrated Intellectual and Poet, Rasul Hamzatof, said: “The worst form of waiting is to wait for a rose that you have not planted.”

  • The disconnect that exists between our religious practices and our daily social behavior.

The emphasis has been focused on the outward mechanical details of prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage without paying attention to the meaning behind the actions and what they symbolize or signify.

Al-Hajj is an excellent blueprint for those who want to achieve their goals and reach the summit:

There will be no summit of Arafa without intention and consciousness, no summit without ihram and equality of conditions, no summit without a goal or qibla, and no summit without Sa’y or hard work and patient perseverance.

Therefore, it does not make any sense for the pilgrims to demonstrate their equality before Allah as they wear their simple white garments and demonstrate their equality of conditions as they trod collectively the same path coming down from Mount Arafa, “Then pass on at a quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the people to do so,” and then treat each other in an arrogant and condescending manner.

It is truly unacceptable for the pilgrims to defeat Satan, the representative of pure and extreme evil, by symbolically stoning him in Mina and then follow his agenda of “I am better than him” in their interactions among each other.

A celebrated thinker of the Twentieth Century summed it up by saying: If Quran is Islam in words, Al- Hajj is Islam in movement.”

  • The disunity and the chaos that have prevailed in the world, particularly in the Muslim world.

This problem has reached very disgusting and destructive levels. The people are constantly concerned about their freedoms, about their lives, and the lives of their loved ones.

Surah Al-Baqara was the first Surah revealed in Medina following the inauguration of the newly born society under the leadership of Prophet Mohammad (S). Exactly in the middle of this highly cohesive construct you find the verse: “Thus, We have made of you an Ummah justly balanced.”

This verse constitutes the axis around which the rest of the verses of the Surah revolve. It also lays out the main vision of the Surah and hence all the other issues discussed in it feed and converge into that vision. Al-Hajj is discussed in Surah Al-Baqara and hence we have to ask ourselves how Al-Hajj contributes to the vision and the axis of the Surah.

When you are in the middle, balanced and close to the golden mean, you can see everyone around you. Thus, you unite among all of them. But if you are at the extreme, you see no one except yourself. It does not make any sense to say collectively during Al-Hajj, “Here I am O Allah, here I am; You have no partners” declaring and renewing our belief in the oneness of Allah, and then do or say things that separate and divide among the people and deepen the gulf of partisanship and sectarianism.

“Tawaf” as one of the main rituals during Al-Hajj, will lose its meaning if it does not impart to the pilgrims the idea of the common and uniting goal or qibla despite the multitude and unlimited number of directions that people may take to reach their common goal.

A balanced and just society respects and defends the freedoms of the people, particularly the freedom of religion. It is not surprising to find in Surah Al-Baqara: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

The title of the Surah is derived from the story of the cow. The story is a metaphor that refers to those who think that they can own or appropriate the truth, the whole truth, by asking necessary and unnecessary questions. The members of a balanced and just society have the right to ask all the questions they want in order to understand, but not to monopolize the truth and not to claim their exclusive intellectual authority, the root causes for partisanship and sectarianism.

A fair and balanced society encourages people of different backgrounds and experiences to learn together, to learn from each other, and to learn about each other in an environment of mutual respect and recognition. This is “taaruf” that should take place mostly on the day of Arafa, the axis and the culmination of the whole journey of Al-Hajj. “Al-Hajj is Arafa” as Prophet Mohammad (S) said.

Isn’t it ironic?! Al-Hajj provided the environment for people from distant places to convene, share their concerns, seek answers to their legitimate questions, and look for solutions to their social ills long before humanity witnessed advancements in the modes of transportation and communication. And today, with the ease of transportation and communication, advanced information technology and social media, we are more divided and separated by visas, borders, walls, siege, sanctions, wars, and accusing each other of blasphemy, disloyalty and treason. Isn’t it ironic? Where are we going? It is the same question that Quran asks, “Where are you going?” when we miss our goal and lose our compass.

Al-Hajj therefore, is the antidote to disunity and the cure for the disease of partisanship only if it is viewed as a model for a successful and peaceful social life.

I have a special word for our youth in this important occasion. Please, stay united and establish networks among each other. You will assume significant positions in different professions and disciplines: doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and others. Try your best to integrate your experiences and put them together in the service of the people. You are excellent at connecting through social media. Please, use them to share and disseminate meaningful and empowering information, and block every attempt to plant division and hatred among the people. Act as agents of change and lead that change in order to build a new tomorrow and celebrate a new and more beautiful Eid.

By Dr. Walid Khayr