Significance of Pilgrimage (Hajj)
By Dalia Salah-El-Deen
Devoted believers of different religions isolate themselves from people in order to purify their hearts. In the quest for intimacy with the divine, they retreat to mountain caves, monasteries, or hermitages and prefer solitude to the company of others.
God has favored Islam - as the last Testament - with Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to be the Islamic form of monasticism when a set period of time is devoted by the pilgrims’ rituals and performance to the task of freeing minds and hearts from all worldly concerns. The pilgrim seeks to pursue a unique form of collective worship of Allah and seeks closeness to Him in the one and only location chosen by Him.
If the pilgrim understands where Hajj really stands in Islam, he will notice in himself a process of spiritual transformation through the rituals. Every step of Hajj serves as a reminder, a sign of submission to Allah, an instructive tool for self discipline and piety, and an exhortation to the faithful aspirant.
As Hajj provides every pilgrim with tranquility of heart, inner purity, and fullness of understanding of his existence in the cosmos, every single step should recall the ideas of the creation, glory of divine transcendence, and the unity of the believers that crosses boundaries and ethnic and gender diversities. In the heart of every aspect of Hajj is some reflection signifying the Hereafter.
Submission to the One and Only God
In Islam, God should be the goal of the human heart. Since Allah has attributed the Ka‘bah to Himself, this connection is enough in itself to make one yearn for this blessed location and its surrounding space.
The pilgrim should always be aware that the moment he leaves his family and homeland behind, his resolve should be purely for the sake of Allah, untarnished by hypocrisy and desire for any personal material gain. He should be fully aware that only what is sincere in his intention and action will be accepted and cherished by Allah.
The Bond of Faith
The diversity of the pilgrims reflects the diversity of all humankind
If the pilgrim hopes his visit is to be accepted, he should carry out God’s commands, cast off iniquities, repent for all acts of disobedience, and sever his heart’s connection from all worldly concerns during Hajj. Then he can turn to Allah as he turns his face in the direction of the Ka‘bah in each prayer. Unless the pilgrim does so, he will get nothing from his journey except trouble and hardship at the outset, and dismissal and rejection at the end.
Leaving his house, the pilgrim should know that he has now left hearth and home, bound for God on a journey unlike any worldly voyage. The seamless garments worn in the state of ihram (consecration) remind him of the shroud he will wear after death. The pilgrim should be conscious at heart of what he wishes, where he is heading, and Whom he intends to reach. Allah is the Host of the visitors to His House who have been summoned and have answered the call, in whom a great longing has been awakened.
The diversity of the pilgrims reflects the diversity of all humankind at the assembly point on the Day of Resurrection. The separation from family and relatives should put the pilgrim in mind of the desolation and solitude of the tomb, where he will find nothing to relieve his agony but his hope in God’s love and mercy.
Responding to the summons of Allah, one should recall that mankind will be summoned and gathered together at the site of resurrection, responding to Allah’s call. They will be divided into the favored and the abhorred, the accepted and the rejected. Exactly like the pilgrims at the assembly point, they will be oscillating initially between fear and hope, when they do not know whether or not they will be enabled to complete their pilgrimage and whether their deeds have been accepted by Allah.
The pilgrim’s heart should be filled with reverence, fear, hope and love
As the pilgrim reaches Makkah, he should remember that he has arrived safely at the Sanctuary of Allah. Allah has chosen to attribute the Ka‘bah to His own Self because it was the first place established on earth for devotion of the One God. Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma‘il (Ishmael) once shared in building it, long before the time of Prophet Muhammad. Entering the Holy Sanctuary, the pilgrim should naturally dread not being worthy to approach Allah. Yet his hope should be uppermost, for Allah is Generous and Compassionate, the honor of the House is tremendous, the visitor’s right is respected, and protection is assured for all who seek refuge.
The pilgrim’s heart should be filled with reverence, fear, hope and love, especially during tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka‘bah). One should not suppose that the purpose of it is the physical circumambulation of the House. It is not a body rotating around another physical body. The true purpose is the circling of the heart around remembrance of the Lord of the House, making Allah (God) the center of his life. The heart should reach a point when consciousness begins with Allah alone and ends with Him alone, just as the circumambulation starts from a point around the House and ends at that same point.
Supplication at the Mount of Arafat
Standing at Arafat, pilgrims gather for supplication with their different tongues and different ethnic backgrounds, which recalls the site of resurrection. When their aspirations are joined, their hearts become devoted exclusively to humble supplication and entreaty, their hands raised to Allah, their necks outstretched, and their eyes turned heavenward as they aspire of one accord in quest of mercy.
They should not suppose that God will disappoint their hopes, frustrate their endeavor, or begrudge them an overwhelming mercy. It is said that it is a grievous sin for a Muslim to attend the standing on Arafat and to imagine that Allah has not forgiven him, as it would be doubting Allah’s infinite compassion and generosity. The conjugation of aspirations and the strength derived from contiguity constitute the secret of pilgrimage and its ultimate purpose. There is no way to obtain Allah’s mercy in such abundance as by the conjugation of aspiration and the simultaneous mutual support of all hearts.
Visiting the City of God’s Messenger
Muslims regard Prophet Muhammad to be the moral example and chosen guide for mankind. He is the last prophet who received the last Testament to complete the revelation of the Old and New Testaments that were revealed to the Prophets Musa (Moses) and ‘Isa (Jesus). Visiting his tomb at Madinah is not an essential obligation to make Hajj valid or complete. Honoring him remains a matter of the heart, and a Muslim proves his love towards the Prophet by following his path of Islam.
However, it is strongly recommended that whoever can reach Madinah should visit the Prophet’s burial place to pay his respect to the greatest teacher that the world has ever known. Remembering his struggle for justice and equality, the Muslim knows in his heart that Muhammad was a humble human being. His message was sacred, but he died like any other human being and the ultimate sacredness and divinity remains for Allah only.
Pilgrimage is a journey of intensified devotion and a course of humanitarian interests
Aware that Prophet Muhammad’s precious steps have trodden in every place around Madinah, the pilgrim ought to walk with dignity and caution, recalling the Messenger’s humility and graceful gait. The purpose should be pure love for the Prophet and longing to behold his city of refuge and early Islamic society.
Visiting the tomb should be controlled by the most decent manners, for visiting a Prophet in death should be as visiting him in life. One should approach the tomb as he would approach the noble person of the Prophet if he were still alive. Touching and kissing the tomb is not allowed. Muslims’ respect and love is not for the walls or stones of any tomb, not even that of the Prophet, but should be for the great message and the noble person who strived to convey it throughout his life.
To conclude, throughout Hajj, the pilgrim should watch the duties of his heart at all stages. He will realize if he has been accepted or not by watching his heart and its conduct. If he finds his heart adverse to this world and inclined to be intimate with Allah, then he may count on acceptance, for Allah accepts only those whom He loves.
Throughout the performance of Hajj, the pilgrim can easily observe that it is a course of spiritual enrichment and moral rearmament, a journey of intensified devotion and disciplinary experience, a course of humanitarian interests and inspiring knowledge, all put together in one single Pillar of Islam.