Hajj is the fifth of the five Akran or "pillars" of Islam. Hajj means "setting out," "tending towards," "to go round." The pilgrimage to Makkah on the appointed days in the month of Zilhaj, the twelfth month in the Islamic calendar, is known as Hajj. According to Islamic law, it comprises acts like compassing the sacred territory, or going round the Ka'ba (Tawaf) in a particular period, staying or halting (Wukuf) in the plain of Arafat, running between as-Safa and al-Marwah hills, casting pebbles at Mina, etc.
The holy Quran declares that Ka'ba at Bakkah (Makkah), known as Baitullah (the House of Allah), was "the first House of Worship appointed for men." (3:98). The Prophets Abraham and Isma'il (peace be upon them) "raised the foundation of the House." (2:217). Allah instructed Abraham to "sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (there in prayer). 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."
In accordance with divine ordinance Abraham introduced Hajj centering round the holy Ka'ba. In response to his clarion call people started gathering in Makkah to perform Hajj every year. But gradually, this centre of Tawhid (Oneness of Allah) was turned into a place of idolatry and 360 idols were placed therein. Many other indecent and illegal practices were also followed. For example:
* Changing the lunar months whimsically to make the prohibited (haram) months (2:217) lawful (halal) and to lengthen the duration of some years to 13 months instead of the usual twelve through the Nasi system (9:36). As a result, the Hajj in the year 9A.H. (631 A.D.) was celebrated in the month of Zilqad and not in Zilhaj;
* Pagan Arabs, excepting the Quraish, male and female alike, used to circumambulate the Ka'ba naked. Due to such reasons the Holy Prophet (pbuh) did not perform the Pilgrimage in the 9th Hegira. (Shibli Numani, Sirat-un-Nabi, 2:124). A caravan of 300 Muslims under the leadership of Abu Bakr was sent for Hajj that year. While it was on the way, Ali B. Abu Talib was commissioned by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) as Naquib to read out to the pilgrims that (i) the performance of the Pilgrimage would after that year be forbidden to the unbelievers (except those with whom the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had made special treaties), and (ii) no one henceforth be allowed to go round the Ka'ba naked;
* In pagan times, the pilgrims used to gather in assemblies in which the praises of their ancestors were sung. It was revealed: "So when ye have accomplished your holy rites, celebrate the praises of God, as ye used to celebrate the praises of your fathers, yea, with far more heart and soul." (2:200);
* The people of Yathrib (Medina) used to worship the goddess Manat and did not go to the two hills of as-Safa and al-Marwa, although it had always been considered an integral part of the Pilgrimage in memory of the Prophet Isma'il (pbuh) and his mother Hagera (Hajar). The gross superstitious rites of the pagan Arabs caused offence to the early Muslims and they felt some hesitation in going round these places during the Pilgrimage. Allah, therefore, ordains in the holy Quran: "Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of God, so if those who visit the House in Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them." (2:158);
* The Quraish also used to fight shy of the Wukuf (the halt) at the plain of Arafat, although this too had always been an essential part of the Pilgrimage.
In 10 A.H. (632 A.D.) the Holy Prophet (SM) himself led the Hajj. This historic Hajj, held in the month of Zilhaj, is popularly known as "the Farewell Pilgrimage" (Hajjatu'l-Wada) and taken as the model of an ideal Hajj. The way the Hajj is to be performed was very clearly demonstrated by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) during this Pilgrimage and a number of days in the month of Zilhaj were earmarked for the performance of Hajj. From this year the ecclesiastical year was also definitely fixed as a purely lunar year of roughly 354 days, the months being calculated by the actual appearance of the moon, and the hitherto practised wrong system of adding or deducting months was abolished for good.
The great theologian G.E. von Grunebaum wrote: "The first requirement, for the pilgrim, is to understand what the Hajj means within religion as a whole. There is no access to Allah except through self-abnegation. For this reason the religions of earlier faiths withdrew from the world. When this tendency weakened, Muhammad (pbuh) was sent to revive the tradition: but, as the Prophet explained, in exchange for monasticism the Lord gave the Muslims holy war and the Pilgrimage.
As the believer will some day meet God in a garment he does not wear in this life, the shroud, so the pilgrim goes to the House in an unusual garment -- the Ihram. Both are alike in that they are not sewn. On the journey the pilgrim hopes for acceptance, not in virtue of his own acts, but trusting in God's Grace and the fulfillment of His promise. The Talbiya is the answer to Allah's summons and should remind the faithful of the response of the people to the Trumpet on the Day of Resurrection, when they will rise from their graves and assemble in uncertainty about their ultimate fate. Upon entering the Holiday Territory, the pilgrim should both hope for safety from punishment and fear that he might be considered unworthy of the Lord's proximity -- but hope should be stronger than fear.
"In Arafa, the crowds, the shouting, the many tongues, the grouping of the nations by their leaders should remind you of the Plains of the Last Day when the nations will assemble around their prophets, fearful and perplexed. Be humble but hopeful. When all unite their earnings, do not think Allah will disappoint them. It has been said that to stand in Arafa and not to believe that Allah has forgiven you is a very great sin. When you throw the pebbles, be motivated by obedience only; try to be as Abraham was, when the Devil appeared to him to inject doubt in his heart and induce him to rebel, and Abraham stoned the Devil at God's behest. Should you think that Abraham was faced by Satan, and you are not -- know that this very thought is given to you by Satan who wants you to think the pelting to be a meaningless play. Outwardly you are casting pebbles at the Aqaba but in reality you are smiting Satan by your increased obedience to Allah's Command. Realise finally that sacrifice will draw you near to Him in virtue of your obedience. Be hopeful that, for each limb of the victim, Allah will free one of your limbs from the Fire."
The world-renowned saint Hujwiri (RA) explains it in a beautiful way: "Whoever seeks his Spiritual Station must renounce familiar associations and bid farewell to pleasures and take no thought of other than of Allah; then he must stand on the Arafat of gnosis and from there set out for the Muzdalifa of amity, and from there send out his heart to circumambulate the Temple of Divine Purification and throw away the stones of passion and corrupt thoughts in Mina of faith, and sacrifice his lower self on the Altar of mortification and arrive at the Station of freindship."
The earnestness and sincerity, profundity and single-mindedness with which a Muslim should try to circumambulate the Holy Ka'ba and perform the Sacred Pilgrimage may be aptly demonstrated through the famous "confession" of the great Sufi saint Hazar Bayazid Taifur bin Isa al-Bistami (RA): "On my first Pilgrimage I saw only the Holy Ka'ba; the second time, I saw both the Ka'ba and the Lord of the Ka'ba; and the third time, I saw the Lord alone."
"When the Hajj is duly completed," says Imam Ghazzali (RA), "fear must lodge in the pilgrim's heart, for he does not know whether his Hajj has been accepted or not. But he will obtain certainty from his heart and his own actions. For, if he finds himself moving away from delusion and doing right in the light of the Law, he may be sure of acceptance. For Allah accepts only those whom He loves, and whom He loves He befriends openly and manifests in him the effects of His Love, keeping them from Satan's assaults."
The writer is a former Director General, Islamic Foundation, Bangladesh.