Philosophy underlying the Haj

By A. Abdul Aziz.

There are 5 main acts that are performed during Hajj, viz:

1. Circuiting the Ka'aba
2. Running between the Safa and Marwa hills
3. Assembling at Arafa.
4. Throwing stones at Mina
5. Sacrificing animals

How do these acts assist in obtaining spiritual purity? This is a very relevant question, especially in the face of rising questions about how a trip to Mecca and throwing stones and running around the place, and attending a meeting would serve to purify one's soul. Therefore it is essential that the real purport behind these rituals be understood and highlighted. The performance of Haj without having understood the values and meanings of its rituals would be a mere waste. Hence it is obligatory that we take a look at the philosophy underlying the Hajj.

Circuiting the Ka'aba

The first ritual is Tawaf. Right from the day a Haji enters Mecca upto the last day of Tawaf, he performs the circuit of the Ka'aba. He does exactly seven circuits each time. What do these seven circuits symbolize?

The Ka'aba is the spiritual sanctuary of mankind, which is therefore the direction adopted by Islam for prayers. Ka'aba or the Kibla is his spiritual destination. In other words, the Ka'aba is the physical representation of the spiritual distinction aimed at; which is an abode described to be in the seventh heaven. The Holy Quran states:

"....Vasakkalil Mahfool...." It is a very lofty and blessed platform.

It is on this platform that the most Sacred House is situated, where the Holy Prophet (PBUH), during his spiritual journey, led the rest of the prophets in prayer. The seven heavens mentioned here are not the physical heavens above us, nor is the Bait, a house indeed.

These are but spiritual demarcations representing progress. In such a spiritual world, when a person shows willingness to sacrifice his entity, he attains a sort of death and gets reborn in the next spiritual world. It is at the seventh heaven of such sacrifices that he becomes eligible to be accepted as qualifying to vouch for Islam as did the Prophet Ebrahim (a.s). Therefore the seven circuits of the Ka'aba, represents the willingness of the Haji to selfless sacrifice for the sake of mankind and religion along the lines of the sacrifice Prophet Ebrahim (a.s).

Hazrath Abdul Qadir Jilani (R.A.) is reported to have stated "The learned in Islam circuit the Ka'aba, while the Ka'aba circuits me". What he meant was, while the learned people of religion seek to elevate themselves to the loftiness of self sacrifice, this blessing remains inaccessible except through the acceptance of the Imam of the time, because it is through him that the door to heaven opens.

All teachings and advocations necessary to undertake the journey to Baithul Ma'moor, is in the Holy Quran. Only those persons who circuit the Holy Quran can show the steadfastness and sacrifice necessary for obtaining that credence to approach the sacrifice of Prophet Ebrahim (a.s). It was referring to this that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that he had met Prophet Ebrahim (a.s) on the seventh heaven; and that the spiritual position of Prophet Ebrahim (a.s) can be attained by any ardent disciple of his Ummah.

Hazrath Ebrahim (a.s) had reconstructed the Ka'aba from its dilapidated and destroyed condition and had underwent a lot of sacrifices for the sake of religion. The numerous occasions of selfless sacrifice and his willingness to bear the burden of responsibility made him the representative whose call to this day is attended to at the Ka'aba.

Seven, in Arabic, denotes many. As such, each and every Haji performing the circuit commemorates the sacrifices of Hazrath Ebrahim (a.s) and places himself spiritually on the path on which this prophet had toiled. Thus, with the seven circuits, the Haji shows his willingness to sacrifice on behalf of his faith like did the prophet for its establishment.

The Holy Quran states: "And remember when his Lord tried Ebrahim with certain commandments which he fulfilled. He said: I will make thee a leader of men.."(2:125)

And Hazrath Ebrahim (a.s) prayed "And my Lord, bless my offspring so that they may also be amongst those who succeed in all the trials they are put to, and make them leaders of mankind" to which Allah replied "those amongst them who are transgressors shall not be so blessed." They shall not be able to answer His call, they shall not be able to face the trials and come out successful.

As such, only those who are amongst the docile, those who are steadfast and righteous, only they can walk the path on which Hazrath Ebrahim (a.s) journeyed, proclaiming "Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik...."

O Allah! I hearken to Thy Call, and come to Thee, willing and subservient, ready to face all trials and tribulations that Hazrath Ebrahim (a.s) had faced on the path to Thee. Thus, the seven circuits of the Ka'aba symbolizes this journey.

Running between the Safa and Marwa hills

The next ritual is the Sa'i, which is the running in between the two hills Safa and Marwa. The Holy Quran says: "Surely Al-Safa and Al-Marwah are among the signs of Allah". (2:159) Why do the Hajis run between these two Hills? The usual explanation offered to this is that it is in remembrance of the experiences of Hajara while she was stranded in the desert with an infant, and had no means of support. Her frantic search for water is commemorated by the sa'i. However, this theory offers no explanation as to how this memory would benefit the Haji spiritually.

Allah Almighty has declared that this place has been witness and recipient to many of Allah's blessings. Safa is the hill upon which Hazrath Adam (a.s) received his Prophethood. The hill received its name, which means pure, because of this. Hazrath Ebrahim (a.s), Hazrath Ismail (a.s) and Hazrath Muhammad (PBUH) all initiated their Prophethood at the foot of this hill. Hazrath Muhammed (PBUH), after having been informed of being selected as a prophet, was instructed by Allah Almighty to address his family and clan.

