We are fast approaching the day of Hajj, Monday the 19th of July. It’s a day when the pilgrims gather at the plain of Arafat and earnestly seek forgiveness. Here we will be fasting that day to show our solidarity with them, we will watch them on our TV screens and yearn to be with them. In today’s reflections, I want to share my experience of the Hajj. Enjoy reading it.
The noblest aim of a believer’s life is to seek the Divine pleasure, this pursuit is achieved by obeying the Divine Will. The disciples of the blessed prophet (peace be upon him) were characterised by this virtue, “they are ever seeking Allah’s grace and pleasure” (Al-Fath: 29). The grace is paradise and the Divine pleasure is His beautiful vision in paradise. I witnessed this passion to be closer to Allah at my last Hajj. I saw the pilgrims in worship, respecting the sacred sites, continuously remembering, praying, repenting, some desperately clinging to the walls of the Ka’bah pouring out their heart, at the Multazam (part of the Ka’bah that is between the Black Stone and the door of the Ka’bah), sobbing uncontrollably and longing for Allah’s forgiveness.
Makkah has been a peaceful city, free from wars, invasions and civil strife, a unique feature of this city – the city of peace. When he was emigrating the blessed Rasul (peace be upon him) praised it tearfully: “Makkah, you are the best city on the earth and dearest to Allah, if I was not expelled by its citizens I would never have left you” (Ibn Majah).
Hajj is about spiritual realisation, Divine love and giving up the egotistical and troublesome “I”. It is this egoism that generates the destructive characteristics of self-absorption and self-obsessions, simply narcist. It is this that produces the self-indulging personality that is neglectful of the Creator and unwilling to obey Allah. Spiritual cleansing cannot be achieved without giving it up. To neutralise ourselves and overcome the destructive “I” the pilgrim wears the Ihram, the unsewn simple white uniform. He sings the Talbiyah, “Lord I am here, I am here you have no partner, I am here, all praise, goodness and kingdom are yours, you have no partner”. Throughout the Hajj, in every place and at all times this chorus is chanted in the valleys, on the plains and inside the tents. This continuous chanting helps to focus the minds on Allah, our Lord. It helps to negate all idols we may have in our hearts and minds, our desires and worldly wishes. Allah says in The Majestic Quran, “Have you seen him who has made his desires and ego his Lord?” (Al-Furqan: 43).
Sitting in the Mataf near the Ka’bah was an awesome experience. I would be mesmerised by the black-robed cube, there people were crying, sobbing and gazing at the Ka’bah with flowing eyes. I too would be moved and pray; “Lord! Help me to improve my manners, morals, social relationships and grant me spiritual attainment.” I would conclude my prayer with the following words, “Lord! I am weak-willed and thus unable to achieve this without your grace and help, be kind to me”.
Developing moral character
Hajj provides many opportunities for the improvement of character and purification from bad habits, “whoever performs the Hajj let him refrain from marital relations, bad behaviour and quarrelling” (Baqarah: 197). Fusooq, bad behaviour includes arrogance, anger, jealousy and greed; the four cardinal vices, which are the root cause of all evil. Although these are condemnable always, at the time of Hajj, they become even more hateful. However, in that sacred place and at that special time in the presence of so many devoted Muslims, avoiding them is much easier than in one’s ordinary everyday life.
There were many brilliant examples of forgiveness. In such a crowded place, the Masjid al-Haraam can house a crowd of 1 million worshippers, which is the equivalent of 10 Wembley stadiums filled to the brim with people! In such a crowded place, it’s not at all surprising that you trip up someone or tread on someone’s foot, but the way people asked for forgiveness and how readily people forgave one another, putting the other before themselves. Hajj is the time and the place to see these virtues being practised. What an excellent way of learning goodness, simply by watching others and acknowledging it. Quarrelling is the maker of hatred and conflict; the Quran forbids it during Hajj. The Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “whoever carries out the rituals of Hajj without harming another person with his hands or tongue will be forgiven all his previous sins”.
Hajj is an expensive journey, it is a splendid devotion, an effective spiritual exercise that’s referred to as a “life-changing experience”, “a journey of a lifetime” and “one returns home as pure and free of sins like the new-born”. Living in such a spiritually charged place for 20 odd days is inevitably going to have a long-lasting impact. The change I noticed in myself after Hajj was that I preferred to spend more time in Quranic recitation, Salah, Zikr and reflection. I had more time and energy to do these things whereas prior to Hajj, I had to exert a lot of effort for these activities.
Let’s pray that we can soon perform this wonderful devotion as in the past. Ameen!