A Brief Guide to the Hajj


Mina

The Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Makkah which is obligatory on every adult Muslim man or woman who has the health and the wealth to undertake the journey. The Qur’an and Islamic tradition mention the origin of Hajj with Prophet Abraham (PBUH) who was commanded by God to establish his progeny in Makkah and to announce the pilgrimage to mankind. In His footsteps, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also performed the Hajj, thus making it obligatory on every Muslim who has its capacity.

The Hajj is an obligatory act in Islam like other obligatory acts of prayer, fasting, and giving zakat – charity. The purpose of the pilgrimage is remembrance of Allah and to offer complete submission and devotion to Him. The pilgrim commemorates Tauheed – the oneness of God and denounces Shirk – polytheism and idolatry, and offers sacrifice by material, physical as well as spiritual means resulting in a stronger Imaan (belief) and a strong desire to live a virtuous life after the event. The Hajj is a life changing experience. Traditionally, Muslims are known to divide their lives in two parts – one lived prior to the Hajj and the one lived after performing it. The latter is one in which one feels more closer to God and in which he or she become more religiously observant.

Hujjaj

The one who performs the Hajj is called a Hajji (masculine) or Hajjah (feminine), plural form Hujaaj (pilgrims). As Islam is not a tribal religion but one which all humankind is invited towards, Hujaaj from all over the globe join in for the Hajj making it truly an international event incorporating the full diversity of people.

Makkah – the host city of the Hujaaj

Makkah is a sacred city for Muslims and the host to millions of pilgrims each year. It is here that all pilgrims congregate and from this city that they move to various venues to perform the rites of the pilgrimage.

Time Period for Hajj

The Hajj is performed every year in the month of Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The actual rituals of the Hajj are performed from the 8th day till the 12th day of the month.

Ihram – The dress code for Hajj

When one intends to perform the Hajj, they have to enter the city of Makkah in a state of Ihram and observe its rules. For men, the Ihram consists of two un sewn sheets of white, while a woman’s Ihram can be any dress that meets the requirements of Islamic modesty.

Whilst in a state of Ihram there are certain duties and obligations laid down on the pilgrim. They are not to fight, engage in sexual intercourse, apply perfume, cut their hair or nails. Hunting and fighting is also forbidden when one has adorned the Ihram.

Meeqat – Entry points into Makkah

The Ihram is worn in any of the Meeqats – which are designated points of entry into Makkah, or if travelling by Air, the pilgrims change in to Ihram prior to entering the Airspace of Makkah.

Masjid al-Haram

Upon arrival, the pilgrims first destination is Masjid Al Haram, the grand Mosque in Makkah which houses the Kabah, the House appointed as a focus point for believers in monotheism of God. At masjid al Haraam, pilgrims perform the tawaf of the Kabah – the cube shaped building which is the direction of prayers for Muslims. Tawaf is performed by circumbulating the Kabah seven times followed by Sayee or running seven times between the adjoining hills of Safa and Marwa.

Mina

On the 8th of Dhul-Hijjah, the pilgrims move to Mina, a city of camps outside Makkah. Here they are camped all night and perform the five daily prayers and make supplications to God while commemorating his messages.

Arafat

On the 9th of Dhul-Hijjah the crowds move to the plains of Arafat, 20 kilometres east of Makkah, where they stay till sunset, and engage in prayers, supplications and reflections, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness. They perform the shortened and combined noon and afternoon prayers at Masjid Namirah.

Muzdalifa

After sunset at Arafat, the pilgrims next destination is the sand of Muzdalifa, an area between Arafat and Mina. At Muzdalifa, they spend the night under open skies, offer prayers near Mashar al Haram or the sacred monument and collect pebbles for the ritual stoning of Jamarat to be done the next day.

Jamarat

At dawn, the pilgrims leave Muzdalifa and move back towards Mina, from where they visit the jamaraat, which are stone altars symbolizing evil and polytheism. The pilgrims throw seven pebbles at these pillars as a symbolic act of denouncing evil and wrong doing from their lives.

Sacrifice and shaving the hair

On the same day the pilgrims sacrifice an animal and distribute the meat to the poor. After the sacrifice they shave their heads as a sign of a spiritual rebirth. After shaving the pilgrims will then revisit Masjid al Haram to perform the Tawaf of Kabah and Sayee at Safa and Marwa, after which they return to Mina. On the 11th and 12th they repeat the stoning ritual and after which they perform a final farewell Tawaf of the Kabah, marking their departure from Makkah. The Hajj rites are now complete.