He invited all his family members and friends, and addressing them at the foot of this hill, said, "If I were to say unto you, that a large army, bent upon ambushing you, awaits right behind this hill, what would your response be?" They said "Muhammed, we have known thee from your childhood, and know thou speak naught but the truth. As such, even though we know that there is no army there, we would take your word as the truth". He replied "then, know thee, I have been chosen by Allah Almighty, as His prophet".

This is the valley where water that would sake the spiritual thirst of the world that was to come, first erupted to the surface. This was the valley at which the first person to declare having accepted the Prophethood of Hazrath Muhammed (PBUH) stood forth. This is therefore the valley where the Hajis run to and from in search of that spiritual water. It is for this water which could sate their thirst for knowledge, and with the knowledge being put to practice thus purify one's body and soul, that the Hajis run along the valley in between Safa and Marwa.

Assembling at Arafa

The next is the most important ritual of the Haj, viz. Assembling at Arafa on the 9th day of Zul Haj, the eve of Eid-ul-Azha. As was explained above, the declaration and propagation of Islam commenced at Safa; and its conclusive consummation was at Arafa on the 9th day of Zul Haj, the 9th year of Hijra.

That day, Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) addressed more than a hundred thousand believers, while delivering the famous speech, which is known as "Hajjatul Vida" sermon. Every aspect of a believer's code of conduct, the way he should behave with his family, with his parents, with his children, with his neighbors, with travelers, was addressed in the sermon. After reminding the believers of their commitments to the society and to God, he repeatedly asked them " Have I not fulfilled my duties towards you and Allah?" The companions (sahabah) responded "O, Prophet of Allah, you most certainly have".

He replied "Those amongst you who are here, it is their duty that they should convey this message to those who are not present here". "I leave with you two things. The Words of Allah, and my Acts. The code of conduct that has been laid down by the words of Allah Almighty in the Holy Quran has been brought into practical light by my life. Take my life as a practical example, and follow it and those amongst you who have assembled here, let their life bear example for those that are to come".

It is therefore the duty of the Haji to commemorate the advises that the Holy Prophet had delivered on that auspicious day, and make a change in their life in such a manner that they become living examples of the life of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). This is the philosophy behind assembling at the Arafa on that day. And this is the ritual that differentiates Haj from Umra.

Throwing stones at Mina

After the Arafa, comes the throwing of stones and the sacrifice. Stones are thrown at three places. The Hajis stop for the night at Muzdalifah and from there proceed on the next day to the three places, viz. Jumrat'al Ula, Jumrat'al Usta, and Jumrat'al Akaba where they throw 7 stones each. It is explained that the stones are aimed at Satan, who tried to dissuade Prophet Ebrahim (a.s) from offering his son as sacrifice. But when asked as to how the stones are being thrown at Mina while the sacrifice was intended at Arafa, they have no answer. Again, questions arise as to how this serves to develop one's spirituality. The real philosophy is something else.

The Holy Quran states: "Fair seeming to men is made the love of desired things - women and children, and stored up heaps of gold and silver, and horses of mark and cattle and crops. That is the provision of the present life; but it is Allah with who is an excellent home". (3:15)

"Say, shall I inform you of something better than that? For those who fear God there are gardens with their lord, beneath which stream flow; therein they shall abide; and pure mates and Allah's pleasure. And Allah is mindful of his servants". (3:16)

The above verses teach us that man has seven relations to the earth. They are his love for his mate, for his children, for heaps of gold (ornamental wealth), for heaps of silver (money, for horses (vehicles) and cattle (business) and crops (agriculture). Allah points out these relationships and states that these are but provisions for this petty life, and it is with Him that the excellent home is.

Elsewhere the Holy Quran states: "Say, if your father and your sons and your brethren and your wives and your kinfolk and the wealth you have acquired and the trade whose dullness you fear and the dwellings which you love are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His cause, then wait until Allah brings about His Judgement; and Allah guides not the disobedient people".

Man's relations are shown here in another perspective. His seven relations shown here are that which forms a bond with his father, with his children, with his brothers & kinfolk, with his wives, with his wealth, with his trade and with his dwelling. For those who fear Him are gardens with their Lord wherein they shall abide. Therefore those who are willing to sacrifice these worldly ties for the sake of obtaining His love, they are the winners. In order to obtain His love, the Haji shows his willingness to severe his ties with worldly bonds which number seven by throwing 7 number of pieces of the earth, which symbolize the seven bonds away from him. Each stone thus represent each tie the Haji has with the earth. Throwing them away, he retorts aloud "Labaik Allahumma Labaik" "Labaik La Shareika Laka Labaik" (Here I am, my Lord, here I am. Here I am, There is no associate with Thee.)

Sacrificing animals

The last ritual is the sacrifice of animal. The Holy Quran says:

"Their flesh reaches not Allah, nor does their blood, but it is your righteousness that reaches Him". (22:38) The sacrifice is the practical consummation of all the intentions that have been built up in him through the rituals that preceded it. He shows his willingness to be sacrificed; to shed his blood for the sake of God, as is shed the blood of the sacrificed animal. Life, which is considered dear, is sacrificed for the sake of others.

May Allah Almighty bless us all with this sort of a Haj.

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