The rituals of Al-Hajj constitute the blueprint or the prototype that orders our life. A contemporary Muslim scholar, Ali Shariati, said: “If Quran is Islam in words, Al-Hajj is Islam in movement.”
The journey starts by making our intention to perform Al-Hajj clear and explicit. We declare our awareness of Allah and what we are doing, of ourselves and the people around us. The other word for rituals is “sha’ir” which literally refers to consciousness. We know the address and the direction. The road map is obvious and transparent. Nothing is secret about it. Like the message itself, it should not be concealed. The call for Hajj is made in the open, and every effort is made to make the call well heard and well answered. We are ready to move with the crowd to the summit with the resolve to establish in ourselves a state that is compatible with the summit: No obscenity, no wickedness, and no wrangling. It is the state of “ihram” that values and preserves life and the quality of life. Pilgrims actualize “ihram” in their character and behavior compatible with al-haram, the Sacred House of Allah. We are the actors and the spectators at the same time. We are actively engaged, and we are the heroes of the story. We are in harmony with the people around us wearing simple white garments without special signs, ornaments or patterns. One becomes all, and all becomes one. The path is shared, the enemy is common, and the destiny is one. Nothing will save them except “Tawaf” and what it symbolizes. Tawaf aims at the mutual recognition among the diverse cultural experiences in order for the life of the people to be perfected.
Collectively, they compass around Ka’aba, the Qibla, a tangible landmark that validates that they are on the right path towards Allah, the ultimate goal and “qibla.” This is the time for them to hug and interlock Ka’aba forming a human shield around it. They compass around it seven times, the number that signals the continuous and spiral struggle to achieve what is better and higher after each round, and in harmony with the seven heavens of this ever moving and expanding universe. Thus, tawheed or monotheism in its deeper and cosmic meaning is manifested in the unity of the people and in their unity with the universe.
This struggle at the vertical dimension starts from the black stone, a no worldly stone, located at the Shami corner of Ka’aba facing Bait Al-Makdis in Jerusalem. From that point the people should start their mass movement towards Allah, realizing their collective perfection as one Ummah.
The vertical struggle is coupled with another form of struggle at the horizontal dimension: Sa’y between Safa and Marwa. Running between the mountains of Safa and Marwa is reminiscent of the patient search of Hagar for water. Sa’y is the daily struggle for life and the quality of life. It starts from Safa, the symbol of purity and cleansing, reaching for Marwa, the symbol of water and life. Finding water should not stop our search but should take us back to Safa. It is another spiral movement as the name of Hagar indicates: a hijra from the state of being to the state of becoming, a hijra from clay towards Allah, a hijra that enabled the early emigrants of a qualitative return to Mecca for Hajj.
This struggle in its vertical and horizontal dimensions is the most balanced struggle that will inevitably produce a new kind of people looking for a new horizon, and searching for, grasping and knowing Arafa, the summit and the apogee. There, we pray for forgiveness as the crowd is reminiscent of death and the day of reckoning and judgment. Death is the heaviest burden on human beings that escapes their control. At this moment in Hajj, you outstrip death, you are ahead of it, and you bring it under your control. Death does not come between you and Allah but impose upon it your actual “qibla”, Allah, the Lord of all worlds. Death acts as the window into the hereafter, the real and perfect life that is now present in this life. The summit is not the end and should not be the state of realization that may stifle the engine that initiated the movement; but a summit that reminds us of the continuous approach to Truth, and the responsibility and accountability that do not cease.
Now we have reached the summit and discovered ourselves in relation to Allah. We passed the test and our wish has come through. We come down from the summit with the spirit of the summit and the perfection of the hereafter to perfect our actions since we are still in this life, the place for investment for the next life. We come down to Mina, which literally means wish, destiny or fate. We can declare victory over evil and the evil one, Satan. We throw pebbles at him (Jamarat are literally burning pieces of clay). He cannot say any more.
“I am better than him; You created me from fire and created him from clay.” [7:12]
We are symbolically beating him with clay and fire.
This victory deserves celebration. But how do we celebrate? By sacrifice, by giving from ourselves to others, a gift that has realized its time and place.
“Until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice.” [2:196]
We are ready to give and to give big.
“When they are down on their sides, eat you thereof, and feed such as live in contentment, and such as beg with humility.” [22:36]
A free and honored human being is reborn who is not offered anymore after Ibrahim and Ismael as a sacrifice but ransomed by His Caring and Compassionate Creator with a momentous sacrifice.
“And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” [37:107]
Al-Hajj is the model for people to know how to live their life and order their life, to know how to reach the summit together, with Allah as their Qibla and their destination, to know how to sacrifice and give generously to others.
By Dr. Walid Khayr