15 February 2003
Two Million Humble Supplicants At The Court of God
By Inayat Bunglawala
�AND proclaim the Pilgrimage (haj) to people. They will come to you . . . from every deep and distant mountain pass that they may witness manifold benefits to them and remember God�s name on appointed days for all that He has provided them.� (The Koran, 22: 27-28.)
This year more than two million Muslims across the globe have responded to this call. Forty per cent of the pilgrims have come from various parts of the Arab world, 35 per cent from Asia, 15 per cent from sub- Saharan Africa and 10 per cent from the West. It is the largest and most culturally diverse assembly of humanity in one place at any one time.
The haj is the fifth of the five pillars of Islam and refers to the great pilgrimage to Mecca in modern Saudi Arabia. It takes place during the second week of Dhul Hijjah, the final month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
More than 22,000 British Muslims have gone to the haj this year, together with � for the fourth year running � a Foreign Office-sponsored delegation of eight doctors and two counsellors to provide them with help and support. Britain was the first Western country to initiate this support for its pilgrims.
Before their departure, the pilgrims have to meet the primary condition for a haj to be accepted by God, namely the purity of intention (niyyah). Their pilgrimage must solely be to seek God�s forgiveness and His pleasure.
As the pilgrims made their preparations for the haj, many will also have made out their wills in case they do not return. Just 50 years ago, it was common for pilgrims to spend about two months away from home during the haj. Modern transport facilities mean that the entire visit can now take as little as seven days.
Before they enter the precincts of the haj, whether by land, sea or air, all pilgrims need to assume the state of ihram or sanctity. For men this is symbolised by the wearing of two unsewn pieces of cloth. The ihram of women is their normal modest dress. The ihram symbolises the equality and humility of all believers before God regardless of differences in wealth, race, colour or age.
With their pride and vanity curtailed, all will arrive at the Court of God as humble supplicants and aware of the worldwide brotherhood of man. The American Malcolm X, once an advocate of black separatism, said of the haj: �The pilgrimage to Mecca broadened my scope probably more in 12 days than my previous experience during my 39 years on this earth.�
>From this time on until the haj is over, the pilgrim concentrates fully on his devotion to his Creator and engages in the constant practice of dhikr, the remembrance of the One God.
According to Islam, the haj was originally instituted by the Prophet Abraham to serve as the focal meeting point for all believers and the centre of the monotheistic movement. Abraham charged his son Ismail with continuing this mission.
In time, however, Ismail�s descendants corrupted their teachings and installed hundreds of idols in the Kaaba in Mecca, including idols of Abraham and Ismail � two men who had devoted their lives towards eradicating idol worship.
By the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE, the haj had been distorted into a carnival of singing, drinking, revelry and immoral activities. But Muhammad had been sent as the fulfilment of Abraham�s prayer: �Our Sustainer! Send among them a Messenger from among themselves, who shall rehearse Your messages to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom and purify them. You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.� (The Koran 2: 129.)
After abolishing various perverse customs, Muhammad succeeded in restoring the haj so that it once again became a symbol of God-consciousness, sacrifice and simplicity. Today�s sequence of rites was completed by Muhammad shortly before his death and is regarded as a ritual re-enactment of the faith-testing events in the life of his forefather Abraham, his wife Hajar, and their son, Ismail.
Last Monday afternoon � the ninth of Dhul Hijjah � saw the pilgrims streaming out of their tents in their masses on to the plain of Arafat, nine miles southeast of Makkah. In an immensely moving scene reminiscent of the Koranic descriptions of the Day of Judgment, they stood repenting for past sins and, with many reduced to tears, beseeched God for forgiveness for themselves and their loved ones continuously until sunset.
The haj is an integral part of Islam�s built-in mechanisms for revival and serves as a huge forum for the worldwide exchange of ideas and knowledge.
The Pakistani Islamic thinker Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979) likened the Kaaba to �a heart in a man�s body . . . drawing blood from its far off veins and circulating the blood back into each and every artery . . . As long as the heart beats, the man cannot die.�
This year the build-up of American forces in the Gulf and an expected assault on Iraq will also have been on the minds of many of the assembled Muslims and will have added to the raw emotion felt by them. At the centre of an event which serves as a potent reminder of Islam�s unifying power and its ability to mobilise humanity, it is hard not to regard with incredulity our Government�s claims that a war against Iraq will serve to reduce tensions and improve global security.
(Inayat Bunglawala is the Media Secretary at the Muslim Council of Britain)