(Chapter from "Islam for the Perverted" to be published soon)
Monday, November 07, 2011
7.4 Haj, the Annual Convention
One of the root causes of much communal and international mistrust and prejudice can be traced back to historic and often religion related legendary misconceptions about people belonging to alien geographical, political or racial identities. The destruction of the Babri mosque in
is an example of how distortion of history can nurture mass-hysteria for centuries. This author has had opportunities of working in association with fellow professionals of various nationalities, and was amused when many of them exclaimed "I often used to wonder what a Pakistani Mechanical Engineer would be like, but you are just like one of us -- the same theories, the same practices." However, the object of this exercise is not to highlight the various regional prejudices but to point out that close contact in working on a common project helps to remove many of the fantasies or prejudices one may have about the other person, or people. Another common cause of many unrealistic and often schizophrenic attitudes is the supernatural mental pictures that people often have about various historic or holy places. By creating an obligation for every Muslim, who can afford, to visit the Masjidul Haram and assemble in the grounds of Arafat on a specified day of the year (9th Zul Haj) the Qur'an has ensured that people from all over the world would come in contact and develop mutual understanding. Many pilgrims are surprised to find that Makkah is a city like any other with streets, houses, bazaars, and mosques, except for the religious discipline and nonviolence which is a part of its life. Arabs, Aryans, Mongols, Negroes, Caucasians and people from many other races and nationalities live together and perform the Haj rites in complete unison and harmony. The prejudices resulting from differences in language, color and tradition evaporate and the experience of Haj convinces every participant that basically all human beings are the same and the apparent differences are insignificant. It thus eliminates the `clan or enemy' concept of the less developed cultures. India
It is interesting that an attempt has been made to inculcate the same spirit by establishing a secular institution called the United Nations Organization. But unfortunately it consist of representatives of governments rather than people and is used for international intrigues rather than understanding. Much time is spent in maligning other nations and creating hatred and discord among people of different political inclinations. In the light of the failure and misuse of the UNO, the wisdom of limiting access to Makkah becomes quite obvious. The restriction, it transpires, is not a negative one but a positive one that requires everyone intending or aspiring to join in the great annual convention of unbiased humanity to accept the Islamic injunctions of universal freedom, equality, brotherhood, peace, honesty, truthfulness, humility and nonviolence first. This assertion becomes even clearer when one examines the rites and instructions of pilgrimage applicable to Haj.
All the rites performed during Haj are not prescribed clearly in the Qur'an. Some of the existing practices seem to be the results of improvisations by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) over ancient traditions, presumably with the help of divine guidance. In the enlightened era, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had only one opportunity of performing the Haj in the last year of his life when, according to estimates, he was accompanied by as many as a hundred thousand devotees. The traditions and narrations are many and sometimes even conflicting. There is some divergence of opinion on the relative significance of the various activities reportedly performed by the Prophet (PBUH). However, most scholars agree that circumambulations of the Ka'bah, which must not be confused with the prohibited act of worshiping the cubic structure itself which in its present form is no more than a symbolic axis and point of convergence, walking between the hills of Safa and Marwa, and the congregation and lecture or sermon at the grounds of Arafat on 9th Zul Haj are the essential elements in addition to the state of Ahram in which one must live with utmost simplicity and nonviolence and abstain from all normal pleasures and luxuries during three days of Haj. However, some of the ancient traditions regarding housing and travel conditions have been changing slowly with environmental changes in the area, although the basic tenets remain the same. It is hard to determine whether the prophet actually kissed the black stone or merely examined it at close quarters. One thing is definite -- he did not worship it. The most important aspect of Haj, indeed, is the attitude and intention of the pilgrim which should be one of total devotion and willingness to learn. Umra, a brief pilgrimage to the Ka'bah at any time of the year is also regarded as an adequate substitute for Haj.
The sacrifice of animals during Haj is not performed at an altar, but is meant for eating and distribution among the poor as described in verses 34 to 37 of Chapter 22 (The Pilgrimage). When looked at closely, the sacrifices and the shaving of heads seems to symbolize the end of the condition of Ahram and the restart of normal life for the pilgrim. The abundance of sacrificial meat would, inevitably, create an environment of feasting and celebration which is extended to the entire Muslim world by the custom of sympathetic sacrifices of Eidul Adha in commemoration of Ibraheem's (PBUH) demonstration of unflinching discipline. Pickthall translates verse as follows:
"Their flesh and their blood reach not Allah, but the devotion from you reacheth Him. Thus have We made them subject unto you that ye may magnify Allah that He hath guided you. And give good tidings (O Muhammad) to the good."
The above stated verse and others in the same chapter can be construed to mean that the Qur'an is instructing believers to desist from the ancient traditions of wasteful ritual killings of healthy and useful animals as offerings to God. He, with his unrestrained ability to know what is in people's hearts, does not need any symbolic rituals to inform Him of an individual's intentions or beliefs.
The common belief arising from sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) that the performance of Haj washes away all past sins applies only to matters of an individual's obligations to God such as Salat or Fasting or perhaps Zakat. There is no reprieve from repaying debts or compensating for harm or injustices done to others. It is considered appropriate that before proceeding for Haj one must repay all debts, fulfill all social and contractual obligations, and make reparations for any discomfort or loss caused to anyone intentionally or unintentionally, publicly or secretly. And it goes without saying that one returning from Haj must try not to give up the spirit of pilgrimage ever.