A masterpiece on the Hajj

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Hajj is the largest gathering of the Ummah, held in Makkah every year. More than two million Muslims from around the world gather in Makkah to perform this pilgrimage. Potential hujjaj(pilgrims) make material, physical and spiritual preparations before they approach Makkah to perform this vital pillar of Islam. One such preparation is to consult Hajj ‘manuals’, ‘guides’ and books that give details of the “hows” and “whats” of the various rituals that comprise the Hajj. Yet very few hujjaj are interested in the “whys” of Hajj rituals; for that matter, there is hardly any Hajj manual that attempts to explain the implications of Hajj. Ali Shari’ati’s Hajjstands out like a beacon to illuminate this darkness and fill this vacuum.

The latest edition of Shari’ati’s Hajj, published by the Islamic Book Trust, Malaysia, is an enlightening gift for Muslims worldwide who are in search of the conceptual dimensions of the Hajj. Muhammad al-Asi rightly says in his foreword for this new edition that “there are probably hundreds of books in our ever growing fiqhi library that detail for us the ‘mechanics’ or the ‘automotives’ of hajj”. Fundamentally, one’s Hajj should transcend its rituals. Hajj, for Shari’ati, is “the anti-theses of aimlessness”, and “man’s evolution towards God”.

Shari’ati’s remarkable strength lies in his ability to dramatize the events in history to suit the horizons of his immediate audience. When he addressed the Iranian masses living under the Shah’s oppressive regime, he dramatized the situation with the metaphors of Karbala and Ashura. He addressed the masses eloquently: “For every revolution, there are two visages: blood and message. All battlefields are Karbala, all months are Muharram, and all days are Ashura. One has to choose either the blood or the message, to be either Hussein or Zainab.” In this drama, Shari’ati portrays only three characters: Imam Hussein (ra), Zainab (ra) and Yazid. He offers only three alternatives: either die like Imam Hussein as a martyr; or survive like Zainab and proclaim the revolutionary message of Karbala to the oppressors; or choose to be among the followers of Yazid.

But when it comes to the Hajj, Shari’ati develops an entirely different script. Now he realizes that he is not addressing the Iranian Muslims alone, but the entire Muslim Ummah. The new script should be universally applicable. Hajj, as Shari’ati perceives, is a “drama” of many events simultaneously. “Hajj is a show of creation, a show of history, a show of unity, a show of the Islamic ideology and a show of the Ummah.”

In Shari’ati’s “Hajj-drama”, God is the “stage-manager”. The prophets Adam and Ibrahim (as), Hajira, and Satan are the main characters. The scenes are Masjid-Haram, Arafat, Mashar and Mina. The Ka’abah, Safa, Marwah, idols and rituals of sacrifice are the main symbols; ihram is the main costume. But Shari’ati demands the ultimate from the potential hujjaj: “The player of these roles in this ‘show’ is only one; and that is you.”

Shari’ati burns like a candle when he speaks of jihad and shahadah. He is uncompromising when he appeals to the Ummah to identify the Pharaohs and Nimrods of our age, and wage jihad against them. But his tone is overflowing with love when he talks about Hajira, Sarah’s black Ethiopian slave who was also Ibrahim’s wife who gave birth to Ismail. Hajira’s skirt beside the Ka’abah, beside God’s first House on earth, is not just a coincidence for Shari’ati. God chose Hajira, the black Ethiopian slave of a woman, as an embodiment of love and submission. Hajira migrated with her baby (Ismail) to a barren desert at God’s command, out of love and submission. She wandered between Safa and Marwah in search of water, but returned unsuccessful, only to find water (zamzam) gushing forth from under Ismail’s feet. Shari’ati draws a lesson for us all from this: God rewards Hajira and Ismail, and humanity, with Zamzam, but only after her effort. The lesson is that we should hope to find water by ‘love’, not by ‘effort’, but only after the ‘effort’.

Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son Ismail is also reinterpreted. Shari’ati appeals to his readers to identify their own Ismails. For Ibrahim (as), his son Ismail was the greatest “weakness”, which God put to the test. Ibrahim passed the test, and God ordered him to sacrifice a sheep in his son’s stead, as a lesson for humanity. Similarly, every hajji need to identify his or her Ismail and decide to sacrifice it for the sake of God; only then will the sacrifice of sheep at Mina be meaningful; failing that, the sacrifice becomes mere “butchery”.

Arafat, Mashar and Mina are not arbitrary stations of Hajj. Shari’ati sheds much philosophical light on these rituals. Knowledge (Arafat), Consciousness (Mashar) and Love (Mina) are the three essential ingredients that comprise the fabric of a true Muslim. Stoning the idols at Mina demands purpose. Pharaoh (the symbol of oppression), Korah (the symbol of capitalism) and Balam (the symbol of hypocrisy), are the three idols that the hujjaj are expected to destroy. Shari’ati explains the significance of pelting these idols with seven stones (“bullets”), seven times, which symbolizes number of days of creation, seven heavens and seven days of a week. “This implies an everlasting struggle which started with the beginning of creation and continues on into the hereafter; a battlefield without a ceasefire; and the absence of a peaceful relationship with any idol”, Shari’ati enlightens the reader.

After all the rituals, and after destroying the idols, the climax of the Hajj lies in the final convention at Mina, which, according to the author, is the land of love, struggle and martyrdom. It is the land where Muslims from all over the world are invited by God to gather to discuss the problems and difficulties of the Ummah. This convention is the most vibrant event for Shari’ati, and summarizes the significance of Hajj. It is during this convention that Muslims from different parts of the world discuss and plan the details of overcoming oppressive regimes. And this is exactly why the “custodians of the Haramain” and their American and Zionist advisors decided to restrict any interaction, be it political or spiritual, between the hujjaj.

