Hajj is obligatory once in a lifetime on those who can afford it, but it benefits the entire Ummah. Islam’s acts of worship have multiple dimensions and they are organized at multiple layers. Daily Salat, for example, provides occasion for gathering in the neighborhood Masjid five times a day. The Friday Salat provides a larger weekly gathering and also includes a Khutbah to give this gathering a direction and purpose. The twice-a-year Eid Salats provide a gathering for the entire city. Hajj is the last in this sequence; an annual world wide gathering of the entire Ummah at the most sacred of all places.
Its role is that of the heart and liver in the human body. The heart sucks in the tired blood, which is then filtered and rejuvenated by the liver, and sent again to all parts of the body by the heart. Similarly, Hajj brings in members of this Ummah, rejuvenates their faith, spiritual energy, and commitment, and sends them back to their communities to spread the blessings far and wide.
Its most powerful message is about Tauheed (monotheism) and Akhirat (the hereafter), two of the pillars of faith. If Hajj is a form of Jihad, as some ahadith mention, its battle cry is “Labbaik Allahumma Labaik” “I am here Oh Allah, I am here. There is no partner unto You. All praise and blessings and sovereignty belong to you. There is no partner unto You.” From the moment the pilgrim dons his Ihram, he profusely makes this pronouncement during all waking hours until he has stoned the Shaytan on the 10th of Zul-Hijjah.
As for the Hereafter, Hajj is itself a replay of our death and resurrection. The Ihram, the two unstitched pieces of white cloth that replace dress for men, reminds us of the burial shroud. The gathering on the plain of Arafat reminds us of the time when everyone will be resurrected in the Hereafter to stand before Allah and give account of their deeds.
Built on these twin foundations of faith is the example of Sayyidna Ibrahim, alayhis-salam, that is reflected in many of the rites of Hajj. That example can be summarized in two words: love and obedience. Unwavering love for Allah; unfailing obedience to Him. This also is the message of Hajj.
Hajj is at once an intensely personal and a superbly collective act of worship. Today its role in our collective life has been severely watered down by the rulers over the land of Hajj and by an Ummah that has lost touch with its mission. Today, upon arrival the pilgrims are sorted out on the basis of their passports and are reminded at every turn that they are members of a nation-state and not the one Ummah. Today, every expression that aims at mobilizing this Ummah to stand up collectively to the challenges it faces is brutally suppressed during Hajj. Today the landscape of Makkah and Madinah has also been changed beyond recognition, through obscene attempts at emulating Europe, thereby producing a historic disconnect for the holy land. Today pilgrims have been separated from each other as well as from their glorious history.
So it may be helpful to remind ourselves that Hajj is associated with major turning points and milestones in Islamic History. In fact the history of the Islamic state begins with Hajj. It was here in the 11th year of Prophethood (July 620 C.E) that the first pledge of Aqaba took place, followed two years later by the second pledge that was the basis for Hijrah and the establishment of the Islamic state in Madinah. Just a decade later, it was here that the mission of the Prophet reached its peak when 124,000 companions performed Hajj with the Prophet in 10 AH.
The Khutbah of the Prophet delivered during the Last Hajj is the most important historical document for the entire humanity. It proclaimed: “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for the white over the black nor for the black over the white except through Taqwa (Allah Consciousness).”
It declared the sanctity of life, honor, and property: “Oh people! Verily your blood, your property and your honor are sacred and inviolable until you appear before your Lord, just as the sacred inviolability of this day of yours, this month of yours and this town of yours.”
It set down a fundamental principle of justice: “Beware! No one is responsible for a crime but the person who committed it. Neither the child is responsible for the crime of the father, nor is the father responsible for the crime of his child.”
Other celebrated declarations like the Magna-Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights pale in comparison to this proclamation made fourteen centuries ago. For a world submerged in total darkness, this new proclamation would have to be spread through the Ummah that was produced out of the Jahilya society through twenty three years of hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance by the Prophet, Salla-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. To them it reminded: “Every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim and all the Muslims form one brotherhoodâ€¦ Take heed not to go astray after me and strike one another’s necks.” And for the generations to come it also pointed out the way to safeguard this greatest of all revolutions: “I am leaving two things with you such that if you hold on fast to them you will not go astray: the Book of Allah and my Sunnah.”
Those standing that day at the plain of Arafat were the best of humanity. They took the torch and spread the light in four corners of the world, ushering in a new era of peace and justice. They liberated mankind from servitude to false gods and turned it to only the service to the Creator.
With the passage of time, their followers gradually became weak in their faith and corrupt in their practices. Darkness returned to the world. Today the world is such a dark place where Zionism and racism flourish and the strong devour the weak because “Might is right”.
The road from Makkah is full of returning pilgrims who bring back Zamzam, dates, and many souvenirs. These are all great. But what we need the most is the message that was proclaimed there by the Prophet Muhammad 1414 years ago.