After the Hajj – onwards to Madina and Ziyarat

Following the completion of the rites of Hajj, most pilgrims visit the city of Madina, where they perform prayers at Masjid an Nabawi and also visit various historical sites.

Return to their homelands

The pilgrims return to their homelands with a spiritual revival and a new life. Their lives will now be dedicated to God and are to be spent in accordance with His laws.

Makkah: The Microcosm of The World


MAKKAH: THE MICROCOSM OF THE WORLD

To the unknowing as well as the unconcerned, Makkah may be a city in the desert with some historical importance, but what does come to light once we actually visit the city, is the fact that it is the microcosm of the entire world. To the faithful, humankind’s centrepoint, appointed by God since time immemorial is none else but the city of Makkah. Such an honour mandates that no matter what one’s racial or ethnic background, the journey to Umm al-Quraaa or the ‘Mother of all cities’, as it has been called in the Qur’an – is a yearning of the heart. This longing is pandered to all year around through the Umrah or the lesser pilgramage, but its true fulfilment is found in the Hajj. Every year the city of Makkah is host to millions of people from all walks of life and all hues and colours during the Hajj, an international event of superb magnitude which is obligatory on all Muslims, male or female, who possess the means as well as the ability to perform the journey.

THE ROAD TO MAKKAH

The period of Hajj sees all roads leading to Makkah. Pilgrims make their way through land, sea and air using all available means of transportation. Special Hajj flights are organised for the event by major world Airlines and special Hajj liners sail from distant lands carrying pilgrims by the sea. Such is the ardent desire to be at the city that some even travel on foot. It is not at all uncommon to hear tales of perilous journeys culminating in Makkah by pedestrians from far away lands. This descent into Makkah from all parts of the world is not a new phenomenon, but one which was foretold by God to Prophet Abraham:

And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass.” Qur’an 22:27

Makkah during the Hajj is a global village in its true sense. Pilgrims, whose numbers during the event surpass the population size of many countries, are drawn to the city from every continent on the planet.

HUMANITY AT ITS FULL SPLENDOR

Black or white, young or old, male or female, able bodied or disabled, rich or poor, thus humanity in its full splendour can be witnessed during the Hajj. Even the diversity around fashion which distinguishes one community from the other is quite apparent and was marvelled at by former MTV star presenter Kristiane Backer in her autobiography:

They came from all over the world and I never tired of the variety of faces, colours and outfits. There were women from Mali looking regal and elegant in gorgeous lilac orange, and green robes wearing matching turbans with a strip of fabric hanging down the side. Indonesian women all had white headscarves and white gloves and white headscarves that hung to their breast and were embroidered with lace. The persian women usually wore long black or blue robes with grey chadors that came down below their hips while Morroccans could be recognised by the hoods on their jalabias. Another group of women sported bright yellow veils with blue labels sewn onto them, which indicated that they came from Kerala in India. I also heard German, French, English and American voices.On my wanderings, I came across men from Tajikistan wearing black quilted satin and velvet coats and matching black gold-framed caps. There were other men with palestinian scarves wrapped around their heads, shiny silver black turbans, traditional Arab head dress or small white caps. Many Pakistanis had long henna-dyed beards.” (From MTV to Mecca, pp 314)

Makkah of today is a modern city with all amenities and comforts for travelers from all over the globe. But what remains unchanged is the sublime spirit of the Hajj, which no words can describe and which can only be felt by the heart of the pilgrim.

TRANSFORMATION TO PEACE

The diversity at Hajj is not a mere social phenomenon, but one of immense importance for the wider welfare of humankind. Pilgrims ranging from every possible ethnic background return to their homelands with an increased level of tolerance for their fellow-men who may be different from them. The interaction with people of different race and ethnicity leave no room at all for racism. The pilgrims are in a state of cooperation and display the best of their behavior during the days as they are commanded by Allah:

Hajj is [during] well-known months, so whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein [by entering the state of ihram], there is [to be for him] no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing during Hajj. And whatever good you do – Allah knows it. And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is fear of Allah. And fear Me, O you of understanding.” Qur’an 2:197

Exposure to a diversity of groups makes the visitors to Makkah more tolerant, not only towards those who are present during the pilgrimage, but also those who are absent. American civil rights activist Malcolm X drastically altered his views on race after performing the Hajj. In a letter from the Hajj, he wrote:

”We were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white … what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.’‘ (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

While the world rages with ethnic and national conflicts, each year Makkah demonstrates to us that people can very well intermix despite differences on national, sectarian, and gender lines and peacefully coexist with each other. Words are not sufficient to describe the splendor offered by Makkah. To experience it you will have to visit the city and be there in person.

