This writer has never had the privilege of performing Hajj. It may be many years before I am able to do so, although I hope and pray to have the opportunity before the end of my time on this earth, insha’allah.
This writer has never had the privilege of performing Hajj. It may be many years before I am able to do so, although I hope and pray to have the opportunity before the end of my time on this earth, insha’allah. But for Muslims all over the world, these few days of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah — when the attention of the entire Muslim world is focused on the annual gathering of the Ummah in Makkah — should be the focal point of every year, culminating with the wuqoof on Mount Arafat, the symbolic pre-enactment of the Last Gathering on the Day of Judgement. This is how Hajj can fulfil its role as an annual reminder of our place and role in this world and of the life to come for which this life is merely a precursor.
The reality, of course, is rather different. Each year, at this time, there is a rush of articles about the belittling of the modern Hajj experience under the leadership of the Saudis, for whom it seems more a logistical problem of managing the large numbers of people who perform it than a unique collective experience for the Ummah as a whole. Each year, there are many whose experience of Hajj is diminished by this reality, although it is a tribute to the power of Hajj that many still, despite the problems created by the Saudis, find Hajj a profoundly moving, deeply spiritual and genuinely life-changing experience. But there is also a broader, Ummah-wide problem that needs to be considered at this time of year.
The centrality of Hajj in the lives of even those who are unable to go used to be reflected in the community-wide preparations for those who were going on Hajj
This misfortune is that for many who are unable to actually perform Hajj, and especially those who have never even performed ‘Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage), and so have not even gathered experiences to reflect on, Hajj has become something distant and unreachable, a ritual that is performed by a fortunate minority of Muslims each year, while virtually passing the rest of the Ummah by. It is certainly the case that Eid al-Adha, supposedly the Greater Eid, tends for many Muslims to be regarded as of secondary status compared to Eid al-Fitr, which has the advantage of the build up of Ramadan, something that all Muslims anywhere can take part in and engage with.
It is perhaps paradoxical and ironic that even as more and more Muslims are able to perform Hajj in the modern world, thanks to improvements in transport and other communication links, the impact and significance of Hajj is becoming more and more personal and individual
The centrality of Hajj in the lives of even those who are unable to go used to be reflected in the community-wide preparations for those who were going on Hajj, which began immediately after Eid al-Fitr and dominated the next few weeks; the special send-offs they enjoyed as they departed; the welcomes they received when they returned; and the status they were given for the rest of their lives. All this reflected the fact that, even for those who could not perform the Hajj, the annual occasion was something that played a huge role in their lives as Muslims individually, and as Muslim communities collectively.
It is perhaps paradoxical and ironic that even as more and more Muslims are able to perform Hajj in the modern world, thanks to improvements in transport and other communication links, the impact and significance of Hajj is becoming more and more personal and individual, rather than collective and communal, and its centrality in the lives of Muslims generally is being diminished, with the unity and solidarity of the Ummah mortally weakened as a consequence. And this is not a result only of the mismanagement of the Saudis, but of larger factors in the recent Muslim experience for which we all share responsibility, and which we must all do something to address.
The key explanation for this phenomenon is not difficult to grasp: it is yet another result of the failure of Muslims on the stage of history, on the fact that we have allowed ourselves, our societies, our cultures, our lives, to be dominated and defined by others. It is a function and a symptom of the fact that Islam has gradually been shifted from the centre of our lives, as the beating heart of our very being, to their peripheries. Even for those who are committed and “practicing” Muslims, particularly those living in Western societies, the reality of life in modern societies means that our Islam is something largely restricted to the personal, spiritual aspects of our lives, rather than the whole of them; certainly the annual cycles of our lives, our practical life schedules, are based on the Western calendar and worldly concerns more than Islamic ones. Many are largely unaware of the Islamic calendar at times other than Ramadan and Hajj, and for all too many, the annual “Christmas” holidays are of greater practical significance than the time of Hajj.
It is tempting, sometimes, to think that such problems are inevitable and understandable in Muslim communities living in Western countries, but at least have less impact in Muslim countries, where Islam generally, and particularly such elements of it as Ramadan and Hajj, still play the much greater roles that they properly should. But this is unfortunately not the case. In Muslim countries too, although Islam is able to maintain a far more central role in the cultural and social spheres than for Muslims in Western countries, the real significance of such occasions as Hajj is being lost as most elements of people’s community, social, economic and political lives are increasingly secularised, and more specifically, increasingly westernised.
The task of the Islamic movement is often perceived in purely political terms, understandably enough. But the consequences of our political failures and weakness go far beyond the purely political, and reversing them requires far more than just political action, crucial though that undoubtedly is. The danger is that as the Islamic movement is focused on politics, and political action is increasingly divorced from other forms of Islamic work is many parts of the world, the Ummah will lose crucial battles in other areas, causing permanent and irreparable damage to the Ummah. The Hajj is one of these areas, in both the local sense as a gathering of the Ummah in the land of the Last Prophet (pbuh) and other Prophets (as) before him, and even more so as a central, unifying occasion for the entire Ummah in the annual cycle of Muslim life. This is something we cannot afford to let happen.
Iqbal Siddiqui publishes a personal blog, A Sceptical Islamist: htp://scepticalislamist.typepad.com.