Al-Hajj reminds us of Ibrahim, Hagar, and Ismael in a dry, waterless valley without cultivation, surrounded by barren mountains and the desert. Mecca emerged in this location reflecting the vision of Ibrahim that says: O man! If you internalize and actualize the spirit of Allah-o-Akbar, you have no excuse to quit or give up, no matter how difficult the situation and hostile the surrounding environment.
In a valley without cultivation, the symbol of extreme hardship and absence of life, we find a young woman breast-feeding her infant-child, the symbol of extreme human weakness. Ibrahim, Hagar, and Ismael are teaching the human being an important lesson: Do not despair, and do not give up hard work. For Allah has installed in you the potentials and the capabilities to overcome your weaknesses and make life possible. You have the example of the infant, Ismael, the symbol of fitra – the human nature in its original state of balance. This state provides the optimal condition for water and life to spring under his feet. Ibrahim, Hagar, and Ismael are saying: You can build a city in a valley which apparently has no life, and you can create a new culture – culture is the best English translation of Umran, growth and development. Umran reminds us of Umra, the shorter Hajj.
Al-Aqsa Mosque was the ‘Qiblah’ for the early Muslim generation. But at a certain historical moment, the Sacred House in Mecca became the new ‘Qiblah.’ When and where did this transformation and creation anew take place? Before we answer this question, let us answer another question: What was the greatest event that preceded that creation or transformation? ‘Isra’a and Mi’raj’ were the greatest events that preceded the transformation of ‘Qiblah.’
‘Isra’a’ represents the human movement towards ‘Qiblah’ at the horizontal level. The ‘Qiblah’ of Bayt Al-Maqdis, as the name signifies, embodies the house and the center of purification, the symbol of cleansing, and the essence of peace and holiness. Al-Kuddos or The Holy, and Al-Salam – The Peace, are among the Beautiful Names of God. ‘Mi’raj’ is the vertical movement of Prophet Mohammad from Al-Aqsa Mosque into Heavens, and his elevation to the highest altitude closest to God. “For indeed he saw him at a second descent, near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass.”[53:13-14] Indeed, even the Archangel, Gibrael, could not reach that altitude.
Before Mi’raj, Prophet Mohammad would lead all the Prophets in a prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque. These symbolic events indicate the perfection of the human being in the person of Mohammad at the climax and the apogee of prophecy. Prophecy had accomplished its project and produced the perfect man. However, this perfection was still at the personal or the individual level.
The torch of guidance was then given to the group or ‘Umma’ to pursue its perfection. The description and the mission of this ‘Umma’ appeared in the same verse that described the transformation of Qiblah. “Thus, have We made of you an Umma justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the people, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves.” [2:143]
The transformation of Qiblah took place sixteen months after Prophet Mohammad and his followers migrated to Medina, the City. Migration to Medina culminated in the birth of a new society or Umma, building and settling in a city, and capable of transforming a primitive Bedouin culture into a high urban culture.
The new society required a newer direction with a newer and broader vision. The perfection pursued is now at the corporate or the communal level. A new Qiblah that embodies the new vision is now in order. The new Qiblah is the Sacred House in Makkah, or Ka’bah. “Allah made the Ka’bah, the Sacred House, a vital means of support for the people.” [5:97]
Ka’bah was built originally by Prophet Abraham to be the first House for the people or the masses – Al-nass. “The first House appointed for the people was that at Becca. (Mecca)” [3:96]
Hence, Ka’bah in Mecca is the sanctuary for the collective cleansing and purification. Therefore, the transformation of Qiblah was not a haphazard change of location. In fact, it was the opening of a new horizon, the beginning of a new era, and the perfection of the masses following the perfection of the human being at the personal or the individual level.
Bayt Al-Maqdis will remain the center for personal purification reminiscent of Isra’a, and of prophecy as the perfect model for humanity to emulate. Ka’bah will remain the destination for the purification of the masses or the Isra’a of the masses.
The same way Bayt Al-Maqdis was the starting point for the journey of the perfect man to the highest altitude, or Mi’raj, Ka’bah remains the starting point for the journey of the masses towards the climax of Arafah. This journey is the Mi’raj of the masses.
By Dr. Walid Khayr