Understanding Hajj beyond rituals

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Dhu al-Qa'dah 29, 1437 2016-09-01


by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 7, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1437)

Despites its being one of the most important pillars of Islam, most Muslims know little understanding about it beyond rituals. Hajj’s most important function—declaring dissociation from the mushrikeen—is seldom mentioned. It must be understood and revived.

If the past is any guide, some two million Muslims will perform this year’s Hajj as a mere ritual. They will go through the motions of Hajj without understanding its higher purpose and meaning. And it will all be over in a matter of days rather than months as Allah (swt) proclaims in the noble Qur’an, “Hajj is in the well-known months” (2:197). Muslims find themselves in this sorry state because they have forgotten the real meaning of some very important duties in Islam?

While there has been an overall decline of Muslims losing their way in the jungle of materialism, the distortion of Hajj, like other ‘ibadat in Islam, is deliberate. For instance, masjids (mosques) have been emptied of their social and communal significance thereby reducing the salah to a few empty gestures that stand in for what should be a Muslim’s link (sila) with Allah (swt). Similarly, there is little comprehension that the salah is meant to inculcate the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood in an ambience of Muslim care and compassion for fellow Muslims. Hajj is the victim of this phenomenon on a grand scale. Far from understanding and fulfilling its function as the annual assembly of the Ummah where the plight of Muslims would be discussed, every pilgrim is engrossed in his/her personal concerns, oblivious to those of his brother’s. The aim is to gate crash into Paradise! Hajj has been turned into a rat race.

The problem begins at a much more basic level. Centuries of colonial domination have affected Muslim political and religious thought in profoundly negative ways. In a sense Islam itself has been secularized, much like Christianity. Like the important platform of the minbar in the masjid, where burning issues of the day ought to be discussed, has been reduced to talking about taharah, najasah, the length of one’s beard, and how high the trousers should be above one’s ankles, Hajj, too, has fallen victim to this phenomenon.

What happened last year at Hajj is still fresh in the memory of the world’s Muslims, especially those who lost their loved ones because the Saudi defense minister’s security detail cleared all the access routes so that the “host” could pass through unfettered, while his “guests” were basically “sardined” into alleys in the sweltering heat. Islamic Iran, which lost the most pilgrims, has called for an investigation by an international Muslim panel of experts, but to date nothing beyond the perfunctory has been done.

It is no exaggeration to say that hardly any imam in any masjid in the Muslim world — barring of course the Islamic Republic of Iran — ever discusses anything related to Hajj beyond its rituals. It is drilled into the minds of Muslims that there are certain rituals of Hajj that, if not performed to the minutest detail, would invalidate the Hajj. While this may be true in a narrow technical sense, the deeper meaning of Hajj as outlined in Surah al-Tawbah and more particularly in the first 12 ayat, is lost on most imams. Let us remind ourselves of the ayat in this surah, “And a proclamation from Allah and His Apostle [is hereby made] unto all mankind on this day of the Greatest Pilgrimage; Allah disavows all who ascribe divinity to any beside Him, and [so does] His Apostle…” (9:3). Why do the imams worldwide ignore this important command of Allah (Â) pertaining to the functions of Hajj; do they read a different Qur’an (nastaghfirullah) than the one we have in our possession?

Let us recall the background to these ayat of Surah al-Tawbah. They were revealed in the ninth year of the Hijrah at a time when Muslims under the leadership of the Prophet’s (pbuh) close companion, Abu Bakr (ra) had left for Hajj. So important were these ayat that the noble Messenger (pbuh) immediately dispatched his cousin and son-in-law Imam ‘Ali (ra) to Makkah with instructions that these ayat must be openly proclaimed at the time of Hajj.

Under the control of the Najdi Bedouins (aka Bani Saud or the House of Saud), the proclamation of bara’ah min al-mushrikeen (open dissociation from the mushriks — today’s imperialists and Zionists) is expressly forbidden. For decades Iranian pilgrims have tried to fulfill this Qur’anic obligation while Bani Saud have obstructed, attacked, and killed them. In July 1987, Saudi forces attacked one such rally in Makkah shooting and killing 402 pilgrims and injuring thousands of others. This year, the Iranian pilgrims have been barred from performing Hajj altogether, again in complete violation of the Qur’anic command where Allah (swt) proclaims an open invitation to all the people to perform Hajj (22:27).

The Saudis are guilty of a major sin. This is even worse than the conduct of the mushriks of Makkah at the time of the Prophet (pbuh). While opposed to his message, they did not stop him from communicating it to the pilgrims at the time of Hajj. This was considered a violation of the sanctity of the sacred month. If Allah (swt) has condemned the mushriks in very strong terms, what punishment awaits Bani Saud?

They are guilty of other sins as well. The Qur’an says, “Pilgrimage to Allah’s House is a duty unto mankind, for those that have the means [physical and financial] to undertake the journey” (3:97). Bani Saud say only those Muslims can perform Hajj who obtain a visa. What ayah of the Qur’an imposes this condition? Bani Saud have also imposed a quota-system, limiting the number of pilgrims to 1% of each country’s population ostensibly because of lack of space and facilities. The lack of space argument is specious. Besides, it is the direct result of faulty planning by the Najidi Bedouins. Instead of allowing open spaces around al-Masjid al-Haram to accommodate more pilgrims, they have boxed it in with huge concrete, steel, and glass buildings that tower over the Ka‘bah. The House of Allah (swt) is dwarfed by satanic buildings whose sole purpose is to reinforce class distinctions by pandering to the rich while raking in billions of dollars for the greedy royals and their hangers-on.

The quota system and the exorbitant prices are also depriving billions of Muslims from fulfilling one of their major religious obligations. If we assume there are 2 billion Muslims in the world today, a Muslim must live to be 2,000 years before he/she can qualify to get a “Saudi visa” for Hajj. What can be a greater bid‘ah than this, a word Bani Saud are so fond of throwing about?

There are two basic questions Muslims must ask and ponder over. First, where should the oppressed Muslims of Kashmir, Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of other locales turn to if they cannot beseech Allah’s (swt) help in His House? And second, what is their obligation when Bani Saud openly trample upon clear Qur’anic injunctions relating to Hajj? Muslims must understand that the Haramayn are not the private property of a family or clan, especially one that is subservient to imperialism and Zionism; they are the common heritage of the Ummah.

Unless Muslims liberate the Haramayn from the clutches of Bani Saud, they will not be able to reap the benefits of Hajj that Allah (swt) promises in the noble Qur’an (22:28). Hajj must be brought to its Qur’anic basis before other problems plaguing the Muslim world can be solved.

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