Accountability of Children, the weak and the handicapped


 

Q- A vast majority of people have not read the Qur’an. Even among Muslims, its true knowledge is very rare to find. There are children who do not know who Allah is, or what Islam means. There are many individuals who suffer from mental illness or are born disabled and are not able to follow the Qur’an. Can we imply that such people will not be saved because they have not read Allah’s Book, and are unaware of its teachings?

A- The Quran teaches us that to qualify for punishment, the message of God has to reach that person first. In the conversations that are mentioned in the Quran about the time period or dimension of the hereafter or life after death, it is stated that the unbelievers, who will be in torment, will be questioned:

“The Fire will burn their faces and they will therein grin with their lips displaced. (Allah will ask) Were not My Signs rehearsed to you and ye did but treat them as falsehood?” (23:104-105)

The question, “Were not My Signs rehearsed to you and ye did but treat them as falsehood?” clearly informs us that to qualify for punishment the message of the Qur’an has to reach an individual first, after which it is consciously rejected by him. In case the message has not reached people, or their mental ability is not such that they can comprehend it then they are not held accountable.

Children and those who are disabled will be forgiven by God
The following verses have brought two groups in comparison. One is that which rejected God’s message in a conscious state of mind, the other consists of those who are in such a state that they could not find the means to study God’s guidance or were physically handicapped to ascertain its meaning, we are told:

“When the Angels take the souls of those who die in oppression against their souls they say: “In what (plight) Were ye?” They reply: “Weak and oppressed Were we in the earth.” They say: “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (From evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell – What an evil refuge!

Except those who are (really) weak and oppressed – men women and children – who have no means in their power nor (a guide-post) to their way. For these there is hope that God will forgive: For God doth blot out (sins) and forgive again and again.” (4:97-99)

From above we can infer that children who die before the age of consent or those individuals who do not have the ability to receive guidance are not held accountable for their actions. Accountability is for those individuals who while having the means to attain guidance remained ignorant or went against the guidance after gaining knowledge.

Neglected Prayers


First published in DAWN, 06, June, 2014

THE mosque is full, and not an inch of space is available to set one’s foot inside. The main hall, the courtyard, the lawns, even the entrance and the footpaths are all occupied, making it difficult to squeeze in. This is a common scene a little after noon every Friday.

To the observer it may seem that people are certainly not neglectful of their prayers, but in reality there is more to it than meets the eye. Stop anyone leaving the mosque and ask a few questions about what he just did, and all will be revealed.

Just inquire as to the message of the khutba (sermon) he heard delivered in Arabic, and you will receive an excuse. Ask what instructions were given in the melodic recitation of the Quran by the imam, and you will receive an apology.Probe further and you are likely to hear an honest confession of complete ignorance.

For many people prayer has become a mechanical routine of sorts — one which must be performed irrespective of whether one understands it. In the minds of many, the mere performance of the physical act results in some sort of an increase in spiritual score. But the language employed and the practical change are matters that remain largely unknown.

If our worship is devoid of any intellectual stimulation, why then do we expect a miracle of transformation? Knowledge of the Quranic message is of great importance. For many, religion is not an intellectual choice, but what has been inherited from parents and retained for social conformance.

To follow the crowd, than to be the odd man out, is therefore the tendency. The buck is also passed on to certain ‘experts’, thereby absolving oneself of individual responsibility to acquire knowledge. With the erroneous belief that religion is the purport of the religious and the world of the worldly, duality pervades the conscious through and through. Worship is restricted to the performance of religious rituals, while life is governed elsewhere by one’s own rules. Visits to the mosque thus become a religious duty, but places of work have nothing to do with revealed morality, it is thought.

Such a mindset, though prevalent within many today, is condemned by the Quran. It clearly stipulates that believers should not divide life into two separate religious and non-religious compartments but should “…Enter into Islam completely. …” (2:208). It clarifies that performing one’s prayers is an act of worship, but so is trade and commerce when conducted in line with God’s guidance (4:29). That salat is not the performance of a mindless ritual involving the utterance of mystical mantras but that an act of physical as well as psychological submission to God is manifest in the Quranic order to not approach prayers with a mind befogged (4:43).

Therefore it is vital that believers also make efforts to understand the meaning of Quranic instructions rehearsed during prayers for only then can such instructions be carried out in life. Merely being in the row of those who pray does not grant one any special privilege, for even the munafiqeen (hypocrites) may be standing in the same row (4:142), yet are promised the deepest depths of hell (4:145).

