The Pilgrimage: A Universal Convention [Archives:2000/11/Focus]
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
The Fifth Pillar of Islam is one of the most phenomenal human religious experiences. It is a religious rite of several steps and measures that are geared to not only bring rewards to the worshipper in the hereafter, but also to provide the believer with a true sense of himself and a greater understanding of the world around him. For sure, the Hajj is the largest communal religious ritual practiced, not only for Moslems but also for all the religions of the world. The 4-5 day religious journey is more than a journey of salvation. It is a universal convention, where people from all walks of life from all over the world meet and interact together, listen to each other and feel the equality of mankind in its truest manifestations. Notwithstanding all the conveniences and facilities that the Saudi authorities have built in the areas where the pilgrims must stay for prescribed periods of time over the five day period, it is indeed difficult not to go through the journey without enduring some hardships, as it is just impossible to expect that 2 million people can be accommodated comfortably and leisurely at a given time no matter how many conveniences and facilities are built into the process. Moreover the rush to move over from one area to another before the limited time ends poses great strains on the facilities, no matter how abundant they are.
Apart from the spiritual implications involved in the Hajj, one cannot fail to see that indeed the Hajj provides a true learning experience for men and women. For one there is the theme of the Unity of the Deity and the corresponding equality of mankind before the eyes of the Creator. When undergoing the Hajj, all Moslems are expected to forget their origins before coming to Mecca and the other areas that entail the journey of spiritual salvation. Being clothed in basically two unseen or tailored pieces of cloth or towels (for the men), and in simple attire that covers all the body physique for women, except the face, the Moslem worshipper is bound to comprehend that in the eyes of the world there are no kings or queens, movie idols or cultural and political celebrities. In the Hajj it is only man and God that exist together with the latter reigning supreme above all, and the former being totally under His mercy. In the Hajj, men are not gauged by their color, wealth, political prestige and influence. In the Hajj all people are the same and they have lost all their mundane attributes of glamour, prosperity and material wealth. In the Hajj, the only wealth to be found is the wealth obtained by all the good deeds that one pursues over time to gain the favor of only One King, the Creator of all the mountains and desert ground and blue sky that surrounds the pilgrimage sites, and man turns out to be no matter than the feeble creature that is equally exposed to the same elements of nature and the same prescribed rites that all Moslems must carry out as precisely as possible. In the Hajj people are to forget how to be angry and spiteful and all the bad language and curses that reflect anger, hate or even emotional pressure. As much as possible men and women should prevent talking to each other or trying to persuade each other of their own magnificence. In the Hajj, the only Magnificence to be found is the Magnificence of the Lord, and the only effective dialogue is a one way discourse with the Lord, as the worshipper is forced to realize that in the Day of Judgement, this is really how men will be put before their Lord and Master and will be forced to answer for all their transgressions and oppression of their fellow men. In the Hajj, men and women are equal in their search for salvation and mercy for all the times they have forgotten that in the end it is the Al-Mighty who will have the last word in the judgement of men and how they have used the gift of life and all the bounties one enjoys over the course of their lives to do well in serving their Lord and in promoting the welfare of humanity by all the resources that came under their control. In the Hajj material mundane wealth is no parameter for distinction. It becomes meaningless as barbers and great industrialists stand side by side in the largest religious congregation of all times, reflecting how truly meek we are and showing that no matter how much wealth we gather and no matter how many assets we accumulate, legally or illegally, it may be more of a heavy burden than we have come to realize as the wealthy lavish in extravagance only to find that “One man’s wealth is at the expense of another man’s hunger.
The Hajj is nothing more than an indication that all our pursuits in life are meaningless unless they are targeting the favor of the Lord and the development and welfare of mankind. In the Hajj, those who have plundered the resources of the world for their own selfish greed have truly transgressed on themselves, leaving behind only a record of their evil carnage to be taken over by reckless heirs who know full well that the owner of the estate had left for himself a bad record of gnawing upon the rights of many people in order to accumulate such wealth. It is an opportunity for evil doers to recollect their misdeeds and to contemplate how to go about correcting their dark past to make for all the bad marks that they have accumulated way up there in the Heavens, which will be put before their eyes when that final day of accounting to the Lord comes.
From the moment that one joins the flow of pilgrims on their way to Mecca from all the corners of the world, one is bound to feel the aura of exuberance of millions of people throughout the world who have now become a part of a common experience unequalled by any experience. The cries of “We are here to answer Your Call, Oh One who has no partner”, one is bound to be literally pulled out of the plastic mundane world we live in and to feel that in the end there is really nothing that matters, unless it is for seeking the favor of the Lord. Thus wealthy men are bound to ask themselves, Where did my wealth come from; what am I doing with it; who does it really belong to; what of it do I take with me when I am thrown in the grave as quick as possible once my soul has departed? Yes, these and many other questions come into the minds of the wealthy as they are turned into merely a speck within a multitude that flows simultaneously from all the corners of the world to the Center of the Universe. For the not so wealthy, it is a chance to thank the Lord for not having to burden them with so much material wealth that could be a source of accountability with great undesirable consequences when all of mankind is laid out before the Lord, not being to look anywhere except to the Face of the Lord, in all of His Majesty, as he passes judgement on every step we have taken in the world, and for every word we have spoken and for every transgression inflicted. Thank God, Lord that you have left me without such wealth and kept me sustainable with just enough to keep me and loved ones going out of my own sweat and efforts. Thank God, Al-Mighty that when there was a chance for me to do what is to Your Delight, I did not hesitate to throw all of my resources at your disposal to relieve the agonies of my fellow Moslems or any other human beings who have become victims of natural calamity or the transgressions of their fellow men, who have forgotten that they are all subject to God’s adjudication of all their deeds Ð good or bad!
The Hajj is a journey of discipline, where men and women must exercise a significant level of self control, hiding their passions and emotions and even some of their physical cravings, which are permitted in the normal course of life, or else they have to sacrifice some of their material wealth as repentance for their lack of self control.
When one reaches the Holy Land, one is bound to sense the poor humble status of men, no matter what status he or she may have at home. He or she is now nothing more than a part of an uncontrollable mob-like scene that is controlled only by pand full submission to the Majesty of the Lord. It is a magnificent scene as one realizes that in the end nothing really matters, except in how we compare with all these millions of people who have gathered where a billion people turn to five times a day in all the corners of the World also hoping that indeed they have answered the Call of the Lord and that they are in total obedience to all his commandments.
After such a truly magnificent mass gathering, without any priests or clerics to dictate their will upon the worshipper one is bound to realize that in this world where this great assembly is gathered in Mecca and the surrounding area, or in any other world for that matter we are driven to, there is only man and God facing each other and the latter truly rules Supreme above all.