THEY are not drawn to it because of advertisements. No one goads them to it. There are no social pressures and no statutory requirements to make the trip. Yet every year millions crave the journey. For many, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to which they have devoted their life’s savings.
It is a desire for which tears are shed and supplications made not only with hands held high towards the heavens but also with foreheads touching the ground in deep prostration. When the wish is granted, the supplicant feels a calm which cannot be described but can only be felt.
That first sight of the Kaabah adorned in the ever-familiar black and gold kiswa and surrounded by a white necklace of pilgrims in motion is a surreal moment, where suddenly the notion of time and space disappears. It is a mystical moment when tears cannot be held back and one is lost for words. All is forgotten. You don’t realise who or what is around you while in your first tawaf for then there is only you and Allah.
It is a desire for which tears are shed and supplications made.
We should not make the mistake of thinking that Makkah has a successful ‘marketing strategy’. Rather it is Prophet Ibrahim’s prayer about its citizens “...so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them. ...” (14:37) that draws millions to the city.
So let us not forget that the Haj is in fact a pilgrimage of the heart. It is not the outcome of a glossy tourist brochure, or some lure of entertainment. There are no such incentives and, in fact, it is a journey which takes the traveller out of his comfort zone, away from the amicable surroundings of his life at home, to a physically demanding event, bereft of pleasures and full of hazards.
There you will have to brave severe weather, face sickness, safeguard yourself from stampedes, be vigilant to avoid accidents, walk great lengths and experience exhaustion.
Yet some people risk life and limb and even make their way on foot amid a landscape fraught with peril. Let us not forget that the crowds are in fact a fulfilment of prophecy, as Ibrahim was foretold: “And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways” (22:27). Thus each year people make it to Makkah from just about everywhere on Earth.
The Haj is indeed a life-changing experience when it is done as the Quran says “Lilah” or for Allah and no one else (3:97). Its motivation is the love of Allah; and it is a hardship undertaken only for His sake. The transformation takes place by self-imposed regulations for a fixed number of days and by experiencing some events which will all leave their mark on the pilgrim.
Here is an event which will enable you to spend time with people other than your own kind. You will mingle and mix with people from all walks of life; rich and poor, black and white, young and old. You will be helping people on the way and will experience communal living rather than selfish individualism.
You will be tested on numerous occasions. You will be required to control your temper, abstain from carnal pleasures, forego vanity of dress and appearance. There is no better way to diminish pride and learn humility, appreciate diversity and practise charity.
Being in ihram for a number of days when one is not used to the attire, and that too while observing certain restrictions, is a training in itself.
To be camped and cramped in Mina, to sleep under the open sky at Muzdalifa, to be a small unit of the concourse of humanity at the plain of Arafat, to walk miles to Jamarat and back, to perform tawaf around the Kaabah and the sa’y between Safah and Marwah — all require considerable patience and endurance.
To travel and lodge with strangers for many days, to feel the hard ground instead of a soft bed, to have one’s hairstyle and fashion disappear; all these experiences aren’t exactly joys but are tests that prove to us our mettle and inform us whether we are willing to move out of our comfort zones solely for Allah. These experiences are meant to break us from our preferred status quo of life and respond to a higher calling.
Those having the means should not delay Haj unnecessarily for the Quran orders: “...Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah, — those who can afford the journey. ...” (3:97). While those who do not take the obligation seriously are also reminded: “...but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures” (3:97).
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion. He blogs at KashifShahzada.com
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2017