Hajj is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. However, it is more than just a sacred ritualistic act of worship. There is an essence and spirit to this pilgrimage.
Abu Uthman al-Sabani al-Shafii (d 449), in his book, Kitab ul Maitain, narrates the following statement of Prophet Muhammad. "Towards the end of the time, four main groups of people will flock around the Kaaba to perform Hajj. The powerful rulers to have fun or enjoy the occasion, the rich people to promote their businesses, the poor to seek financial support and the reciters (or scholars) to demonstrate their skills."
Al-Sabuni was not an ordinary scholar. He narrated the Hadith after ensuring that the matan or text and isnad or chains are sound. He once said: "I never narrated a Hadith nor a non-Prophetic report in a gathering except if I possessed its chain of transmission; nor did I ever enter the library except in a state of ritual purity; nor did I ever narrate Hadith, nor hold a gathering, nor teach, except in a state of ritual purity."
Are we living in that period that the Prophet predicted? Has Hajj become a type of ritual devoid of any meaning? Is Hajj an individual ibada (worship) that requires a believer to spend time and resources for an omnipotent and omnipresent God? Has the Hajj become a business in our times? Or has it become a vacation?
There was a time when people would spend months and months preparing themselves financially and spiritually to live the real meaning of Hajj. However, nowadays, Hajj is offered as a holiday package. Hajj agencies worldwide offer value packages with super programs, deluxe programs, and short executive programs. These programs provide the best and closest accommodation in Makkah and Medinah, the best available food, and the best possible position in the House of Allah. Depending on how much you pay, you can get the most beautiful place in Makkah and Medinah. If you happen to be the guest of royalty, you probably cannot ever compete with your placement in the two mosques. When the Prophet performed his only Hajj, the only provision he had with him was no more than four dirhams, as narrated in several books of ahadith.
Hajj teaches the pilgrims endurance and perseverance for higher causes, yet it has become an exercise in an extravaganza for many. Hajj expresses the utmost humility in the presence of the rest of humanity by declaring that "Here I am, Here I am, I will not make anyone Allah's partner. Allah is the one who is in control of everything, and He alone is the one who is the source of all blessings and praise." Yet, today, Hajj, for many has become, a badge, a symbol of spiritual arrogance.
Hajj is an institution that reassures the people that ethnic, cultural, linguistic, geographical, wealth-based, race, and color differences that humans have imposed upon themselves have no reality in God's presence. All are one, and the purpose of all is to follow the divine guidance to create universal humanity for the well-being of everyone. Hajj promotes a pledge to live an example of Hajj beyond the Hajj. It is an occasion to create a personality without a dimension and space.
Yet, through social engineering and manipulation of resources, Hajj is rapidly adapting social elements that distinguish the rich from the poor, the very institution that it is supposed to demolish. Divisions among Hujjaj based on their ethnicity and money are visible throughout the Hajj journey.
While the hujjaj (pilgrims) coming from more impoverished regions of the world may find accommodation miles away from the Haram, those rich can find accommodation within the Kaaba vicinity.
The Quran describes Kaaba as a center of guidance to humanity. "Indeed, the first House of Worship for all was in the Noble Makkah. It is the center of guidance to all humanity." (3:96). The place was a place for bringing together all the people, but it is a center for promoting peace. (2:145). It was a place to help humanity realize its universality rather than divisions (5:97)
For this great purpose of helping humanity realize its dream of removing all the differences and divisions among themselves, the institution, Hajj, comes up with a clear example of making us understand and observe that unity of humanity is possible. For this, the Quran asked Prophet Ibrahim to invite people to Hajj so that they may witness the beauty and magnificence of Allah's guidance.
Hajj is like a united nation in its real sense without five elitist powers. With no hidden agenda and security council privileges, each society and community come to Makkah to serve God and reiterate their covenant with Him. Hajj provides the opportunity for everyone to witness the common bonds among people regardless of their differences. Hajj promotes the dignity of human beings, male or female, young or old, and rich and poor.
Hajj also creates space for intellectual ideas among people so that they could all remain focused on their main agenda of serving humanity by following God's guidance.
This spirit of Hajj was prevalent at the time of the Prophet and his trusted companions. The modern business-dominated society and hierarchy of rich and poor culture have challenged this tradition. But, there are still people who use the experience of Hajj to transform their character. They do not care about big hotels or better facilities. They spend their days and nights in Mina, Arafat, Muzdalfa, Makkah, and Medina. Furthermore, they remember the covenant that Allah made with Prophet Abraham, the builder of the Kaaba. God, Almighty, told Prophet Abraham, "I am making you the source of balance and inspiration (The Quran uses the word Imam, which means the instrument that a construction worker uses to level the construction) for all people" (2:124). Encouraged by this honor, the Prophet asked: "Is this covenant for my progeny too," No," said Allah, "Those who deviate from my path would not qualify for this honor." (2:124)
Thus, these simple words described the real intent and purpose of the Hajj and all other faith-based institutions. The dignity and honor do not come with buying this or that package. It comes through dedication and commitment to the spiritual values and living up to them.
Some day, the Hajj will be restored to its original intent by those un-known and un-recognized faces who come from all over the world quietly without any fanfare and who spend every moment of their presence in the noble sanctuaries and the pilgrimage path with the determination to follow their real leaders: Prophets Ibrahim, Prophet Ismail, and Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them, in every aspect of this great institution.
The re-enactment of acts performed during the Hajj follows the traditions of Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail and Mother Hagar. They remind humanity unity is the essence of divine guidance. Prophet Ibrahim created that nucleus for perpetual change in human behavior, and for that, he was honored by God, who declared him as an Imam (role model) for humanity. The guidance that inspired Prophet Ibrahim to put the dream of one people under God, in reality, is there in its most explicit, puritan, crystal form. It is ironic that despite the guidance, many remain misguided, including those who claim to have understood and mastered the divine guidance.