THEY come from far and wide. On every means of transport available. By land, air or sea. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, black or white, from all categorisations of humanity possible, we find them there.
It is a journey for which life’s savings are devoted, for which aspirations are dedicated, and for which supplications are made from one’s heart and soul. But what kind of an event is this for which no advertising budgets are apportioned, yet millions are drawn to it every year?
No one is goaded yet the planes and the hotels are all full. No material gain is obtained by it, yet people save all their life to spend on the journey.
There is no scenery, no entertainment, and no amusement, yet the crowds keep coming. It is a journey involving physical, material and emotional hardship, yet the numbers keep on increasing year by year. What charm is there in dressing up in two sheets of white, in exposing oneself to the hardships of travel, and in facing the dangers of illness, disease, stampedes and even death?
The annual pilgrimage is about submissiveness to the Almighty and abandoning haughtiness.
The talbiyyah says it all: Labaik Allahuma labaik (I am here O Allah, I am here); Labaik laa shareeka laka labaik (I am here, no partner dost Thou have); Inna al hamda wal naimata laka wal mulk (Indeed all praise and all bounty and sovereignty belong to Thee); Laa shareeka lak (No partner dost Thou have).
This formula, which is on the lips of every pilgrim, gives us the essence of the Haj. That servitude is due to Allah and Him alone and that we hearken to His call. That in His worship, we associate no one else. That for Him, we need to make serious efforts in life.
That entire praise and sovereignty belong to Him and no one else. In fact, the Haj is a living commentary of the Quranic verse: “Say: Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds” (6:162).
Thus it is this strong belief which is the powerful driving force for the Haj. Belief in Allah and His Messenger (PBUH), an aspiration to have a connection with the Creator and to realise the true purpose of life. It is a journey for which even the preparation is itself an act of ibadah (worship), yet this is an aspect taken lightly and neglected by many.
The intending pilgrims also depend on the assurances of tour operators, many of whom have a reputation of disappearing in the heat of the action leaving pilgrims stranded with no choice but to fend for themselves.
Millions congregating at a unique point and their successive movement is no ordinary feat but one that poses great challenges.
The Haj is a true jihad, for it takes us out of our comfort zones for the sake of Allah, and teaches us to take on hardships and sufferings entirely for Him.
The Haj is an action; it is not a comfortable sermon, but a practical hardship that resonates with the seriousness we have for our faith.
The Haj is a test, for at each and every juncture, we are tested for the development of our patience, our tolerance, our religious knowledge and its application. The Haj is an antidote to the inflated ego. You leave behind your best dress, your hairstyle will need to go after shaving the head, the riches and comforts that you are used to will not be there for you.
You will need to sleep with nothing but the earth below you and above you only skies. You will need to mingle and cooperate with people of all hues and not your preferred ones only — all this will humble you and help annihilate your ego.
Thus Haj is about submissiveness to Allah and abandoning haughtiness. Haj is an admonishment.
The pains and sufferings are also at times a wake-up call to the erring that something is not right and reformative action needs to be taken.
There are strong parallels between Haj and death. The Quran repeatedly calls death a meeting with God, while the Kaaba is the House of God. The Haj, therefore, is ‘death’ and meeting with God, and the return from the journey as a Haji, a spiritual rebirth.
Just like life is a constant struggle and its end has paradise for the righteous, the hardships of Haj are a trial for us, and its culmination takes us to a new, pleasant phase in our life.
After Haj, the believer is no longer anxious and worried about the pettiness of life, but becomes calm and serene having surrendered himself fully to Allah.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2016