Islam is really vast, and most of us forget that it extends so far beyond our local communities. The first blessing of Hajj is to remind us of this reality. Another blessing is that, if you must travel the world, you might as well travel to the very gates of heaven and hell. Al Qur’an never dissociates these two ultimate realities, and in Makkah they are also both close to us. Among other things, our Taqwa will increase and we may even become more fearful upon return. There is nothing wrong with this.
Human beings are such weak creature that they can easily forget how little protects us from the Hellfire. Certainly, the Hajj is meant to remind us of this important fact, and if we must be frightened with visions of the Hellfire, then so be it. This, too, is a blessing from Allah swt.
Accordingly, we ought not to raise our own or other’s expectations of what earthly life will be like after our return. For some, this earth becomes more manageable, and for others it becomes less so. The Hajj is for the Afterlife, not for this life. So in spite of forgiveness of our sins, which is not all that easy to accept, Hajj may make some tests in our lives more difficult after all.
So many of us carry our sins around our backs. We may even be addicted to self-pity. So we should make a real effort to find and keep close to our hearts the absolute conviction that our sins have been forgiven, provided our Hajj is accepted by Allah swt. And even this we cannot know for certain. The best attitude is that as servants of Allah we must always be in the state of fear and hope. As one scholar had said “Fear and hope are like the two wings of a bird. If they are balanced, the flight will be balanced. But, if one is stunted, the Right would also be stunted. And, to be sure, if the two are lost, the bird will soon be in the throes of death.” Allah has praised the people of hope and fear in the following verse:
‘Is one who worships devotedly during the night, prostrating himself or standing, fearing the Hereafter, and hoping for the mercy of his Lord (is equal to him who doesn’t do these things)?’ (Al Zumar, 9)
There is now a type of Hajj available to richer pilgrims that are actually a “virtual Hajj”. They rent luxurious hotel rooms high in the sky, with big windows overlooking the Ka’abah, and some say that there is a “virtual version” of the Hajj Ibadah that we can perform with full credit in the comfort of such a hotel room. With full credit? Allah knows best.
It was not so long ago that various regulations were still in effect. Buildings were not allowed to house pilgrims above the level of the hills surrounding Ka’aba. Only certain people had this privilege of overlooking the Masjid Haram area from their palace on the side of one of those hills. Does that make these people better Muslims than the rest of us?
Arafah is a time which is most important for us seeking forgiveness from Allah for all our sins. The modern mind is so much engrossed in the material pursuits that we hardly find any time to respond effectively to the yearning of our soul. But in the midst of this turmoil we sometime find ourselves in the grip of dreadful void in our soul and set out frantically in search of spiritual peace. Afarah is the occasion in which we find solace and comfort in prayer.
Now there is the Hajar Aswad. Kissing this stone is not mandatory, and yet those who have done so sometimes report a really vivid experience of having all their sins washed out at the moment they do so. On occasions, this spiritual-emotional experience might be more helpful than the theological knowledge by itself, that our sins will have been cleaned by merely performing the Hajj, wherein we are only required to raise our hands in salute as we pass the black stone during our circumambulations.
During our “sa’ee” between the hills Safa and Marwa, it can become so much easier to pray for all our ancestors and other loved ones! Many of us have these subjective experiences that are not mentioned by the scholars, and these are among the greatest blessings of the Hajj since they are completely spontaneous and therefore unique to ourselves.
It is in such experiences as these that we may suddenly realize the vastness of Allah’s blessings in the realm of those experiences that are so far beyond our expectations that they could not possibly be imagined or intended beforehand! We “intend” (offer “niyyat”) according to our best possible but yet limited understanding, and then we make our hearts and souls ready to receive what Allah has for us, that may be simply unimaginable beforehand.
Perhaps this is the essence of the Hajj at the personal level, although we should never forget that, as good Muslims, we can only receive such unexpected blessings as we perform our devotions communally with other Muslims. Islam is not a solitary affair, and Hajj is proof positive of this fact. May Allah swt invite us to his Holy House, protect us along our way, and bring us safely home. Amin.
Merabi fleuve 18 Zulhijjah 1430