What is Hajj and what takes place during the annual pilgrimage? Let us turn to an English scholar who inscribed the following epitaph in the late 19th century, when the British rule dominated over much of the world:
“But above all - and herein is its supreme importance in the missionary history of Islam - it ordains a yearly gathering of believers, of all nations and languages, brought together from all parts of the world, to pray in that sacred place towards which their faces are set in every hour of private worship in their distant homes. No stretch of religious genius could have conceived a better expedient for impressing on the minds of the faithful a sense of their common life and of brotherhood in the bonds of faith.
Here, in a supreme act of common worship, the Negro of the West coast of Africa meets the Chinaman from the distant East; the courtly and polished Ottoman recognises his brother Muslim in the wild islander from the farthest end of the MalayanSea. At the same time throughout the whole Muhammedan world the hearts of believers are lifted up in sympathy with their more fortunate brethren gathered together in the sacred city, as in their own homes they celebrate the festival of ‘Eed al-Ad-haa…’” - T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, London, 1956, p. 415.
I am yet to find a more eloquent expression on Hajj even from a Muslim source than this by Sir Thomas Walker Arnold, who penned his observations in his book ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ in 1896 CE. Arnold, a prominent Indian civil servant, was awestruck by the rituals of Hajj. Any impartial observer would have felt the same at any given Hajj season be it in 1896, 1996 or even 796.
The format and rituals of Hajj have remained virtually unchanged since its inception 15 centuries ago, the rituals that signify the universal brotherhood that are enjoined in Islam. The technology may have changed, modes of transport have never been more comfortable but a time-traveller from the Seventh Century would have found himself or herself at home in the Plains of Arafat in 2016 and in Mecca despite all that modernisation that has taken place in recent times.
Schams Elwazer, a producer covering the event of Hajj for CNN in 2012 found herself in an identical situation to that of T.W. Arnold. Under the caption ‘A Non-Pilgrim at the Hajj: A Memoir,’ in her Blog she had this to say:
“Sitting there on the white marble floor of the Grand Mosque, it was difficult not be blown away by the diversity of the people passing by. Groups of Indonesians in crisp white wearing colored headbands for identification and moving in tight phalanx formations quietly chanting the mantra of the Hajj (which translates approximately to “Oh God, I have obeyed your call”). Groups of West Africans in colorful garb almost singing verses of Islam’s Holy Book the Quran. Old Chinese couples, groups of blonde Europeans and Americans; it felt as if we were literally watching the entire world walk past. The effect was nothing short of hypnotic.”(28.10.2012)
It all began, or should I say the tradition established by our great Patriarch Abraham (A) was revived 15 centuries ago after a single commandment of God, “And proclaim to the people the Hajj, they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every distant pass.” (Quran 22:27)
The practical aspect of it was taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in his lifetime when he undertook the pilgrimage. He emphasised on equality of Humans in the presence of God, regardless of man-made social and economic barriers. This scenario is repeated year in and year out at Hajj, where in addition to promoting universal brotherhood of mankind, the spirit of sacrifice to achieve it also emboldened in the hearts and minds of pilgrims.
The modern world is plagued with racism and intolerance which Islam prohibits in no uncertain terms. The Hajj is an ideal occasion to re-build lost grounds and revive the brotherhood and tolerance which are sanctified in Islam. In his final pilgrimage, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) addressing a crowd of 100,000 people declared:
“An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.”
These words dispelled the myth that some races and classes of people are superior to others and established the fact that all humans are equal, for which Prophet Abraham (pbuh) struggled in his life. We are all equal human beings in the eyes of God. It is for this same noble cause Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) worked tirelessly during his lifetime. When he left this world at the age of 63, he had no worldly belongings. Instead of living a luxury life, he sacrificed all for the sake of humanity. His parting shot was to follow the Quran and his traditions and vowed if we abide by them we would never go astray. In his own words “you will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity.”
Today’s Muslims are tested in various ways, latest being the fear-mongering by certain groups that they will be ruled under Shariah or Islamic law in Sri Lanka and they stand to lose their freedom. This is a baseless allegation, thus it is imperative for Muslims of Sri Lanka to clear this misunderstanding among non-Muslims. It is forbidden to force anything on others.
Let it be known that under an ideal Islamic government, ‘non-Muslims will have the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion.’ This clause was enshrined in the Constitution of Medina, also known as the Charter of Medina under the instructions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when it was drafted in the year 622 CE.
Dr. John Andrew Morrow, the author of The Covenants of Prophet Muhammad (Angelico Press, 2013), commends this exemplary conduct of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and opined that under the Constitution of Medina:
“Identity and loyalty were no longer to be based on family, tribe, kinship, or even religion: the overriding identity was membership in the ummah (nation) of Muhammad. The Constitution of Medina decreed that the citizens of the Islamic state were one and indivisible regardless of religion. Be they heathen, People of the Book, or Muslims, all those who were subject to the Constitution belonged to the same ummah (nation). In doing so, he created a tolerant, pluralistic government which protected religious freedom. The importance of this is so extraordinary that it is often misunderstood.”
This may come as a surprise to some, but it is the fact. Tolerance is important in Islam, and justice is equal to all as Andrew Murray stressed, ‘Even Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, was not above the law.’
Had Muslims taken a little effort to spread this message, we would not have seen the misunderstandings on Islam that are prevalent in our society today. On this blessed day, I urge my fellow Muslims to take this as a religious duty and make a sincere effort to clear the doubts that exist among non-Muslims, not only on this issue but on countless other issues.
The events that T.W. Arnold observed will continue by the Grace of God, but what takes place in Mecca should trickle down in to our daily lives and the same should be reflected in the Muslim world at large. It is only then one could proclaim it has been a success. This is the true spirit of Hajj.
While celebrating the Hajj festivities, Eid ul Adha, let us pray for forgiveness, peace and prosperity of Mother Lanka and peace and prosperity of the world.
Former Minister of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs