Spirituality of Hajj: Personal Experiences and Reflections

Hajj

The most noble aim for any believer is to tirelessly seek the Divine pleasure and in that search, every aspect of his life should be attuned to pleasing Allah and doing everything for His sake. The disciples of the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) were characterised by this virtue for it is stated in the Majestic Quran, “seeking the grace of Allah and His pleasure” (Al Fath: 29).

The grace is paradise and the Divine pleasure is even more valuable. The Divine countenance and the beautiful vision in paradise. This passion and yearning to be closer to Allah were amply demonstrated by some pilgrims whom I saw during the performance of my Hajj, desperately clinging to the walls of the Ka’bah, sobbing uncontrollably and longing for Allah’s forgiveness and His pleasure. In order to achieve this sense of nearness to his Lord, the pilgrim preoccupies himself with all the fundamental aspects of worship such as respecting the sacred, continuous remembrance and strengthening of the faith through prayers and repentance.

Respecting the sacred sites of Makkah

The sacredness of the holy city of Makkah is established by the divine command as Allah told Ibrahim (may Allah be pleased with him) to respect it. The Quran further elaborates this sacredness of Makkah when it says, “The first house founded for people to worship in was that in Bakka, as a blessing and source of guidance for all people. There are clear signs in it, for example, the place where Ibrahim stood. Anyone entering it will be given sanctuary” (Ale Imran: 96-97). When the Messenger (peace be upon him) was asked about which masjid was built first, he replied “Masjid al-Haraam”. The “place of Ibrahim” is the stone on which Ibrahim stood when building the Ka’bah. His footprint etched onto the stone, which is housed in a golden case besides the Ka’bah, eagerly looked upon by the circumambulating pilgrims.

Historically, the Arabs have greatly respected the Ka’bah and Masjid Al Haraam. As a consequence, Makkah has been a peaceful city, free from wars, invasions and civil strife, which is indeed a unique feature of this city – known as Balad Al Ameen – the city of peace. The blessed Rasool (peace be upon him) praised this city and as he was emigrating with tearful eyes he said: “Oh Makkah! You are the best on the earth and most dear to Allah, if I was not expelled by its citizens, I would never have left you” (Ibn Majah).

The Ka’bah – a tall, awesome cube, draped in a spectacular black cloth is a solid and tangible symbol of the existence of the almighty Lord. It represents His majesty, glory and grandeur. Scholars say that the Ka’bah is the earthly representation of the celestial Ka’bah in the heavens, which is continuously being circumambulated by the angels.

As total immersion in the remembrance of the Divine is one of the main objectives of Hajj, cultivating the habit of Zikr (continually reciting the name of Allah) is an all-important extension of this objective. Zikr is a powerful and an effective way of spiritual attainment, Divine love and giving up the egotistical and troublesome pronoun “I”, which generates the destructive characteristics of self-absorption and self-obsessions, which in turn lead to the development of narcissistic personality traits and an unwillingness to obey Allah and His commands. It is thus fairly safe to say that unless and until we give up this self-preoccupation with the word “I”, we cannot truly attain spiritual cleansing.

In order to neutralise one’s own personality and eradicate the destructive word “I” from one’s psyche, the process of Zikr commences as soon as the Hajji (pilgrim) wears the Ihram (the unsown, simple, white uniform of the pilgrim). He begins to recite the Talbiyya “Oh Lord, I am here, I am here, you have no partner, I am here, all praise, goodness and kingdom are yours and you have no partner”. Throughout the Hajj, this chorus is chanted up and down the valleys. This continuous chanting helps us to focus our minds and negates all idols we may have in our hearts and minds, even our desires to which sadly we succumb now and then and neglect the Lord’s commands.

Allah says, “Do you think you can be a guardian of someone who makes his desires, god?” (Al-Furqan: 43). The succumbing to our desires is likened to worship of the forbidden. When the evil desires become idols, they replace the Lord, as they take us away from remembering and obeying Him. Indeed this thoughtless obedience of the desires is the major cause of human depravity and consequential misery.

Prayer and Zikr are the main forms of devotions on the day of Arafat. There were many moving examples of devotion and Divine love seen on Arafat. Young men standing for hours with outstretched arms, sobbing and begging from their Lord, seeking forgiveness, asking for blessings, kindness etc.

Muzdalifa is the other place where the pilgrim spends the night in devotion and night vigil. Allah says “Continue remembering Allah till specified days” (Al-Baqarah: 203).

Sitting in the Mataf near the Ka’bah was an awesome experience, I would look at the black-robed cube amongst the devotees who were crying and gazing at the Ka’bah with tearful eyes. I too would be very much emotionally moved. I would often pray for the following four things for myself: “Oh Lord! Help me to improve my manners, morals, social relationships and grant me spiritual attainment.” I would conclude my prayer with the following words, “Oh Lord! I am weak-willed and thus unable to achieve this without your grace and help so, have Mercy on me”.

Although, there may be a grain of truth in the common perception that Hajj for the wealthy people, is a form of luxury and has become a meaningless symbol of a ritual that is devoid of substance. However, for the vast majority of people, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to atone for their sins and seek forgiveness for their misdemeanours. It is thus imperative that every moment of this sacred journey is spent in being totally detached from the worldly concerns and in the remembrance of Allah.

Strengthening and deepening faith in Allah

Another important objective of Hajj is to help the pilgrim intensify his or her faith in Allah, which is, in fact, the major purpose of all other forms of worship as well. Indeed a believer’s religiosity may well be likened to a building whose foundations are strengthened by good deeds, which are carried out for the sake of Allah, worship of Allah in the form of prayers, fasting, giving of charity, the obedience of His commands and his remembrance in the form of Zikr. However, those very foundations become hollow and unstable by doing the very opposite, i.e. lewd behaviour, depravity in one’s morals, evil deeds, lack of enthusiasm and regularity in one’s prayers, stinginess and miserliness when spending in the path of Allah. During the performance of Hajj, the presence of a multitude of people, the rites of Hajj, all create a special atmosphere, which is motivational for worshipping Allah thus strengthening the faith, love of Allah and longings to get nearer to Him. The constant chorus of Talbiyya, the Adhan, the acts of devotions and the Divine love shown by pilgrims reinforce and deepen one’s faith.

In fact, the pilgrims are advised to come to pilgrimage equipped with Taqwa (love of Allah and an ever-present awareness of His wrath). “Prepare yourselves for Hajj, and the best preparation is being mindful of Allah. People of understanding, be mindful of Me” (Al-Baqarah: 197). By meticulously following the rites of pilgrimage, the habits of obeying the Divine commands becomes the achievable. Hajj is thus a great exercise for developing Taqwa.

Developing moral character

Hajj provides motivation and a wonderful opportunity to improve one’s character and cleanse oneself of bad habits, “Hajj takes place in the specified months, and anyone undertaking this duty must not engage in sexual intimacy with one’s spouse; commit sin nor quarrel with each other” (Baqarah: 197). The moral vices being referred to in this verse are arrogance, anger, jealousy and greed; four cardinal vices, which are the root cause of all evil. Although these are condemnable at all times, at the time of Hajj, they become even more abhorrent. 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.

So, therefore, Hajj is a good time for developing the moral virtues of kindness, generosity, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, courage, humility, gentleness, honesty and truthfulness. When you watch the disabled in wheelchairs being served by their loved ones, either children or parents or others around the Ka’bah, you see human kindness at its best. I would often stand on the first floor of the Haraam by the track for wheelchairs. Leaning against the railing overlooking the Ka’bah, I would see passing by me old frail mothers on wheelchairs pushed by their sons, or old husbands. Old men being helped to fulfil their destiny sometimes by their wives or young sons. It was a moving experience to watch a mother pushing her small disabled child on the wheelchair. How sincere would her plea’s be to the Almighty, what great expectations she has for her beloved.

There were many brilliant examples of forgiveness. In such a crowded place, the Masjid Al-Haraam can house a crowd of 4 million worshippers (with the new extension), which is the equivalent of nearly 45 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 yourself, is an excellent virtue of generosity. Hajj is the time and place to see these virtues being lived and practised in reality. This is an excellent and most effective way of learning morality by watching others and acknowledging it.

Arguments and disputes are precursors of hatred and serious conflict, which is the reason why the Quran forbids disputes 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 of his previous sins”. The forgiveness of our sins is dependant on our behaviour towards others thus making a strong link between Divine worship and moral character. Worship without morals is neither very effective nor accepted by God!

The aftermath of Hajj and the lessons learnt

Hajj is a great devotional, motivational, spiritual and social activity. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is referred to as a “life-changing experience”, “a journey of a lifetime” and “one returns home as pure and as devoid of sins as the day he was born”. Living in such a spiritually charged place for 20-30 days is inevitably going to have a long-lasting impact on individuals.

My own experience is that after Hajj, I wanted to spend more time in devotion such as Quranic recitation, Salah, Zikr and reflections. I am beginning to find more time and energy to do these things whereas prior to Hajj, I had to exert a lot of effort for these activities. However, it has to be said that it is not possible to maintain the level attained during Hajj time.

Another change, which I have noticed in my personality, is that I am more receptive to my own shortcomings, flaws and mistakes. I pray for help to correct myself and overcome these weaknesses; selfishness, snapping and judging others. I seek Allah’s help to be more tender, loving and caring towards everyone (Ameen).