By Spahic Omer
Hajj is one of the most important and, at the same time, most challenging Islamic rites. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in certain ways Hajj even personifies the whole message of Islam, combining its personal and collective dimensions, attending to the needs of spirit and overcoming the limitations of matter. From generating unparalleled spiritual experiences and drawing educational and socio-cultural lessons, to rising to the tests of complex organization, travel and implementation logistics, Hajj has it all.
As the final and ultimate pillar of Islam, Hajj signifies the evidence of the functioning of the rest of the pillars. It furthermore represents the achievement of one’s religious development and self-fulfillment. It is the climax of one’s Islam and of Islam altogether.
Hajj is the highest manifestation of one’s consciousness. It is a sign of purposeful response to a heavenly call through which one enhances his relationships with his Creator, his surroundings and his very self. Hajj therefore is more about coming than going; it is more about returning than setting off. Hajj is about introspection and setting further benchmarks.
Hajj belongs to the Creator – just as everything else in the universe does. Man and everything he owns belongs to Him too. Thus, Hajj signifies one of the rights of the Creator and one of the responsibilities of man. Through Hajj man not only discharges a responsibility, but also contributes to settling the spiritual debt of existence he perennially owes to his Creator and Master.
From the moment a pilgrim puts on the garment of ihram, embarking then on a sustained series of ground-breaking activities in the holy mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram) and at ‘Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina, which are accompanied by correspondingly ground-breaking sensations, to the moment a pilgrim takes off the same garment – and significantly afterwards until he returns home – Hajj is an extraordinary journey through time, emotions, as well as revealed existential dimensions.
Performing Hajj, following this should lead to the uppermost level of self-discovery and self-actualization. A person’s true identity and purpose await to be discovered. Hence, after Hajj a person is expected to be a better Muslim and a better human being, and his life a better and more productive time on earth. For him, almost nothing will ever be the same again. Hajj is an evidence and a testament (hujjah).
That is why the Qur’an declares: “Pilgrimage thereto (to the city of Makkah and its holy mosque) is a duty men owe to Allah – those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures” (Alu ‘Imran, 97).
Accordingly, the Islamic tenet is if anyone denies the obligation of Hajj he becomes a disbeliever. Not performing Hajj without valid excuses is equally detrimental. ‘Umar bin al-Khattab is reported to have said: “Whoever can afford Hajj but did not perform it, there is no difference in his case if he dies while Jew or Christian.” In this case, as if a person denied, or brushed aside, that the obligation of Hajj was incumbent upon all abled Muslims, including himself.
This statement of ‘Umar bin al-Khattab is certainly due to a hadith of the Prophet (which is classified as “weak” though) featuring a similar content: “He who is not prevented from performing the pilgrimage by an obvious necessity, a tyrannical ruler, or a disease which confines him at home and dies without having performed the pilgrimage, may die if he wishes as a Jew, or if he wishes as a Christian.”
The requirement for Hajj is the financial and physical capability. However, as an institution, so demanding is Hajj materially that its immaterial considerations must also be up to the mark, lest a sort if imbalance is created in a person. Going for Hajj means that a person should be sufficiently educated about it and about Islam in general, and should be sufficiently charged spiritually and mentally, so as to be able to rise to challenges and deal with endless issues, in addition to being healthy, willing and comfortably well-off, and feeling safe. Any imbalances and discrepancies howsomever are bound to leave a dent in one’s encounter with and experience of Hajj. They can spoil the whole thing. They can make one’s Hajj a missed opportunity.***