There is a journey all of us have to make before we die – and that is a journey to the hereafter (akhirah). Now, you may be asking, how is it possible to make such a journey before we die? This journey is none other than Hajj.
This annual pilgrimage is a supreme expression of the Muslim faith. It has been going on for 1400 years without interruption. It has outlasted empires, shaped trade routes through half the world and has persisted despite war, famine and plague.
Islam has not died out with modernity, but through the continuation of the Prophetic Mission, it has instead flourished.
It has been the way of Allah that he has made the intrinsic nature of Hajj difficult. This echoes what the Prophet peace be upon him said about travelling – that it ‘is a piece of punishment’ so what then of something that would take us thousands of miles to reach?
Many have made this arduous journey, and the very fact that they performed Hajj was an act of faith. It took Ibn Jubayr, the 12th-century traveller five months to get from Andalusia (modern-day Spain) to perform Hajj.
Ibn Battuta, the most celebrated Muslim traveller who hailed from Morocco, described the caravans of Hajj as being cities on the move. He said that the caravan he travelled from in Libya had a cavalry of more than 100 warriors. The actual journey to Makkah was a perilous one. People would die on the way. If you took a wrong turn, it was entirely possible to find yourself enslaved. And it was highly likely that you would be robbed on the way. On the desert track, tribes made money by robbing pilgrim caravans. Naser e- Khosraw, the 11th-century Persian traveller documented that these high way robbers took everything he owned, even the clothes upon his back!
So dangerous was this journey of Hajj that these travellers such as Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Battuta wrote their journals to warn their people about the pilgrimage of Hajj and help them prepare on how best to protect themselves.
It wasn’t just Muslims who made this arduous journey, but many non-Muslims were determined to visit the “forbidden city”. They wanted to know what all the fuss was about. They wanted to see and experience the majesty of the Kabah and the sobering sight of the grave of our beloved, Prophet peace be upon him. And so we have accounts of numerous non-Muslims and their journey to Hajj.
One of which is the famous British diplomat, Sir Richard Francis Burton who undertook his journey to Hajj in 1853. Coming to Makkah was not easy for him, he had to prove his so-called Islam to the protectors of the Holy City of Makkah. His determination led him to first, study the Arabic language, second, he memorised 8 juz (sections), one-quarter of the Quran all in the eventuality of him being questioned about his Islam. Finally, there were even some reports that he also got circumcised.
Past, Present, Future
The journey of Hajj is one of the most significant trips we can make in our lifetimes. It is a journey to infinity where the very act exemplifies our past, present and future.
The Past as it transports us conjure the story of Adam, Ibrahim, Muhammad peace be upon him and all of the Prophets who made this journey. In Mina, there is a mosque called Masjidul Khayf where it is understood that no less than 70 Prophets prayed.
The Present, in that we renew our relationship with our Creator begging him to forgive us.
The Future, as Hajj is, in fact, a play in which all of us are actors of a story that will occur in the future on the Day of Judgement.
The whole of Hajj is a journey; we are continually moving from one place to another, never getting used to one location as a parallel to our lives – making us realise that we are merely travellers taking some rest before we continue on our path.
We don the Ihram (the two pieces of cloth the pilgrims wear), a uniform of the hajji (pilgrim), not knowing the difference between a prince and a pauper, for Allah does not look at our wealth, but he looks at our hearts. This exchange of urban comfort for a more timeless desert life further dissolves class distinctions and binds the pilgrims firmly together.
This ‘uniform’ is a reminder that we will all soon die and we are already wearing what we will wear in our graves.
The Pilgrim makes his way to Arafat which is outside of the sacred boundaries of Makkah. The pilgrim is outside of the Kingdom of God. Imagine you see these long walls, and you are dishevelled, and you are a beggar, and all you have are these two pieces of cloth that you are wearing. It is noon, you are distressed, and you beg Allah – O Allah open the gates of mercy to me – this is how you should feel on that day. You are a beggar outside of the gates of this Great King.
You have begged him until sunset. The great King has accepted your supplication as you have earned his mercy and his attention. So now he tells the gatekeepers to open the gates, you are now allowed to leave. And that’s why pilgrims don’t pray Maghrib and Isha in Arafah. Think about, the gates of the Kingdom have been opened and so rush to go inside.
So you enter Muzdailfah, and it is surrounded by mountains which are the gates of the sacred city of Makkah which is called Ma’sharul Haram (Signs of the Sacred City of Makkah).
Muzdalifah comes from a word izdalifah which means to come close. And because you have been begging Allah the whole day, you are getting closer to Allah. The effort of the day tires you, so you pray Maghrib and Isha together, and you go to sleep. You get some sleep because tomorrow is going be a massive day, you’re going to visit the King.
After sunrise, you stone one of the jamarat (pillars) representing throwing what displeases Allah away from you. After showing hate for disbelief, you show love just like Ibrahim threw stones at the jamarat – throwing doubts that came to him from Satan. He demonstrates his love of Allah, by being willing to sacrifice the thing he loved most and that was his son, Ismail. And our love is our wealth, and our wealth is symbolised in stock – animals. Slaughtering another life for Allah. The male pilgrims now proceed to shave their heads (Halq) symbolising getting rid of pride and representing a new beginning. You can now wear clothes, perfume yourself and now, you are ready to visit the Great King. You go to the Masjid and circumambulation His House and walk between Mount Safa and Marwa. You return to Mina for three days. Mina comes from the word Muna which means hope as you are hoping for Allah’s continual mercy. Your final act of worship on the Hajj journey before leaving the kingdom is to the tawaful wad’a which is the farewell circumambulation, a goodbye until you visit again.