As the Muslim world came under attack from the west, Hajj was a centre for Muslims from all over the world to meet, brainstorm, and draw strength and inspiration from each other to tackle the challenges facing the Ummah. Thus the short-lived jihad movement of Sayyid Ahmed of Rae Bareli against the British in India was initiated shortly after he returned from Hajj in 1822. Five years later Imam Shamil of Daghestan and Shaikh Abdul Qadir al-Jaziri met at the Hajj, discussed their struggles against the Russians in the Caucasus and the French in North Africa respectively, and appealed to fellow Muslims for support. Such episodes are commonplace in our history.

For a modern example, one might look to the experience of Malcolm X (al-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz), who returned to the US from Hajj in 1964 with a better understanding of the state of the Muslim world. Hajj was an eye-opener for Malcolm X; it persuaded him to deviate from the stand of the so-called Nation of Islam, which advocated an anti-white racism. In his autobiography he admits that he discovered universal brotherhood in Makkah, where American “blue-eyed blonds” and African “Negroes” would embrace each other freely and willingly, sincerely and joyously. “This brotherhood, the people of all races, colors from all over the world coming together as one! It has proved to me the power of one God. The color-blindness of the Muslim world’s religious society and the color-blindness of the Muslim world’s human society: these two influences had each day been making a greater impact, and an increasing persuasion against my previous way of thinking”.

Malcolm X lived no longer than a year after his Hajj. Malcolm X, the most electrifying Muslim activist of the last century, absorbed the message of the Hajj and Islam, and became the greatest martyr of Islam in the cause of eradicating racism. In the concluding passage of his autobiography he writes, “Yes, I have cherished my ‘demagogue’ role. I know that societies often have killed the people who have helped to change these societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America – then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.”

Where are the Malcolm X’s of today? Why has America not produced another Malcolm X in the last 40 years, despite thousands of American Muslims performing the Hajj every year? Why has India not produced a Malcolm X, in spite of thousands of Muslims performing Hajj every year, and in spite of more than 250 million Dalits (“Untouchables”) living under humiliating conditions of ‘sanctified apartheid’ in the “world’s largest democracy”? Do these hujjaj return home only with touristy, tacky souvenirs of the Hajj and of the homeland of Allah’s beloved Messenger (saw)?

The enemies of Islam realized the significance of Hajj long ago. In the early 1850s Sir Richard Burton visited Makkah and Madinah and reported on their potential as a focus for anti-British sentiment and activities. A few years later the British consul in Jeddah clarified further: “The point of real importance to England politically, I believe, is the Hejaz as the focus of Muslim thought and the nucleus from which radiate ideas, advice, instructions, and dogmatical implications… Certain persons proceed to Hajj for political reasons. Makkah, being free from European intrusion, is safe ground on which meetings can be held, ideas exchanged… Up to the present time we have kept no watch on those who come and go… thus meetings may be convened at Makkah at which combinations hostile to us may form without our knowing anything until the shell bursts in our midst… If this consulate could have a trusty Muslim agent at Makkah, I believe a great deal of valuable information could be obtained.”

This early western insight is central to understanding every subsequent political development in the region . If the British reached this understanding of the importance of the Haramain and the Hajj 150 years ago, there can be no doubt that western decision-makers – in London, Paris, Washington, New York, Moscow and Tel Aviv alike– have been aware of it ever since. Their puppets in the Middle East, and in ‘Saudi Arabia’ in particular, cannot just be ignored because they are ‘only’ playing an ‘Oil Game’. Their interest is in much more than oil reserves. They have occupied the Haramain. The Saudis’ control of the Haramain and the Hajj on behalf of their western sponsors prevents the Hajj from serving a crucial function for the global Islamic movement. To understand the west’s recognition of the political importance of the Haramain and Hajj, and therefore the Saudis’ history and record, is incumbent upon Muslims everywhere. The usurpers of the Haramain are not just illegitimate and corrupt rulers, but are also conspirators plotting to distort or destroy the significance of the Hajj for ever.

Ali Shari’ati, in his masterpiece Hajj, reserves the final punch for the epilogue, “A more important Lesson”. “The fact that Imam Hussein left Makkah for Karbala where he was martyred before completing his hajj duties taught us a more important lesson than his shahadah”. Shari’ati continues: ” He [Imam Hussein] did not complete his hajj in order to teach the Hujjaj, those who pray and have faith in Ibrahim’s tradition, that if there is no not true leadership, if there is no goal, if there is ‘Yezid’ instead of ‘Hussein’, then making tawaf around the House of God is equal to making tawaf around the idol-house. The people who continued their tawaf while he went to Karbala were no better than those who were circumambulating around the green palace of Muawiyah.”

Shari’ati reminds us of the contemporary “green palaces” of the Saud family that loom large around the “House of God”. The Husni Mubaraks, Fahds and Yasser Arafats are no better than the George Bushes and Ariel Sharons, as far as the welfare of the Ummah is concerned. Millions of Muslims perform Hajj, yet the Ummah continues to limp from one setback to another. The deteriorating condition of the Ummah in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and elsewhere is in search of the “convention” at Mina to find solutions to problems. Do Muslims not have a duty to re-discover the underlying implications of the Hajj rituals?

Reading Ali Shari’ati’s Hajj is one answer, and trying to implement the ideas prescribed by this masterpiece would definitely benefit the Ummah, insha’Allah. This new edition is a delight to read, with eight pages of color photographs arranged chronologically with captions in strict agreement with Shari’ati’s interpretations. Nor does the book omit the author’s picture in ihram, with his “I” vanishing so that he can assume the role of Ibrahim (as).  

The review was first published here

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