Genuine believers stand in prayer for the purpose of receiving Quranic guidance, and their full presence of mind is needed to understand and feel the instructions. They should be fully conscious of the divine directive to ‘give ear to the Quran and pay heed to obtain mercy’, so that their feelings are also touched by the messages they hear because they fully understand them, and “…whenever the Signs of (Allah) Most Gracious were recited to them, they would fall down in prostration [in] adoration and in tears” (19:58).

On the other hand, during prayer, those who do not take revealed religion seriously are distracted in mind even in the midst of it. The Quran makes it abundantly clear to us that the comprehension of salat is what matters, along with the change it is supposed to bring about in our inner self.

Real neglect of prayers is not restricted to missing their physical performance, but also to remaining ignorant of their meaning and thus to be devoid of the character change. This problem can only be resolved if Muslims make an effort to study the Quran as it ought to be studied, with a view to seek its guidance. For it is the Quran which is recited in the prayer. Sadly, many of us remain ceremoniously associated with the Holy Book to convey blessings to the deceased rather than receive practical instructions for the living, ignoring that it is meant “to warn whoever is alive. …” (36:70).

Can one become a Nabi by his own efforts as per 4:69?


Q. Deniers of finality of Prophet-hood cite verse 4:69 “whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, then he is among the company of the Prophets..” to justify the claim of Prophet-hood of their group’s founder. They maintain that their leader obeyed Allah and His Messenger to such an extent and devotion that he too became a Nabi (Prophet) and this was, according to them, in line with what is stated in the verse. Is their claim and understanding consistent with the Qur’an? Does the Qur’an really state that one can become a Nabi merely by obedience to Allah and His Messenger?

A. No. Such beliefs are not justified by the Qur’an, rather refuted by the Book of Allah. The ayah in question is:

4_69

“All who obey Allah and the Messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah of the Prophets (who teach) the sincere (lovers of truth) the witnesses (who testify) and the righteous (who do good): ah! what a beautiful fellowship!” (4:69 Yusuf Ali)

If we ponder over the verse we observe that it does not suggest that anyone who obeys Allah and His Messenger becomes a Nabi (Prophet), but rather that such a person enters in to the companionship of Nabiyeen (Prophets). The Arabic words MA’AL LAZINA an’amalla_hu ‘alaihim lit.“..in the company of those on whom is the favour of Allah..” clearly point to this fact. We further read in Sura 48 that:

48_29

“Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and those with him are strong against the unbelievers while compassionate with each other.” (48:29)

Here wal lazina maahu “those with him” i.e. those who were with Muhammad (PBUH) are identified separately. Those with Muhammad were those who obeyed him, and all of them did not become Prophets by doing so. Sura 4:69 states that those who obey the messenger, do not become Prophets but they simply come in their companionship.The Arabic words of 4:69 WA HASUNA ULA_’IKA RAFIQA lit. “And what a beautiful FELLOWSHIP”, also confirm this fact.

If one were to claim that being in the company of another makes him the same person, then in many places of the Quran we also find: Annalla_ha MA’AL muttaqin lit. “Surely God is WITH THOSE who are Righteous” (2:194) and innalla_ha ma’as sa_birin lit. “Surely God is WITH THOSE those who are patient” (2:153). If maa an nabiyeen” lit. “with the Prophets” makes someone a Prophet, then that would erroneously imply that maa_Allah would make one same as Allah! Such a belief being absolutely contradictory to Qur’an. It can be observed in the Quran that Nabuwah (Prophecy) is not acquired by personal efforts but is bestowed by God of His own will. The recipient of God’s message has no idea at all that it will be bestowed on him a moment prior to its revelation, as the following verses declare:

42_52

“And thus have We inspired in thee (Muhammad) a Spirit of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Book was, nor belief. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path.” (42:52)

28_86

“And thou hadst not expected that the Book would be sent to thee except as a Mercy from thy Lord: therefore lend not thou support in any way to those who reject (Allah’s Message).” (28:86)

“..Thou knewest not what the Book was, nor belief..” and “…”And thou hadst not expected that the Book would be sent to thee except as a Mercy from thy Lord..” clearly show that one on whom God’s revelation is bestowed does not work towards receiving that Message and does not make efforts to become a Prophet or Messenger. Rather Prophecy is a gift of God, and given as per the will of God. As the verse 4:69 clearly says that obedience to Allah and His Rasul results in attaining the fellowship of God’s Prophets and not Prophet-hood, therefore the view that one can become a Prophet by his own efforts is false and contrary to the Qur’an.